How to Effectively Manage Your Remote Workforce

One consequence of the COVID pandemic is that managers have had to deal with a new and, to many, daunting challenge: managing a remote workforce.

What are they doing? Are they really working or have they checked out? Are they working long enough? Hard enough?

Understandably, managers have felt the angst of wrestling with these questions. However, underlying all of them is a more fundamental question: How would I know?

That’s the right question. How would you know if your team members are working, or working long enough or hard enough? When managers ask me about that, I respond by asking, “How did you know before COVID happened? Which management practices did you have in place to determine that?” It turns out that many managers didn’t have practices in place to answer those questions. They assumed employees were working and were sufficiently productive simply because they had shown up to work.

It’s time to rethink how managers manage and it’s time to ensure that managers are managing.

Consider Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company. Telenor applies a simple philosophy to managing a remote workforce: Tight-Loose-Tight. Be tight on the “what” — the goals and expectations you have of people. Be loose on the “how” — the ways in which people get things done. Then be tight on the “verify” — how you evaluate performance.

It starts with establishing focus: Which goals is each team member expected to contribute towards? What specifically do you expect of each team member and why? Then, how should the team member get the work done? Resist the temptation to over-prescribe the how if there are various ways a team member can legitimately get things done. As long as she produces what you want her to produce when you want her to produce it, does it really matter that she works on it between nine and five or from Monday to Friday?

Finally — and this is where managers get lazy — is the “verify.” Monitoring and evaluating, with sufficient frequency, to determine if expectations are being met. Don’t leave it to the end to figure out what to monitor and how to evaluate. These should be determined at the outset.

I would add one more “tight” to Telenor’s approach: tight on “coaching.” That means reinforcing efforts and outcomes that meet expectations. It means holding people constructively accountable when they don’t meet expectations, and providing detailed feedback and guidance to help them improve.

Managing a remote workforce? Provide them with focus and clarity. Empower and trust them. Then verify what they’ve done and coach them. It requires that you as a manager, take an active role in managing.

Make it happen.


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