The National Institute of Standards and Technology noted in a 2020 ITL Bulletin that companies should expect parties with malicious intent to take control of remote worker systems and try to access sensitive information from them or leverage them to access the enterprise network. Ensuring your remote workforce is both effective and secure requires providing proper remote workforce management.
COVID and the Modern Workforce
COVID forced many companies to adapt different operations in order to survive and have any chance of thriving in this new pandemic-era environment. Remote workers have existed for as long as technology has permitted, but new realities like vaccine mandates, COVID testing, quarantining, and social distancing have transformed the entire workplace landscape. Now, in many businesses, having employees work from home is not merely an option but a necessity.
What Is a Remote Workforce?
A remote workforce is a group of company employees who work primarily off-site in a location different from a standard, centralized office. Though there is no consensus on the specific minimum number of employees required to constitute a remote workforce, also called a remote team, the term generally refers to a group of at least several workers.
A workforce can be “remote only,” in which all of the company’s employees work remotely, or it can be “remote first,” in which most employees work primarily from other locations off-site, but some employees still work on-site. Other common terms for remote work are telecommuting and telework.
What Is Remote Worker Management?
Just like on-site employees typically have managers managing and leading them, remote workers also need oversight. This management of a company’s remote team, or remote team or workforce management, comprises a blend of processes, technologies, and communications devised specifically to manage an effective remote team.
Challenges of Managing Remote Teams
The lack of in-person, physical interactions between managers and employees is a leading factor in many, if not most, of the challenges involved with remote team management. Without having those workers right in front of you, it can be harder to notice any indications of typical workforce concerns, like:
- Low morale
- Lack of communication
- Interpersonal conflict
In addition, managing remote teams poses isolation, distraction, and communication challenges.
Remote Worker Isolation
There can be a tendency for remote workers to feel socially isolated from their co-workers, creating numerous potential problems for the worker and the company. Even when workers don’t struggle with these feelings, their physical isolation can nevertheless make fostering a healthy, collaborative workforce culture harder.
Remote Worker Distraction
When working from home, there are several factors that could distract a person from their work that wouldn’t exist in an in-person, on-site office environment. These may include street noise, chores, home maintenance, or dealing with children or other family or household members. Preventing distraction is mostly on your workers, but you can encourage that effort. One way you can do this is by encouraging your remote workers to set up a separate and private workspace from their living space and instruct family and household members not to disturb you unless it’s for an emergency.
Remote Worker Communication
In addition to the communication risks cited in the list above, managers of remote workers must also be wary of over-communicating and leaving people out of information sharing relevant to their work.
Remote Workforce Security Challenges
In an organization with at least part of its workforce working remotely, the number of potential security vulnerabilities expands exponentially. Actions like accessing company networks from unsecured devices or SaaS (software as a service) cloud applications increases the number of endpoints for digital transactions and, therefore, what’s known as a company’s “attack surface.”
Several factors contribute to the potential attack surface of any company with remote workers. These include the reduced physical security of off-premise work sites, like the workers’ homes, and the use of unsecured communications systems and networks like cable, Wi-Fi, and mobile networks. Allowing outside access to internal resources also contributes to this expanded attack surface.
For this reason, cybersecurity is arguably more important when you have remote workers than when you don’t. Therefore, your investment in remote workforce security solutions may need to be greater.
How to Manage Remote Employees
Effective remote team management involves a combination of using the right tools, employing adequate security, and following some simple, commonsense guidelines.
Tools for Remote Worker Management
When a company invests fully in creating effective remote worker management, it provides employees and managers with the tools and training necessary for successfully working remotely. These can include computers, printers and scanners, mobile devices, and any other technology connected to the network. It also includes giving them the right software, access, training, and guidance they need to succeed.
Remote Workforce Security
One of the key factors of success with remote workers is sufficient remote workforce security. When workers are using their own equipment to communicate with clients and co-workers and perform secure transactions on or off the network, it can create more vulnerabilities to cyberattacks. Every piece of hardware and software your remote workers utilize must remain as secure as all your on-site computer systems.
Keep Personal and Professional Devices Separate
Remote workers should avoid using their personal devices for company business and vice versa. They should also avoid using the company network to access the internet, even if the sites they’re accessing are secure.
Separating personal from work-related systems and networks not only makes it easier to prevent needless and potentially costly exposure to cyber risks; if a cyberattack does happen, it can help more easily identify, isolate, and fix the problem and prevent it from happening again.
