Managing A Hybrid Workforce Successfully employing a mix of remote and in-office workers is not an impossible feat and here's what you need to know

By Suresh Sambandam

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As technology continues to evolve, an increasing number of jobs can be performed on a computer or phone in the comfort of one's own home. According to a 2017 report, 2.9 per cent of the American workforce—3.9 million employees—work from home at least half the time, more than double what it was in 2005. Employees working from home enjoy better work-life balance, can work in their most productive hours and don't spend excessive time and money in long commutes. Working remotely, whether full-time or half-time, usually increases employees' productivity, simply because they are happier.

But remote working is usually viewed as a concession that employers must budge on to attract the right talent. Is it only good for the employee?

For every half-time remote worker, businesses usually save an average of $11,000 a year. Companies reduce overhead costs, eliminate space and parking problems, and can find top talent from a bigger pool of applicants. By adopting a remote work-friendly policy, a company can get a lot of benefits.

However, it's not as easy as just letting people work from home. Creating the right atmosphere for a hybrid workforce of co-located and remote workers is challenging. How do you explain the new policy to an employee who needs to be in the office? How do you encourage good teamwork and communication? How do you make remote workers feel just as much a part of the team as others?

Molding Company Culture

Not all company cultures are ideal for opening up to remote workers. If a business relies on extrinsic motivation and a heightened environment to push employees to stretch goals, a work-from-home policy is probably not a good fit. Remote workers are required to build up their own motivation and understand the importance of different projects.

Innovation can also lack a hybrid workforce. Innovation often comes as different ideas merge together and team members trade thoughts on aspects of work off-the-cuff.

Adapting remote workers to your internal culture often takes longer than you might think. Is your office extremely laid back and flexible? Bringing in results-oriented remote workers who get upset when their time is wasted waiting on a conference call while others finish up a table tennis game can be a recipe for disaster. Conversely, if the whole team is waiting on a single remote.

Balancing Remote Workers and Traditional Employees

If a company has a successful remote working policy, leadership should work to fight the natural negative bias caused by the proximity and mere-exposure effects that comes with remote workers so telecommuters and traditional employees will receive equal treatment. To help alleviate biases, specific policies for reporting work schedule and productivity should be in place, as well as a plan for communication with other team members and staff.

Management should also guard against remote workers being "out of sight, out of mind" by giving everyone a fair chance to land new projects and promotions. Sometimes remote workers are stuck in the same roles, slower to receiver raises, or replaced for cheaper employees. Even if their job performance is better than in-office staff, telecommuters are more likely to be passed up for promotions because they are not physically present. Remote employees must also take the initiative to be seen and heard by providing reports of daily accomplishments and staying in touch through technology.

Planning fun company team-building activities will help strengthen relationships between all staff and diminish the negative connotation that sometimes comes with working from home. Remote workers can be included in important meetings via video conferences, and live-chat is becoming an increasingly popular way for office staff to communicate.

Use Technology That Supports Your Culture

One of the most common obstacles remote workers face is a disconnect from internal operations. When you think about how you handle normal processes, projects, cases, collaboration, and tasks, you probably have as many people as you do systems.

The first essential tool that you need is a great messaging system that gives the feeling that everyone is working together in the same place. An environment that encourages lots of sharing and collaboration supports both remote and co-located employees.

Next, try to use at most one official tool for each other type of work. Processes are predictable and handled the same way every time. With a good automation tool, it doesn't matter where you are in the world, you can feel just as much a part of making sure the job gets done. Moving to automation instead of manually handling processes also helps build a culture where systems are seen as essential coworkers to get things done.

Projects and cases require more adaptability and coordination. Choose software that is flexible, but offers a lot of sharing and collaboration options.

Ideally, creating a single digital workspace where all of your work can happen builds the right environment so that employees can log in from anywhere and still feel like they are right in the middle of the action.

Successfully employing a mix of remote and in-office workers is not an impossible feat. When a company fully embraces remote work through a clear policy, top leadership's precedent, and collaboration through the right technology tools, you can build the right environment. If you want to broaden your company's horizons by employing remote workers, it's time to increase efficiency through automation, not only to speed operations and build company value but to enable employees—the backbone of any organization—to achieve their full potential.

Suresh Sambandam

Founder & CEO, OrangeScape

Sambandam is the founder and CEO of OrangeScape, a home-grown company offering SaaS solutions. OrangeScape, a cloud pioneer based in India, is one of 10 global platform-as-a-service (PaaS) companies that has been featured in Gartner and Forrester reports. The company’s flagship product, KiSSFLOW, has 10,000-plus customers across 121 countries.  Sambandam has been an entrepreneur since age 19. After an initial entrepreneurial stint, he went on to work at Hewlett-Packar and Selectica. He is a regular speaker at various industry forums and academic institutions, and a co-founder of SaaSx, an engagement platform for SaaS entrepreneurs.

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