• Shaun Bateman

Remote management: The challenges of a scattered workforce

How are organisations supposed to manage and pay remote workers in the world defined by distance?


Looking at the world of work today, it has been cut in half. On one side is the office, the traffic, and the regular flow of people into places and roles. On the other is the remote workforce, with staff doing their best to complete their roles using digital tools and versatile technology.


The Covid-19 pandemic has effectively turned every working eye towards what’s being referred to as the ‘newsual’ – the new normal – and what this means for employees and companies. Organisations are grappling with unexpected challenges around payments, management, and control. According to the General Manager of CRS Technologies, Ian McAlister, the most important activity any organisation can engage in right now is to keep calm and develop a plan.

“Build a solid plan, implement it and revisit it often,” he advises. “Make use of technology where it can benefit the business, don’t make hasty decisions that can have long-term consequences, and communicate often. Engaging with your employees on a regular and personal level can make all the difference.

“One of the more difficult areas of remote working is the management of employees. It can be challenging to ensure that individuals are meeting targets, being productive, or even coping with their new working conditions. To resolve this, consider hosting regular online meetings that conclude with clear deliverables. If everybody knows what they are expected to do, the metrics that will measure their performance, and how they are to do it, then they will be more engaged and more likely to do the work.

“It’s also important to cater to your employee’s mental health,” McAlister continues. “Your people need to be as comfortable as possible so that their needs are being met. If they feel heard and they understand exactly what is expected of them, then they will feel of value to the organisation.”

Salary payments should be one of the few areas that remain unchanged during the remote working revolution, as long as no cash payments are required and a proper payroll system is in place. The legislation around the payment benefits is changing regularly and only a solid payroll system is capable of keeping up with these changes. Ensure that the business practises separation of duties and maintains corporate oversight.

“It’s advisable to take advantage of the financial benefits available in legislation, not only for the company’s benefit but for the employees that are being affected,” says McAlister. “It’s very apparent that a remote workforce is the future so it’s worth putting all these processes – financial, managerial, operations – into place right from the start. They may not be temporary.”

During the course of the pandemic, the business should use this as an opportunity to refine the processes it is putting in place as they can be used going forward. A well-developed remote working policy that achieves results shouldn’t be thrown out the door the moment the regulations allow office working again. The best practice is to genuinely set clear and agreed expectations, communicate often and personally, and measure outcomes against expectations. Reward those who deliver exceptional performances during these complex times and mentor those who are struggling; it will pay off over the long term.

“There is little doubt that the processes that are required for the lockdown will be used going forward as companies realise that it’s practical to work remotely,” concludes McAlister. “With time they will be modified to suit a more long-term scenario. The HR function will need to move from a more traditional method to one that can manage the vagaries of remote working, and there needs to be more trust between management and employees at all levels. However, I think that South Africa is mature enough to meet this challenge. In fact, it already has.”

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