How to better equip yourself to manage a remote workforce

As the COVID-19 epidemic has thrown the office out the window, Chad Reid of Jotform discusses how best to manage a remote workforce.

With many workers across the world having been forced to work from home during the pandemic, managers have been left without the tools or knowledge for how to manage a remote workforce. Chad Reid, VP of Marketing and Communications at global online form builder Jotform, shares how managers can better equip themselves to manage a remote workforce.

JotForm’s client base is incredibly global and diverse. How does your workforce reflect that?

We’re fortunate to have a pretty distributed team, and we have people of all walks of life and people across several continents. We have three global offices, but we also have a workforce spanning from Kenya, to El Salvador, Jamaica, the UK and even the Philippines. So, I think it’s reflective of the world, and our workforce is reflective of our client base.

What changes have you seen in managing a workforce during the coronavirus epidemic?

It hasn’t changed overnight. I’ve had weekly meetings to touch base with all employees, but I think if anything, the number of meetings has increased for the sake of communication. It’s something we’re trying to practice a bit more deliberately. We’re trying to take opportunities to take a call even if it doesn’t feel necessary at the time, so people have an additional touchpoint. I think the big thing with how to manage a remote workforce is making sure communication is there and making sure to keep some sense of normalcy to the workday.

Everyone lets each other know when they’re leaving for the day and checking in, too. I know it seems silly, but otherwise, people just get into a routine of just being online, and it can be hard to tell whether they’re working or not. So, I like my employees to alert everyone when they’re done for the day, just to give them a sense of normalcy back in their life. Over-communication sets the boundary and gives a clear signal for when to communicate with them, and when not to, so they’re not receiving slack messages or emails beyond their actual work hours.

How can managers get better equipped at managing a diverse workforce who are working remotely?

Building empathy also starts with communication. There’s a big difference between hiring a diverse workforce and managing a diverse workforce. Really getting to understand people’s ideas and getting to know them on a personal level, even if they are different from you ideologically or ethnically is super important. That’s something I certainly try to do on a personal level, and as the company, too, it makes for a much better workforce. It makes it much easier to manage a remote workforce as well, building those lines of communication with a personal touch.

Do you think the current level of remote working will continue after the epidemic?

On one side of it, companies were quite slow to adjust. At first, it seemed like something that wasn’t going to stay. However, I think the longer this goes on, the more companies will have an infrastructure to allow for it. On some level, it must remain, if nothing else, because of fears over future pandemics or public health.  I know I’m hesitant about using public transport again.

There hasn’t been a huge business disruption since working from home, and I think when you have a good system in place, you find that when you manage a remote workforce, it’s not much different than having someone in the office. It’s hard to imagine it’s going to go back to business as usual.

Why should companies not push diversity and inclusion (D&I) down the agenda during the crisis?

As I said earlier, a diverse workforce is a strong workforce. I think just for the simple fact it makes companies better and more productive, it opens the company up to different ideas and a bigger candidate pool. And yeah, I think for all those reasons it was always a good idea, but businesses need to maintain that thinking throughout this pandemic.

Many companies have put a hold on recruitment. Do you think this will negatively impact D&I?

For companies that are freezing hiring, it has to happen. I’m not sure if there’s an easy way for them to address that. Eventually, companies will hire again; but for now, everything is facing a temporary setback.

At some point, especially as they realise remote working could be the new normal, they’re going to start opening up recruitment again. I think companies who have suspended recruiting, thinking COVID-19 might be a short-term thing, want to retain some sense of normalcy before they open recruitment again. If they adjusted their infrastructure for remote work, they’d reopen recruitment, or once the economy picks up a little bit in the wake of all this, they’ll pick it up again too.

Regardless, I think it’s still a good time to reassess how you retain diversity and how you recruit for diversity while you’re in periods of paused hiring. It’s still important, and every company is going to start adding employees eventually, so it’s good to start thinking about it now.

Have you had any feedback on your ‘remote’ managing style?  

I haven’t in an official capacity, but I’ve been thinking about asking for formal feedback and I try to regularly check-in to make sure everything’s okay with my team members on a personal level.

Just like if they were in the office, everyone gets mad or frustrated, and likes to be managed or communicated with a little bit differently or in their own style. That carries over with remote work, and I can already tell some employees yearn for more touchpoints. Some employees want more interaction than others, whereas some just want to do their job and prefer the occasional check-in, and others will even seek them out.  We’re trying to look into it a little bit, and we’ve got a sense our employees want different management styles, but you only know if you ask or communicate, which is key when your job is to manage a remote workforce.
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