As remote working becomes increasingly common and popular with company employees, as managers and human resource departments (HR), we need to adapt and provide guidelines and a different style of management.
Providing a more agile WFH (Work From Home) or WFA (Work From Anywhere) environment hence is becoming ever more important and so, in this post below, let’s look at some ideas to help you manage remote employees using agile methods and thinking.
The Benefits of Allowing Employees to Work from Anywhere (WFA)
It is estimated that allowing staff to work from home (WFH) or to work from anywhere (WFA) can save you up to USD$11,000 (about GBP£9,000) per employee each year. Whether as permanent employees working virtually or as a freelancer hired by you, these employees are now increasing in number and rapidly.
As a business or company, there are distinct benefits to allowing and also pursuing this drive to allowing employees to WFA. These benefits include cost savings from:
- Less need to provide office space
- Reduction in power bills and cleaning bills
- Being able to provide meetings and training online (again less room space and power bills)
- Research in fact suggests that employees are also more productive (and loyal) if they are allowed the freedom to work from anywhere and this, in turn, can drastically help reduce staff turnover and new hire staff training costs.
Before proceeding further, let me quickly also explain some terms:
- WFH – has become quite a well-known term recently and this means work from home.
- WFA – means work from anywhere and this means that an employee might, for example, be from the UK but working for a year in Barbados on a digital nomad visa, or s/he might be working from home, or from a vacation home in the south of France, i.e. literally from anywhere where they can get a high-speed Internet connection.
Using Agile Management for Distributed Remote Teams
The word agile is often used for project management to explain the way in which, instead of having a clear linear plan in place to achieve a business goal, you instead have a more flexible plan and approach whereby you adapt to the conditions as you go.
So how could an agile model be used for managing remote workers WFH and WFA?
Well, working from home and from anywhere remotely is still in its infancy, with only a relatively small percentage of employees working from home on a permanent basis.
With WFA (working from anywhere) in particular, an agile method of working can be particularly useful as we learn to create management processes that factor in an array of new considerations.
These considerations include staff:
- working in different time zones
- new hires from different countries and hence worth ethics and cultures in ways of doing business and of working
- working in various situations, i.e. locations in terms of security issues such as sometimes using public WiFi if working from anywhere (a VPN connection might be recommended to start with)
The WFH and especially the WFA revolution will mean a need to finetune those management skills and an agile way of managing is worth considering.
1. Remote Working and the Company Vision
Given that WFA is a relatively new phenomenon, we are still learning of ways in which managing WFA and WFH employees can be tweaked, perfected, and managed.
So, an agile method of exploration and discovery is very much the typical way in which many companies are developing a WFA (Work from Anywhere) policy and guidelines.
This flexibility makes sense for now because we are very much at the beginning of a WFA and WFH shift and, as we speak, technologies and software are being developed to accommodate this shift.
Do not, for example, be surprised if you see a set of palm trees behind Mary of marketing as she starts working from Barbados on one of their new remote working visas.
Likewise, high-quality co-working spaces around the world are developing fast and many countries are only now beginning to see the commercial benefits of offering digital nomad working visas.
Action: Start by having a clear vision of what the end goal is. Is this a temporary WFA policy to accommodate a pandemic, for example, or is it a long-term goal? Will every employee be allowed to work from anywhere? Do you have a timeframe in mind to get a % of staff working remotely? Create a bullet point list of no more than 8 points and have one to two paragraphs of text to explain the main vision on a maximum one-page document for this WFA vision.
2. Begin Allowing WFA to Employees
If one of your team can work from Costa Rica for a year on a digital nomads work visa, and if you know that they will have no problem getting their work done (are reliable and efficient) then why not encourage this work style?
Happier staff who have a more balanced work to life balance + who are given the freedom by their company to WFA (work from anywhere) = an employee who will value their employer. Happier staff are shown to result in reduced staff turnover and this itself results in huge cost saving in hiring and training new hire staff.Dr Paul Symonds
So, hopefully, you as a company or manager are able to encourage staff to work from anywhere.
Certainly, the feeling early on is that managers and bosses wrongly have the impression that you need to micro-manage employees, i.e. to have them there in person, and staff needs to socialize in-person to make teamwork well together.
On the contrary, though, studies show that staff are proving to be more effective working from the location of their choice remotely.
Agile Methods and Guidelines: Even with a set of pre-determined guidelines for remote employees, new opportunities for improving the way they work from distance need refining.
Even if you, for example, use specific software to manage teams, the logistics of where and how they can work are changing, and, in this sense, approaching WFA from an agile management perspective, for now, makes sense.
The model above (see image above) uses an agile method to factor in the different conditions and environments (including time zones) staff will begin to work from.
Remember also that with a WFA option policy, many new hires staff will very likely start working from day 1 by distance remotely. In this case, the onboarding (induction) process will be done remotely.
One thing that is for certain is that the big move towards allowing employees to work from anywhere is a very fluid process – meaning that the boundaries and ways of working from anywhere are changing very quickly.
Action: Create an initial set of guidelines for employees working from anywhere. Also, be prepared for step 3 below hereby this will be an agile process – whereby every month you will re-evaluate the guidelines and adapt them accordingly.
3. Adapt as a Company as Employees WFA
As discussed, the landscape is changing so quickly at the moment that an agile process can be a great way of developing your WFA guidelines for now.
Likewise, technology itself is changing so fast that employees can choose to work as digital nomads quite easily.
With the combination of digital nomad visas and the availability of devices such as a Glocalme (a portable wi-fi hotspot), working from anywhere literally does mean from anywhere!
For a company, having a plan on how to manage meetings when staff are working in so many different time zones is just one example of how, as a manager, you will have to re-evaluate how you manage a team. Integrating and learning how to manage different cultural work-styles will also become increasingly important.
Action: Embrace the WFA era and use an agile system for re-evaluating WFA guidelines. Plan to re-analyze the WFA processes every month and be willing to adapt and change the guidelines and how you work, as technology and WFA opportunities change.
4. Perfect Your Company’s WFA Policy and Guidelines
For companies offering staff the chance to WFH (work from home), it is far easier to create the guidelines, particularly if staff are working in the same geographical region.
Time zones will be the same. Providing hardware will be much easier if needed, etc.
A WFA (work from anywhere) policy, on the other hand, can better benefit from an agile method.
Workplaces are becoming more flexible and with this flexibility and an ever-changing workplace, agile methods work well.
Indeed, training managers and team leaders in agile methods can be worthwhile.
Action: Continue to review WFA guidelines frequently.
Online Training for Remote Employees
For online training, the likes of Zoom and MS Teams have adapted their software.
With remote teams, offering training is a great way to still find a way to build team spirit, communication skills, and team working skills.
Having talked about agile methods and adaptability and continual re-evaluation, factors including personal wellbeing, health & safety (including ergonomics and workspace setup), information security, team-working, online meetings, and the social aspect of working at home all need to be considered and offered to WFA employees.
Some training materials you might find especially useful for providing online training for WFA staff are:
- Inclusive Leadership
- Intercultural Communication skills
- Digital Wellness
- Mental well-being for Staff Working From Home (or from anywhere)
You might also find this post useful on tips for managing distributed teams.
Dr Paul Symonds
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