The 3 Keys to Remote Workforce Management (+ 9 Tools to Make it Work)

You’ve heard the stories, but the truth is that remote workforce management isn’t really that difficult.

There’s a myth around remote work that needs some light. Many companies and managers believe that employees will take advantage of remote work situations and fail to do their jobs. But with the right remote workforce management, many employees thrive with the freedom and responsibility to work remotely.

In fact, a recent article on points out that remote employees have lower stress levels and greater productivity.

Still, there are challenges to overcome, just like there are with any management relationship. You have to form good working relationships with your team, you have to trust one another, and there has to be a high level of accountability in place. There are three interconnected parts of making that all work.

Hiring the right team, communicating with that team, and having the right tools to work remotely are the indispensable base you need to create a thriving team and company.

Three essential pillars of remote workforce management

So where do you begin tackling the challenges of remote workforce management? In your hiring practices.

1. Hiring Stars for Your Remote Team

Hiring may be both the most frightening and the most rewarding part of remote workforce management. Because geography is irrelevant, you can hire the right person no matter where they live. Where can you find those team members?

  • We Work Remotely is a job board for remote companies and job seekers. Job categories include programming, management, marketing, copywriting, customer support, design, system administration, and “other” jobs. Listings are $299 and run for 30 days.
  • Remote OK promotes themselves as “the #1 remote jobs board on the internet.” They have over 500,000 site visits each month, and claim that an average of 100 – 500 applicants apply for each job. Listings are $299 for 30 days.
  • Your newsletter, blog, and social media are prime (and free) sources for getting the word out to potential employees that you’re hiring.

The problem, of course, is that when you get hundreds of applicants for one job, it’s easy to get bogged down in trying to make the “perfect” choice. To narrow down your choices, look for these red flags:

  • Poor communication skills
    Communication is a vital part of a successful remote team. While it might or might not be a deal-breaker if your remote applicant has a typo in their cover letter, pay attention to their overall communication style.
  • Too eager to work with you
    You do want a team that’s eager and excited to work with you. What you don’t want is someone who will drop their current job or contract to come work with you right away. An ethical employee will want to give notice to their current employer.

The inverse, of course, is in finding key criteria that indicate a good potential candidate:

  • Previous remote work experience
    Working remotely requires a certain skill set. You have to have good time management, good follow-through, and the ability to work without close supervision. Someone with that experience (at least in part) understands the work environment is what they make it.
  • History of successful projects
    Since remote work is so largely unsupervised, an employee with a history of completed projects or self-directed achievements could be an ideal applicant.

2. Communicating Like Your Job Depends On It

Communication is vital to remote workforce management. You can hire the right people, use the right tools, and produce the perfect product or service, but that will all fall apart if you don’t communicate with your team.

That doesn’t mean you need to fill their inbox with messages, and it doesn’t mean you need to check up on them multiple times per day. In fact, one of the benefits of remote work is reducing the distractions of excessive meetings and cubicle gossip.

What’s important in communication is making sure you share vital information, deadlines, expectations, and schedules with your team, and do so as soon as possible. Successful remote employees are experts at time management, and they will need to adjust to a change in scheduling. The more warning you can give for that adjustment, the better off everyone will be.

Several communication tools have made remote work a viable option for many companies. You can sign documents, share diagrams, and even tell jokes as easily as ever, even when you’re spread out across time zones. Here are some of our favorite tools for remote communication:

  • Slack is the communication tool of choice for many remote teams. It’s everything you love about instant messaging and email (including the capability to upload images and documents) wrapped in an easy-to-use software application.
  • Even remote teams need to schedule meetings. World Time Buddy is a simple, straightforward world clock that lets you instantly look at time zones anywhere in the world. Choose a time that works for your colleagues in London and Hong Kong, and you can schedule a meeting right to Google Calendar.
  • Whether you are in an office or managing a remote team, office culture plays a big part in the success of you and your employees. Officevibe gives your team an anonymous way to share feedback about morale and engagement.

3. The tools to work remotely

Along with communicating across distances, remote workforce management has to include the tools to make the rest of the work, well, work.

  • Google Drive is part of your Gmail tool set, and if you aren’t taking advantage of it, you’re missing out on a powerful (and free) team collaboration tool. Google Drive lets your team work on documents, spreadsheets, and “Powerpoint” presentations from anywhere, without sharing files.
  • Docusign has potential in a lot of settings, but for working with a remote team, it’s an ideal way to sign employment agreements, or to share sales or vendor agreements across a distributed team. No more faxing!
  • Because everyone has different working styles, it can be hard to find tools that are ideal for each person on your team. That’s where Zapier comes in; your team can create custom workflows from dozens of apps like Gmail, Google Drive, Dropbox, Trello, SalesforceIQ, and much more.

Remote workforce management does come with its own set of challenges, but they’re hardly insurmountable. Our goal at Sophaya is to help you not just overcome those challenges, but to be a leader in remote workforce management. Sign up for your Sophaya membership and start learning how to engineer a rewarding virtual career that provides flexibility and work-life integration that best fits you.

Photo by Silas Köhler