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The Modern Challenges Of Managing Remote Performance Telecommuting is becoming readily accepted worldwide, but despite its many advantages, there are inherent challenges that management must face head-on.

By Stuart Hearn

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Over the past decade, we have witnessed a global shift in the way we utilize technology and how it impacts business. Software and communication tools are rapidly advancing, prompting drastic changes in the way we operate on a daily basis. It is clear that the need to physically attend an office for a rigid nine-to-five routine is becoming unnecessary. Blind adherence to this old-fashioned working style might be costing us dearly in terms of productivity and performance. Remote working is the way of the future.

According to one source, 45% of US employees now work from home. Remote workers generally feel more productive, with 91% believing they get more work done when working from home as they aren't faced with distractions in the form of watercooler discussions, general office meetings, and loud colleagues. Two thirds of managers agree that employees working remotely are far more productive than office-based employees. One study showed that absenteeism is greatly reduced with the introduction of remote working, which has a direct bearing on overall company productivity.

All very promising statistics, then- but we need to keep a level head and remember that there are major managerial challenges posed by remote working. Once incorporated, performance management systems must adjust to meet these challenges head-on.

1. The challenge of relinquishing control and allowing for autonomy The workplaces of our futures are going to be run by millennials, who are independent and driven in nature. It has been noted that 72% of millennials strive to be their own boss, but those who work in a traditional office environment desire a degree of leniency. Specifically, they are looking for managers who are willing to guide them, rather than micromanaging their working lives. It is impossible to keep tabs on all remote workers at all hours of the day.

A degree of trust must be involved. As long as your remote employees are reliably hitting their targets and producing results, consider allowing them the freedom to formulate their own approach to work. Managers should always be on hand to provide feedback and assistance, but insisting on controlling every single aspect of an employee's working day will be exhausting for both the employee and for management.

Related: Working From Home As Senior Management: The Good (And Bad) News

2. The challenge of adequate and frequent communication Regular communication is critical to the success of any organization — and it matters even more when it comes to remote workers. Fortunately, a number of performance management software packages exist that can provide real-time communication platforms based on popular social media sites. This frequent communication will prevent employees from feeling isolated, promote employee engagement, and keep employees clued up on current issues and changes within your organization.

If communication, both horizontally and vertically, is not a priority within your organization, problems will inevitably arise. Remote employees need to know they are supported, that they can communicate with their managers and fellow employees at any point, and they can ask for help when required. On top of this, open channels of communication allow management to keep an eye on how how projects are advancing- a near-impossible goal for managers with remote employees before the rise of performance management software.

3. The challenge of providing regular feedback to remote employees If they are not managed effectively, it is easy for remote employees to become disengaged or demotivated. It is vital for managers to regularly check in with their remote employees. On the whole, performance management systems have moved towards a more continuous approach, ditching annual performance reviews for more frequent feedback sessions, so this concept will be familiar to many executives. Managers should schedule and attend frequent online meetings with their employees. In this time, employee strengths and weaknesses can be discussed, work levels can be assessed, and any queries or suggestions for improvement from your remote employee can be taken on board.

Related: Balancing Act: Work-Life Balance Should Be Your Enterprise's Concern

4. The challenge of setting (and adhering to) clear goals and objectives Clear, succinct goals and objectives are imperative to any organization, and remote workers are no exception. Managers should collaborate with employees and determine realistic, specific goals that the employee can work towards. The remote worker should not be under any kind of misapprehension about what their targets are. Otherwise, they will not perform to standard and organizational productivity will suffer as a result. Goals need to be measurable. This is the only way that employees can ensure they are performing effectively and doing what is expected of them. As with any dynamic company, if goal adjustments need to be made, they can be reassessed during a feedback session.

5. The challenge of contextualising employee goals During check-in sessions, managers must explain how individual employee goals contribute towards corporate objectives. This gives employees a clear idea as to how their jobs matter and impact the organization as a whole. This is crucial for remote workers. While working alone and not within a regular workplace can make an employee feel detached from the company, showing how their goals benefit the bigger picture will keep them engaged and motivated.

6. The challenge of recognition and reward This area should not be overlooked, particularly considering how integral it is to the morale of modern workers. Millennials are more motivated by recognition than bonuses or raises. Money alone isn't sufficient; they want to know they are being appreciated and that the company they are working for values their efforts. It has been shown that millennials want to be recognised in some form at least once a month. This is something that can easily be incorporated with remote working, although managerial efforts may have to be slightly more creative than old-fashioned means of recognition.

Rather than bonuses, which haven't been shown to seriously motivate good performance, managers can make employees feel appreciated in more unique ways. This can range from a handwritten thank-you note to a voucher at their favorite restaurant. Consider calling the employee in question to discuss their achievements. In this increasingly digital age, it is rewarding to occasionally hear a person's voice and to be told that efforts are being noticed.

Adapting to embrace a new culture of remote working may be a challenge for certain organizations, and it will likely take time to get systems running smoothly. This trial and error will be an ongoing process, but your flexibility will undoubtedly pay off. Overcoming these challenges and embracing a new, flexible working environment will ensure that you get ahead of your competition and remain relevant in this dynamic, exciting era for business.

Related: Four Habits For A More Productive You

Stuart Hearn

Founder, Clear Review

Stuart Hearn has twenty years of experience in the HR sector. He co-founded plusHR, a leading UK HR consultancy, and previously worked as International HR Director for Sony Music Publishing. Stuart is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system.
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