Note: Recently, IMEC began conducting a series of Buzz Sessions, essentially virtual round table discussions with a small group (6-8) manufacturers from diverse industries and geographic locations. Through these conversations, paticipants share their urgent challenges and ideas with one another. Repeatedly, the participants have expressed the need for solutions in dealing with a virtual workforce. The current pandemic has forced small to mid-sized manufacturers to work in unfamiliar ways. This 2-part blog provides a few basic suggestions.
Who is a Remote Worker?
These are the geographically dispersed, functionally diverse individuals who rely on a variety of interactive technologies such as email, text, chat, web cams, and video conferencing to meet business objectives. Typically, they work from home-based offices and are often juggling family responsibilities along with work requirements.
Concerns of Remote Workers
- How long will I have to work from home?
- I like working from home; what if they tell me I have to go back?
- Does my boss trust that I am working? Do my co-workers trust that I am working?
- Why are they piling on more work just because I’m working from home? I’m busier than ever!
- With limited places to go this year, we probably won’t even take a vacation. So, does every day become a workday?
- How do I set the necessary boundaries between work, family, and social life?
Virtual work came on the business scene more than 20 years ago when advanced technology, global competition, and the need for just-in-time customer service became business imperatives. Today’s stay-at-home mandates and the need for social distancing have driven us to establish flexible work schedules to limit head count in our facilities. Hence, the number of remote workers has virtually exploded overnight.
The following are key factors to help you successfully manage your new crop of virtual workers. By combining technology with trust, you’ll have a winning combination.
The number one best practice for managing a remote workforce is to have effective technology in place.
Remote workers rely on technology. Unlike their brick-and-mortar colleagues who can get answers by walking down the hallway, virtual workers depend on technology for daily information, sales trends, project reports, and even social interactions with co-workers and management. Spend some precious time to evaluate the technology provided for their use.
- What hardware will they use?
- What software functionality do they really need?
- Do they have reliable internet connections with broad bandwidth capable of downloading large files?
- What video conferencing and software systems are available?
Equip remote workers with cameras and reliable audio connections. Many laptops have solid, built-in capabilities. During meetings, ask everyone to come “on camera” and if possible “off mute.” This enables a more natural form of communication. Understandably, ask workers to use the mute feature when the dog starts barking, but the camera feature restores our natural ability to read body language, thus reducing misunderstandings. Seeing people also improves trust.
Don’t be afraid to use technology for problem solving and brainstorming—cameras and annotation features can actually facilitate these conversations. Once you get used to using the Chat box, polls, and annotation features, they will become a natural addition to every virtual meeting.
Provide not only the technology the worker needs, but also the training to use that technology. This may mean a few hours of focused work with someone who knows the systems relatively well (we are all still learning!) and can help answer questions.
Overall, keep it simple. You may have some workers who are excited about working from home, but their current technical capabilities are limited to email. Make sure you know their skills and their tolerance levels for trouble shooting or, minimally, knowing who to call for help.
Interested in joining a Buzz Session? View the list of upcoming sessions:
Manufacturing Leader Buzz Session: Sales in a Virtual World
August 11 @ 2 pm
Join manufacturing leaders to discuss first-hand how today's manufacturers are adapting and thriving in a virtual sales world.
Manufacturing Leader Buzz Session: Onboarding New Employees in a Remote World
August 18 @ 2 pm
A discussion on how to engage new hires for a successful transition to your company, even in a remote world.
Manufacturing Leader Buzz Session: Strategic Planning in Uncertain Times
August 25 @ 10 am
Join a conversation with other manufacturing leaders to share the strategic planning challenges you face, and learn from the best practices guiding other manufacturers — no matter what the future might bring.