The Supervisor's Role in Managing a Remote Workforce

The Supervisor's Role in Managing a Remote Workforce

Supervising remote work isn't always easy. It can be a challenging transition for supervisors and employees accustomed to onsite, face-to-face teamwork. In addition, group meetings, one-on-ones, and keeping overall morale high can be much more complicated with a remote workforce. For these reasons, supervisors' roles in managing remote workers have become more critical than ever. For a remote workforce to succeed, it relies on supervisors who can ensure clear communication, high levels of productivity, and ongoing improvement. This blog examines some of the most important aspects of a supervisor's role in managing remote workforces. Understanding the issues that come with remote work will help supervisors manage their team more effectively and increase productivity. 


1. Empathize with remote employees to better understand their challenges.

One of the most crucial aspects of successfully managing a remote workforce is empathizing with workers. By its nature, remote work can make it more difficult for supervisors to feel like they understand how their employees are doing. This is caused simply due to the physical distance between them. For this reason, supervisors must be mindful of their team members' challenges as remote employees. These challenges include a lack of face-to-face interaction with teammates, video conferencing fatigue, poor communication, and unwanted distractions. Supervisors should prepare to offer strategies and solutions for their workers to best deal with these challenges in a remote work setting.


2. Establish clear goals for productivity. 

It's vital to establish clear goals and expectations when it comes to ensuring productivity across your distributed workforce. Some productivity goals will be unique to each role, and other remote work expectations will be in place company-wide. Therefore, supervisors must carefully establish and document productivity standards for each team member. There's no denying that establishing and documenting goals takes considerable effort. However, it is necessary to ensure that all responsibilities are met. Productivity standards allow supervisors to monitor burnout, assess the need for more training, and find ways to make operations more efficient.


3. Foster healthy meetings and communications across the team.

For a distributed workforce, supervisors need to put in extra effort to foster team building and keep morale high. Supervisors should encourage remote employees to contact their managers and colleagues consistently. Determining what frequency of contact depends on the nature of work. Whatever the frequency of meetings, digital tools are vital to healthy communication infrastructure. This infrastructure will look different for each team. Still, it should include tools such as email, messaging apps, video conferencing platforms, and phone calls. While it might sound simple, it's important to find the best mix of these tools to maximize efficiency. 

Another practical way supervisors can help their team is to build an easy-to-use workday calendar system. Calendars can be segmented for different groups of remote workers so that the information provided reaches the correct group of recipients. For example, there's no reason to send meeting invites to an entire team if the meeting only applies to a few people. Shared calendars are a great way to make communication planning far more efficient and respectful of everyone's time.


4. Make the necessary investments for remote success.

Budgets are an essential consideration when it comes to managing a distributed workforce. Some supervisors mistakenly assume that reducing building space by 35% translates to a 35% decrease in the overall operational costs. However, the correlation is not that direct. While it's true that there is some degree of cost savings in reducing building space, new costs will arise due to the needs of a remote workforce. For example, you might have to increase your travel budget if remote employees travel periodically to one of your locations. New costs may also arise from modern collaboration software or communication equipment expense. Budgeting for these tools is critical to ensure remote workers have the tools they need to help the organization succeed.

Supervisors must be flexible and open-minded to new ways of achieving high productivity levels and healthy communication to lead a remote workforce effectively. With the proper tools and guidance, remote workers can reach new levels of success that supervisors may not have thought possible.


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About the Author

As Director of AEU LEAD, Joe White focuses on helping members transform operational goals into actionable plans through a structured change management process. Prior to joining AEU, Joe was a senior consultant for E.I. DuPont’s consulting division, DuPont Sustainable Solutions (DSS). He joined DSS in 2011 to develop the next generation of safety practices using extensive research in behavioral sciences he’s compiled over a period of nearly two decades. His efforts resulted in the development of The Risk Factor, which is now the flagship instructor-led offering for the consulting division. Combined, Joe has 26 years of operational safety experience, the majority of which was with DuPont. Joe has been published in Occupational Health & Safety Magazine for his prominent work in safety relative to behavioral and neurosciences and is an event speaker at many leading industry conferences including National Safety Council (NSC) Congress and Expos, American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA). Joe is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and has a B.S., in Safety and Risk Administration.

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