/// How to Manage the New Mobile Workforce
Never before in modern times have workers had so much autonomy over their work days. With the proliferation of mobile technology, professionals can now work from home, on the road, or elsewhere. Already 1.3 billion people are untethered from their desks. That’s liberating for today’s workforce but challenging for managers who now must keep a distributed workforce motivated, productive, and satisfied.
We cannot ignore the fact that the workplace is in flux and employees are demanding more flexibility and better work-life balance. A recent survey conducted by Citrix notes that a majority of workers who have never worked remotely (64%) identified at least one extremely popular perk they’d be willing to give up to be able to do so just one day a week: lunch breaks (32%), alcohol (25%), or coffee (20%).
Today’s managers are at a crossroads, needing to balance flexibility and productivity. Traditionally, their role was to supervise, direct, and interact face-to-face with employees. That was easier with employees at their desks from nine to five. Managers could stop by at any time and check in. Now how can they maintain solid oversight while allowing their employees the freedom to work remotely?
The key is to relinquish control and instead focus on cultivating teamwork, creativity, responsiveness, and, ultimately, productivity. Also, you must be up to date on technology for sharing information, communicating decisions, and collaborating on projects quickly and cost-effectively. Before you hand over the smartphone and laptop, here are some tips to help you be an effective virtual manager:
Be engaged, always. Lead by example. Understand the nature of the work you’re overseeing—is it highly structured or unstructured—and customize your approach to fit the employee and the task. As CEO of a multinational company with thousands of employees in more than 100 countries, I take several steps to stay engaged. One way I come to understand the work my remote employees do is by holding in-person town hall meetings with wide cross sections of them when I travel to their cities. You have to run your business top down, but it will never work without a similar amount of bottom-up communication. I just don’t have time to do lots of one-on-ones, but small gatherings allow me to speak with employees directly and get a real sense of what is happening. The bigger and more virtual you become, the more important such back-to-the-floor activity is. And I do also schedule regular meetings using the most appropriate modes of communication. Consider conference calls for general business updates, videoconferencing when personally introducing new products or processes, and in-person meetings for training or business planning. Always keep the lines of communication open and two-way. Provide real-time feedback, and be sure to acknowledge good work and provide constructive criticism as the work comes through. When you’re not regularly face-to-face it can be easy to let things slide, but you must always be engaged, consistent, and flexible.
Set clear goals and expectations. Trusting your employees to meet expectations without direct supervision is essential to becoming an effective manager of flexible workers. From day one, communicate goals and expectations clearly and effectively. The goals should reflect quantifiable end results, not process or hours spent on specific projects. For instance, each month my regional marketing managers are expected to report a certain number of marketing inquiries, my business center managers to generate a specific number of office sales, and my regional directors to open a particular group of new centers. To measure progress, implement a results-based management program that sets and measures your established goals.
Embrace a flexible lifestyle. Offer employees who work remotely or from home access to professional workplaces when they need it. They need to know they can get professional services and support when required. They need professional locations where they can come together face-to-face, whether for meetings with colleagues and clients or for working on special projects.
Be a connector. I’m a big believer in meetings that matter, bringing the right people together to get talking, thinking, and making key decisions. You can only do so much over the phone or the Internet, so the more virtual you become the more important this is. Also, facilitate and encourage corporate camaraderie by creating opportunities for your employees to socialize, formally and informally. Organize offsite outings—for example, volunteering as a group at a local community organization—or host inner-office social breaks, like snack carts or game days at the office. Don’t stop there. Go beyond your inner circle and encourage employees to join professional organizations, fostering relationships with other industry professionals. Those connections can reinforce your corporate culture and identity.
With flexible working becoming more commonplace, virtual leadership is a necessity for successfully run organizations. Work is no longer a place people go to. It is something they do. Managers who shift their emphasis from face time to engagement, flexibility, and consistency will be better equipped to tackle the challenges of today’s economy. They also will be able to take credit for developing loyal and fulfilled teams.