Create a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) serves as a secure intermediary between all digital communications and transactions into and out the network as well as within the network. It analyzes all data transmitted for authorization and cyberthreats and then tracks and monitors that data throughout its lifetime on the company’s network and systems.
By having remote workers interact with the company and its clients using the company’s VPN exclusively, not only can you ensure those communications are safe from cyberattacks,but you can also track and monitor the data entering, exiting, and traveling as well as stored within your systems.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
When allowing remote access to your network and systems, it’s important to ensure that whoever accesses them has the appropriate authorization for that access. One simple yet effective way to help provide that assurance is with two-factor authentication.
Two-factor authentication adds another step to the sign-in process for access to company digital assets besides entering a password. After entering their password, workers receive a text message or email with a secure, one-time code to enter within a limited amount of time in order to gain the access they seek. If a worker enters a password but fails to enter the code, they’re denied access.
Remote Team Tips
Your remote teams can be just as productive as your on-site workforce, if not more productive if you do it right. On that end, we offer these remote work best practices from the Federal Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council.
Set Clear Expectations and Guidelines
Don’t micromanage your remote workers, but don’t leave them “dangling in the wind,” either. Remember to give them the support and attention they need to succeed in their jobs. This includes removing all guesswork regarding your expectations about performance tracking and other critical elements of their job, including their goals and schedules.
For instance, does a remote employee need to work the same hours as your business’s operating hours, or can the worker set their own schedule as long as they meet their responsibilities?
Trust Your Workers
It can be difficult for managers to trust in workers when they can’t see them performing their duties. Managing remote workers, therefore, requires a large element of trust. You need to release your concerns about how or whether the workers under your remote management are performing adequately. Otherwise, that concern may come across to your workers and risk disempowering them at their jobs. No worker, on-site or off-site, can perform at their best when they’re always concerned about their managers casting doubt on their performance.
Establish a Schedule for Regularly Checking In
The key to releasing your concerns about your remote workers and allowing yourself to feel and convey trust in them is to concentrate less on the amount of time that your workers put in and more on the results that they achieve.
One way to avoid micromanaging your remote workers while still maintaining accountability for their proper remote management is to set up regular check-ins. That way, your remote workers don’t have to worry about you hovering over them as they work, but they and you both know you’ll meet at regular intervals for updates, concerns, questions, and any necessary direction.
You can perform these check-ins both one-on-one and with whole teams at once. Depending on the needs of your company and the particular department or team, you can set these check-ins daily, weekly, or on some other schedule.
Listen as Well as Speak
It’s important to listen closely to what your remote workers are telling you when they check-in or report. Don’t merely disseminate mandates or updates; rather, make all your communications multidirectional, meaning that you invite, anticipate, and, perhaps even, expect a response or dialogue to ensue.
Encourage your remote workers to share their experiences and provide their insights and feedback on working remotely; then, use that information to find ways to help improve that experience for the betterment of your workers and your business.
Make the Necessary Technological Investments
For your remote teams to give you their best, arm them with the best equipment to enable that success. Avoid skimping on the hardware infrastructure and digital tools your remote teams need to work efficiently and effectively. Empower them with easy-to-use, dynamic, and secure tools for such tasks as:
- Remote meetings
- Other aspects of their daily routine
Ensure, as well, that all these technologies are compatible with both the web and mobile devices.
When your employees are not sitting right there in the same office as you, it can be harder to remember to acknowledge their accomplishments as they occur. Make sure that you don’t forget to give your remote workers and teams the same kudos and accolades that they deserve and that you would likely have given them in person had they been within eyeshot or earshot.
Allow for Social Engagement
There can be a tendency for remote workers to feel isolated from the rest of the team. You can help remedy and prevent this by making sure on-site and remote employees have a chance to gather together outside of the work setting. This is essential for all the workers to feel connected and part of the same team with the same shared goals and vision.
For a geographically proximal workforce, you can organize a group happy hour at a nearby establishment, a lunch gathering, or an ice cream social. For a more dispersed workforce, you can set up virtual opportunities to socialize, like a virtual game night; you can even set these up with relative ease on the same computer system and network you use for company work.
Start Your Remote Worker Management Plan
Effectively managing a remote team requires developing a detailed and thorough set of policies and procedures for remote workers and managers to follow. This puts workers and managers on the same page regarding each one’s expectations and accountabilities. It also requires understanding how to maintain communication, morale, and other human elements involved in team success and cohesion. For help developing or improving your technologies for better managing remote teams, contact us at Frontier Business Products.