- Category:Thought Leadership
- Industries:Business, Mining
Remote working is on the rise. With it, our understanding of the benefits and requirements for effective remote working has also grown, and there are learnings any company with remote teams can leverage.
by Frank Daly
When the pandemic hit, most companies still managed to function successfully. Laptops and monitors were issued, many fast tracked transitions to Sharepoint and Microsoft Teams, and meetings went virtual.
However, very few made significant changes to the way they actually work together or manage their workforces, creating challenges in maintaining productivity, momentum and culture.
Workforce separation is a challenge. Risks include a breakdown of effective communication and collaboration between locations causing inefficiencies and friction. For many Western Australian companies, this is not a new problem. Many have geographically remote workforces, in the Pilbara, Wheatbelt, Eastern States and even Africa, to manage.
Using our hands-on experience working with those leading organisations in WA with remote workforces, and drawing on global insights, we’ve developed a manager’s toolkit to empower remote teams to work effectively and productively.
The Four Critical Enablers
There are four critical enablers that management can use with their teams in order to better engage with remote staff, and empower them to focus on the most critical activities for the business.
- Iterative Management Routines
This approach focuses on establishing shorter and more effective governance mechanisms and tools.
A common mistake we saw through COVID was to attempt to replace in-person informal discussions that would occur in an office with more scheduled Teams/ Webex meetings. This led to an increase in the hours of meetings booked throughout the week when working remotely for many.
The objective is not to remove all formal meetings or casual informal catch-ups by phone or instant messaging, but reduce the reliance on these traditional ways of monitoring progress and making decisions, which can be difficult to maintain effectively in a remote working environment.
To ensure a shared view of the progress / project status, teams work in shared documents, have regular quick team ‘stand-ups’ each week, with a central view of progress against activities on a Kanban. This helps team to:
- Elevate any problems, risks or issues (blockers) and discuss how they can be addressed as a team.
- Have the information they need, including determining prioritisation where required.
- Identify what support is required from other team members
- Reduce the reliance on formal meetings and informal communications (emails, phone calls, pop-in’s etc.).
They key is to check-in, don’t check-up. Use any engagement with your team members to empower and equip them for increased autonomy, help them with prioritisation, remove roadblocks and escalate issues.
- Lean Optimisation
This approach focuses the team on continuous improvement by systematically identifying and eliminating waste. The approach suits a remote working environment as processes and systems that were designed for the traditional ways of working may no longer be adding the value in a remote working context. This could include reviewing meetings and who is really required at them, how documents are managed, approval processes, when site visits are required, and identifying what can be digitised, automated or integrated.
It empowers those who do the work to identify improvements to streamline the processes.
- Customer Centric
This approach focuses on identifying what matters to the people the work is being performed for – the customer – and then apply effort and productivity where it will create the most value. In this sense a customer could also be a client, a contractor or a co-worker.
Promoting a culture aligned around the ‘customer’s’ needs can enable employees to work autonomously to meet their expectations. Workers establish direct feedback loops with these ‘customers’ to support continuous improvement by being targeted with effort at optimally meeting their needs (not wish lists).
- Result-Based Performance Management
Traditionally managers and leaders monitor performance by just seeing how busy their team looks. In a remote environment it is not feasible nor helpful to overly monitor or check-in on your staff to gauge productivity.
By setting clear objectives and priorities for team members, you are empowering them to take more control of their workload than a manager ever could (micromanage).
Equipped with their “customer” centric approach, combined with their knowledge of their key performance indicators they are expected to deliver upon, they can allocate and manage their time to achieve those outcomes accordingly.
This requires a result-driven management style giving autonomy to workers, where team members are measured on results/ deliverables/ outcomes rather than hours worked or how busy they seem. It allows remote teams to be flexible, independent and effective with their time.
The future and the benefits of remote working
Remote working is not going anywhere.
Since the pandemic, many companies are continuing to encourage their city-based workforce to work remotely for at least one day per week. Global research from Gallup suggests this hybrid model of remote working results in a more engaged and productive workforce.
There are benefits.
Hiring remotely is also a huge opportunity to increase access to talent, particularly outside of existing networks or locations. Given the current labour market and inability to easily relocate employees from overseas or interstate, this is a very real option for WA organisations. For example, one of our WA-based clients with no interstate presence hired their first Eastern States based employee due to the fit for the role requirements and enabled the role using remote working practices.
Other companies are using remote and flexible work to diversify their workforce, for example, attracting parents of young children back to the workforce.
We’ve also seen moves to enable traditional site-based roles to be city based (remote from site) or reduce the portion of time required at site versus city-based. This can be very beneficial as it can create a larger pool of candidates to select from, such as former FIFO workers or new candidates that are not willing to work long rosters away from home.
By encouraging workers to work remotely for at least part of the week, with strategic changes to how we work, provides benefits for employees and the company through:
- a more empowered and autonomous workforce
- improved capabilities leveraging remote working tools and practices
- improved communication / collaboration across different geographic locations.
This suggests remote working is something for organisations to embrace rather than fear. While the COVID uncertainty has challenged organisations, their customers and employees, it’s crystallised that fact that work is no longer ‘a place’.
However, the key to unlocking the considerable benefits of remote working lies in the ability of management teams to enable this remote working approach, and to build the requisite skills, capability and processes to support effective remote workforces.