Fostering Collaboration When You Have a Remote and Mobile Workforce

Much has been written about today’s increasingly mobile workforce. The popularity of smart phones, laptops and tablets within the business world means employees can literally do their jobs from any location, no longer confined within the walls of their office.

In fact, some organizations are actively encouraging employees to work remotely. In December 2010, President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act into law, mandating that government agencies establish policies to enable employees to work from home. While there are numerous benefits of this model, a remote workforce also brings its fair share of challenges.

For both experienced professionals (who are used to a traditional office environment), and entry-level employees (who are accustomed to the in-person collaboration and communication of a college environment), it can be difficult to adapt to the remote model.

So the key question is this: how can HR encourage collaboration among employees — both seasoned and inexperienced — who may only see each other in person a few times a year? It’s not always easy, but here are some relatively simple tips that can help.

Knowledge is power

Perhaps one of the biggest concerns of managing a remote work environment is making sure employees know the protocol and chain of command for various business needs and problems that may arise.

For example, where should a new hire go to obtain new business cards? Who should they contact if their company-provided IP phone cuts out? Making sure that all of this information is detailed in a handbook or an online employee portal is essential when employees can’t just pop into the HR office to ask.

An employee portal can also serve as a place where people can find a list of company events, access document templates, find benefit information, submit vacation requests, and more. This is particularly important for less experienced employees. You can head a lot of questions and issues off at the pass by making sure your newly hires have the information they need to be successful at their fingertips.

Training from afar

Training and employee development is another area that can pose challenges for HR departments managing remote workers. One way to ensure your disparate workforce continues to benefit from knowledge sharing is to institute remote “mentor sessions,” where junior staff participate in a mentor program with a more seasoned colleague to ask questions, discuss job challenges, and learn from their colleague’s experience.

Today’s video conferencing technologies make it easy to set up these sorts of sessions in a more interactive manner, and with applications such as Skype and Facetime it can be extremely inexpensive. Lunch time webinars and self-paced online training courses are also a great way to ensure your remote workforce is up to date on the latest company information and products.

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Face to face, virtually

The benefits of putting a face to a name are multiple when you’re dealing with a remote workforce. Many email clients and smart phones can leverage photos stored in the employee directory, so that every employee’s headshot pops up when they send an email or call a co-worker.

This feature comes in handy when remote workers are finally on-site or meet up with colleagues from other offices at an industry event. It also fosters a more congenial work environment — it’s much more difficult for an employee to fire off an angry missive to a co-worker when he or she is staring down their smiling face.

IT and HR: Two equally important acronyms

There are numerous ways the IT department can assist HR in managing the success of a remote workforce, in addition to the “mug shot” tip mentioned above. For remote workers, their only connection to the office is via technology, so it’s even more imperative that their phones, computers and mobile devices work.

To ensure that disparate workers are not subjected to long wait times and loss of productivity when their devices go down, your company’s help desk technicians should be equipped with technology that can support workers from afar. Remote support technology allows IT technicians to access and view the desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets of off-site workers and even take control of their mouse and keyboard to fix the problem. It’s just like they’re standing over that person’s shoulder.

A remote workforce can result in increased efficiency and cost-savings, but also a lot of headaches for both HR and employees. By adopting some of these tips, you can eliminate some of the challenges and reap the benefits of a more flexible, collaborative workforce.

Nathan McNeill is co-founder and vice president of product strategy at Ridgeland, Mississippi-based Bomgar, the worldwide leader in secure, enterprise-class remote support. He is responsible for aligning product strategy and product marketing with the needs of over 5,000 Bomgar customers.

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