Lessons From Managing A Remote Workforce

By Sandra Hannon, Global Head of HR at Solve.Care

A few years ago, one of my team members shared that she wished to fulfill a life-long ambition to live in Australia for a year. She asked me if I would consider allowing her to work remotely during this period. I, too, am a keen traveler and related to her thirst for living abroad. More importantly, I understood that granting the flexibility to this young and talented individual to work off-site, creating a bespoke work-life ‘fit’ for her, was going to be key in retaining her and ensuring she would be highly engaged for both the short and long term.

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We discussed in depth the rules of engagement that were important for both of us to make this plan a success. We considered the deliverables and the timelines that were important to preserve the momentum of the business and ensure necessary focus. We discussed the frequency and structure of our check-in moments and the documentation that was needed to track her progress against project milestones, as well as to co-manage our projects, for the year. We also talked about the locations and roles of the project stakeholders and our plan to work around the time-zone differences. And finally, we discussed what actions we would take if our grand plan didn’t work for whatever reason and had to cancel the agreement.

So, off she flew to Bondi Beach during the Christmas week. After two weeks of settling in, she checked in from Sydney to commence her ‘assignment’ in the pre-agreed cadence. She kept me informed of business and project updates as well as shared enviable stories and photographs of her new life in Australia. Looking back, her time as a digital nomad was a resounding success for our business. This can be attributed to the clear ground rules in place, from the get-go. This test case led to others embarking on equally successful career breaks or other offsite/irregular deployments. It also ensured that we were an attractive proposition to other young prospective talent approaching us.

Fast forward to January 2020, when our management team held its quarterly planning session. We strategized on how to best meet the expectations of young talent that work across our business. Intellectually, we understood the kind of environment they would thrive; a place where they could hang out, play, and experiment. They needed a place that offers flexibility including the ability to not only work in collaborative connected workplaces, but also the flexibility to work remotely. It was clear that we had to offer more remote working options or lose some valuable millennials to a company that did. We settled on a window of 8-12 months to get our ducks in a row and made responsible choices to ensure our business sustainability.

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Five weeks later and with zero notice, COVID-19 catapulted millions of people across the globe, into remote working. And we were not exempt from this challenging experience. Our people responded with agility and stability that surprised and delighted everyone. By using our Team.Care Network©, we pivoted to remote work within 48 hours and could track and manage the well-being of all our people. We recruited, inducted, and promoted employees, remotely. Our managers held regular remote check-ins with their team. We introduced e-learning and learning paths linked to each core function of the business. We also developed and delivered a new employee incentive program. And to keep morale going, we turned our Friday Wine Nights into Friday Wine Zoom Nights. We even developed a new product in record time. Our Executive Team held regular Town Halls via Zoom, where they shared the highs and lows of the business to ensure every single employee was kept engaged and informed.

I have learned that anything can happen to challenge our comfortable way of life and that there are remarkably resilient people everywhere. From a single player who wanted to live in Australia, to an entire team who was committed to supporting the business remotely through a pandemic-sized problem. The ingredients are the same; measure, map, manage, and motivate.

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