Competencies for managing remote workers

April 14, 2016 Kelly


As business shifts to the cloud, many employees no longer need to be in the office to access the tools and resources they need to work. Remote work can benefit the organization and the individual, but to make the transition effectively, those who lead remote teams may need to develop new competencies.

When Melissa Mayer took the helm of Yahoo in 2012, one of the first policy changes she made was to ban working from home. The reactions within the company and from the outside world were mixed—and very vocal. Some people suggested that remote working was draining productivity and undermining the workplace culture, while others insisted that Mayer’s decision demonstrated narrow thinking and a prejudiced view of remote work. While it’s still not clear whether the ban was a successful measure—most recently, the company announced plans to lay off as much as 15 percent of its workforce—it certainly put the remote-work phenomenon on the front page of the news.

The number of remote employees in the workforce has grown exponentially over the past decade.  According to, the number of employees who work from home regularly in the US has grown by 103 percent since 2005. Today, 3.7 million employees (2.8 percent of the workforce) now work from home at least half the time.

The benefits of remote work

Despite Mayer’s concerns, remote work offers a number of attractive benefits to both the organization and the individual.

For the organization, those benefits include a more attractive workplace, a happier, healthier, more productive workforce, and considerable cost savings. For example, GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics estimates that a typical business will see, per person, per year, approximately $11,000 in savings for each employee who is allowed to work from home half the time. Companies that integrate remote work options could also save money on the cost of salaries. A survey of 1,500 job seekers conducted by FlexJobs found that one in five job seekers would take a 10 percent pay cut for flexible work options.

Organizations that are willing to hire 100 percent remote employees also benefit from being able to hire from a significantly wider pool of talent, perhaps even globally.

Remote working can boost productivity for certain types of tasks, especially those that require deep concentration with minimal interruptions. According to data from Inc., remote workers are 11 to 20 percent more productive when performing creative tasks.

For the individual, remote work can help to improve the work-life balance, increase time spent with family, and create a healthier lifestyle. The FlexJobs survey found that more than three in four job seekers (76 percent) have had to make a daily, round-trip commute of over an hour, and of those, 21 percent had a daily commute of more than three hours. GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics estimated that workers could save between $2,000 and $7,000 on commuting costs by working remotely.

Remote-work challenges

But there are downsides to remote work as well. When employees no longer gather together in the same physical location, it creates a very different dynamic. Face-to-face meetings, casual conversations in the hallways, and break-room socializing all bring people together in unique ways: when people no longer work together on location, those shared experiences no longer exist. It doesn’t mean that organizational culture, team dynamics, and employee engagement levels have to suffer, but HR professionals and managers do need to find new ways to recreate these workplace assets through different channels.

Three tips for remote productivity

Here are three ways to support productivity and maintain a healthy workplace dynamic when employees work remotely part-time or permanently.

Set rules and expectations. When employees are “out of sight,” they shouldn’t feel invisible. They need to know that their work is important and their efforts are integral to the organization’s success. An employee’s contributions should never be measured in terms of the time they spend at their desks, but when people work from home, it’s even more important to quantify their performance in terms of responsibilities, targets, and deliverables. Set clear expectations and predictable schedules around the times they need to be available to clients or other members of the team, and set up regular check-ins where they can report on their progress. By the same token, remote employees need to be acknowledged when they make progress. When in-person meetings are replaced by email threads and conference calls, the communications can become very task-focused, but remembering to email the group to publicly recognize a remote member’s hard work can go a long way towards making them feel appreciated, connected, and motivated.

Competencies that support this approach:

Ensuring Accountability and Managing People for building new accountability and recognition structures

Planning and Organizing for ensuring predictable schedules and regular check-ins

Prioritize team building. When people don’t share the same space, there are fewer opportunities for spontaneous and informal interactions. The opportunity to chat in the lunchroom or stop by someone’s desk to say hello are simply not an option for remote workers, and those moments are an important part of building familiarity and trust in the workplace. Some organizations choose to schedule annual retreats where a globally distributed workforce can come together to socialize and brainstorm. Others use social and networking technologies to create informal spaces where employees can let off steam and talk about topics unrelated to work. Ultimately, in remote-work environments, managers and HR personnel need to take the initiative in creating spaces and processes that break down isolation and siloes and support interdepartmental collaboration and social interaction.

Competencies that support this approach:

Fostering Communication for building new formal and informal communication channels

Embracing Diversity and Acting with Empathy and Compassion for bringing people from different cultures, regions, and disciplines together

Leverage technology. The rise of remote work has only been made possible by technological innovation, and technology will continue to enhance the remote-work experience. Supporting the remote workforce with the right technologies can make all the difference to their productivity and their sense of connectedness with the organization. While email and phone communications enable remote coworkers to stay in touch, newer platforms such as Basecamp and Jell provide more integrated tools that keep teams in sync and on track. Socially oriented platforms such as Sqwiggle and Yammer can support more informal, ad hoc text and video interactions among remote workers, and conferencing platforms such as GoToMeeting and Webex enable remote groups to collaborate by talking together, videoconferencing, and sharing screens. New technologies are emerging regularly, and being able to understand, evaluate, and implement them is a key part of supporting the remote workforce.

Competencies that support this approach:

Adaptablity and Using Information Technology for adapting to and confidently exploring new technologies and processes

See the full range of HRSG’s competency content.

Learn more about competency-based talent management.



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