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How to Manage a Remote Workforce: Prioritize, Simplify, Celebrate

After a year of telework, we’ve dispelled a great myth: that productivity will decline if people are not physically in the office. We’ve been doing full-time telework for nearly 18 months without a loss in productivity.

Working on the cloud may be less fun than sipping fancy coffee and eavesdropping on your fellow commuters. Plus you can’t see a coworker and drop by for a quick check-in or grab a conference room for a brainstorming session. I don’t have a solution for the intangible joys of the commute. But if we are intentional, we can create opportunities to meaningfully connect with our team remotely on the cloud.

So, how do you manage a remote workforce? The same way you manage them in person: Prioritize people, simplify processes and celebrate progress.

People do the work. You have to prioritize them. Attend to them as a gardener attends to rare flowers. You have to set up an environment suitable for them to grow and flourish. Similarly, now that your team is in a new environment, you have to create a space where they can be successful.

Prioritizing people is the most important of the three pillars because it feeds the purpose of the others. You simplify processes and celebrate progress as a means to prioritize people by creating a nourishing environment.

As the work environment evolves from the office to the cloud, ground yourself by focusing on the basics. All else will fall into place.

Prioritize People

Connect: Set up a discussion with someone, get on their calendar or send a quick instant message. Set up regularly scheduled weekly meetings, instead of monthly ones. Set up a “green light” policy: If my availability light is green, pop into my virtual office, i.e., call me.

Collaborate: We are social beings. We want to have fun doing meaningful work. This can happen in the office or in the cloud.  Find ways for people to work together, especially if their work isn’t inherently team-oriented. There are other ways to create opportunities for collaboration.

For instance, I recently led the development of a much needed training for my regional office.  It was a complex subject and involved five different divisions, as well as staff and three levels of management. We developed this training and created meaningful connections with each other and the material. And we did it all from the cloud.

Simplify Processes

Continuous Improvement: This can happen in a variety of ways, of course. In the office, this looks like a bunch of people in a meeting brainstorming ideas and interrogating the red tape. It looks the same in the cloud, except the meeting is virtual. Plus there are a few added benefits, such as that we can see changes better onscreen, and shy participants can comment in the side chat or make edits without jumping in.

Embrace Technology: As a leader, you have to learn the new technology and encourage your team to learn them. Technology is not just for IT professionals anymore. We can use technologies like TEAMS, Power Apps, Outlook, etc., to make our jobs easier. We don’t have to wait or try to explain our work to IT professionals hoping they will know what we mean and what is important to us. We can do it ourselves! Google it. YouTube it. Build it!

Celebrate Progress

Most people celebrate at “full” success, that is, once a particular goal is achieved. But I prefer to throw in interim celebrations.  This is useful in a variety of ways. It can boost the team’s energy and focus by recognizing how far they have come. It is also an opportunity for you to reinforce specific behaviors you want to be repeated or want others to emulate. What gets rewarded, gets repeated.

Virtual high-five

Who: You can give anyone a virtual high-five. Bosses, colleagues, subordinates, etc. Sometimes, I like to give kudos and copy my boss so they start getting name recognition.

When: In real time is best. However, if you are better with the written word than the spoken one, feel free to send an email instead.

What: A message that acknowledges progress and emphasizes something specific about the product or person. Try to follow up the traditional “Good job” with at least one specific thing that you liked. Something like “Wow! I really like the design you picked and the presentation was well-timed. You all have obviously worked really hard on this and your ability to complete a task this complicated in less than a month is impressive.” You can add a clever, work-appropriate emoticon, GIF or meme to carry it forward.

How: Email, instant message, video call, phone call, or another virtual recognition system.

Why: To celebrate successes! Most of the work we do takes years to fully accomplish. It is like a marathon, every mile counts and every mile should be celebrated.

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Nefertiti is a Supervisory Life Scientist for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She is passionate about employee engagement, mentoring and helping people and groups achieve their goals. Her leadership mantra is, “Prioritize people. Simplify processes. Celebrate progress.”

In her free time, she enjoys reading, drawing and writing. Nefertiti is the mother of a curious and compassionate seven-year-old, with whom she enjoys rediscovering the world.

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Avatar photo Nicole Blake Johnson

Love this, Nefertiti. I especially like that you stated this up front: “So, how do you manage a remote workforce? The same way you manage them in person: Prioritize people, simplify processes and celebrate progress. People do the work. You have to prioritize them.” Simplifying processes is something I’ve had my eye on and will continue to improve.