By Wren Noble
May. 31, 2022
Managing remote employees has rapidly shifted from being a new and unpredictable challenge to a regular part of the work landscape over the last two years. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates half of the workforce is now working remotely at least part of the time. While we have developed an incredible number of tools and processes to support remote staffing, remote work is still developing, and it still comes with its own unique challenges.
Staffing agencies are tackling remote work in their own ways. Some may be managing remote workers as part of their workforce, while others focus entirely on staffing remotely. Even those who don’t regularly manage remote staff may have to deal with the workplaces they staff occasionally shifting to remote work to accommodate unpredictable events.
All staffing agencies with remote workers will benefit from continuing to refine their remote workforce management skills and systems. Effective management builds a remote workforce that feels supported and gets the resources they need to do their work well, which ensures your clients always get the quality staffing they hired you for.
Remote workers will be able to work more effectively if they have easy access to information and important notifications. It’s harder to share timely information when you’re not working face to face. While there are many channels for communicating remotely, having too many options is a problem when you have critical or time-sensitive information to share.
Slack and email threads are easy to lose track of since there is a lot of noise on those channels. Workers hired through a staffing agency might not even be plugged into a company’s Slack or email system yet. Texts and phone calls are harder to send to larger groups simultaneously, and you may not want to share everyone’s personal numbers in a group text.
You want to figure out a streamlined notification system for your staffing agency. All important communication should go through that one channel, so nothing gets lost. Ideally, the software you’re using for scheduling and time tracking will include an app and a notification system so that everything stays in the same place. You want a tool that can send individual alerts as well as push important announcements to groups of workers directly.
Though we have all adapted to new working habits, unpredictable world events are still throwing unexpected interruptions into work and personal lives. On a purely practical level, smart staffing needs to anticipate these interruptions and have systems ready to deal with them. Your clients and your workforce will both be better off if you can build some accommodation into your staffing systems.
Workers may be sick unexpectedly in ways that make focusing impossible and require calling out. They may experience mental health challenges. Schools and daycares may close, leaving workers without childcare at the last minute. Travel plans are now more likely to get canceled, leaving workers stranded and scrambling to find ways to get back to a functional working environment.
Be prepared and communicate as needed during times of crisis to keep your employees safe and supported and ensure your clients’ needs are reliably fulfilled. Set up notifications ahead of time and use tools to easily manage your scheduling when it needs to change. Flexibility in a crisis and effective communication will help ensure that work isn’t derailed long term.
The most important, and often most challenging, part of staffing remotely is making effective schedules. Employee scheduling software can help you schedule in a more sophisticated way, communicate those schedules efficiently, and make easy changes when needed. Even if workers aren’t commuting, they need reliable scheduling information so they can manage their time.
Give employees mobile access to their schedules so they can view upcoming shifts from anywhere, including the job site. This will help improve employee experience and cut back on miscommunication, confusion, and no-shows.
Make schedules early so you can alert workers in advance and avoid increasingly common predictive scheduling laws in certain areas. Labor forecasting will help you anticipate where staffing will be needed, avoiding the negative consequences of over- or under-staffing and optimizing labor costs. You also want to have systems in place to track attendance and quickly fill open shifts in case of no-shows or emergencies.
The digital tools you use to manage your workforce will be the key to smooth and effective management. Remote work is only possible because of the amazing array of digital tools we have available to us now, so take advantage of them. All of the practical parts of managing remote workers are easier if you use software tailored for the job.
It’s vital to understand how, when, and where staff clock in – especially for agencies managing employees scattered across job sites. Proper time and attendance tools should be utilized to eliminate excessive wage costs stemming from issues in time theft, tardiness, and overtime. Employees should have the ability to clock in and view shifts on their phones right from the job site, and managers should be able to set clock-in parameters according to GPS location. Live time clock feeds are also a great way to improve back-office visibility into front-line attendance.
Onboarding is hard to do remotely, as it requires sorting lots of information and getting documents read and signed. Onboarding quickly and efficiently gets you off on the right foot with new hires. Digital tools will help you automate your HR data, get documents signed, and collect personal information, bank details, and addresses quickly. They can even introduce staff to your policies and systems and begin training remotely.
You may have payroll software, but you also need it to integrate with the rest of your management tools. Use a tool that can connect payroll to your scheduling and attendance software to make remote payroll management more efficient. Software can help you manage PTO and overtime payments that may vary by location as well.
Remote work can quickly get complicated when trying to stay compliant with labor laws. They may change from state to state and city to city, and your workers may not even be in the same locale as their workplace. Digital tools exist to help you navigate labor compliance easily instead of trying to work each situation out case-by-case. Use your scheduling software to automate breaks to avoid labor violations in some states.
The common thread in each of these strategies is simplifying systems and providing clear, direct management processes for your remote staff. Workers in person receive information through interpersonal conversations, physical written materials, and the actual working environment they are entering, as well as digital sources. That makes it easier to ask questions casually or reduce distractions by physically moving or shutting off your computer.
Remote work concentrates all tasks and communications into a single channel. Counterintuitively, this often makes the information overload much higher. It’s harder to focus, and harder to sort the important details from the noise. Onboarding to remote jobs — absorbing lots of information digitally and learning new software and tools — is often the hardest part. Workers placed through staffing agencies may have to repeat this process frequently.
If you provide them with a single source of truth, they will be able to work more confidently, knowing they have access to all the information they need. Simplify your management. Communicate through one clear channel. Give them access to schedules, time tracking, and payroll in one place. Reduce the noise and overwhelm so that your workers can get up to speed quickly and focus their attention on doing their jobs well.
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