Eight Techniques to Manage a Flexible Workforce

In the post-pandemic world, pretty much everyone agrees that what the working world needs is a little more flexibility. Luckily, businesses are on board with this idea and appear willing to do pretty much whatever it will take to prevent their next worker from being a part of the great resignation.

While we love the idea of a more agile, reactive workforce, managing a group of remote employees sure does present some pretty novel problems. You see, since about the dawn of time, managers have been taught how to lead a group of employees that would be present in the same office, at the same time. 

Below, we outline eight top tips your managers can employ now to set your hybrid workforce up for success in these post-pandemic times. 

Let them make the rules
If you really want to empower your workers, put them in the driver’s seat when it comes to making the rules for what a more flexible work environment would look like. Since they are the ones that are going to be living this life and enforcing the rules, give them the opportunity to contribute ideas and sign off on the final plan. Since it’s unlikely that you’ll hit it out of the park right from the start, be sure to circle back with them at regular intervals to see what’s working and what isn’t and collaboratively adjust the plan until you land on something that works for managers and employees alike. 

Just Trust
Pre-pandemic, there was a misconception that working from home meant slacking off. While the data now shows that employees actually work harder and longer when they’re working from home, it can be hard to shed old habits and implicitly trust your workforce. Managers can hit the right note when it comes to oversight by focusing instead on establishing a culture of trust that includes firm expectations around productivity and availability. This should also include frequent communication and check-ins to both keep projects on track and hold folks accountable to their commitments. 

Put up Parameters
One of the downsides to working from home is that folks have trouble “switching off” at the end of the day. While it’s nice to be able to reach employees when you need them, this “always on” mentality can very quickly lead to burnout, which is associated with increased employee turnover. Managers can head off this problem by including parameters on work hours when they outline expectations — and actually modeling this behavior themselves! As such, managers shouldn’t reach out to employees outside of “business hours” (whatever they may be) and should also make a point of “signing off” at the end of their day to show workers that it’s preferable to take time from the office. 

As we touched on above, being project-oriented is key to managing your hybrid workforce. However, the pros note that you have to focus on the goal of getting a project across the finish line, as opposed to managing every facet of the process. Specifically, they note that as long as you have set expectations and give your staff the tools that they need to get the job done, you should give your employees the flexibility to complete the task however they see fit. This air of flexibility prevents employees from feeling like they are being micromanaged and in return fosters truth. 

Keep Talking
Working from home can at times feel isolating – gone are the days of casual conversations, swinging by a cubicle for a quick question, or setting up an impromptu meeting to collaborate on a quick project. However, managers can foster this environment by encouraging and facilitating communication among their workforce. Now, more than ever, we have the best tools to be able to chat with our colleagues so make sure that your managers are leveraging them to keep communication channels open. In addition, managers should promote the use of group project software so that workers can maintain the collaborative environment they previously enjoyed, no matter their location.

Level the Playing Field
Managers that are overseeing a truly hybrid workforce that includes both remote, in-person, and combination employees should be cognizant of treating these various groups equally. It may seem sensible to usher these disparate groups into “teams” — since collaboration just flows more naturally when people are in the same environment but doing so can quickly cause divides between entire departments. Therefore, assignments and projects should be allocated without considering their worksite status as much as possible. In addition, managers should take steps to promote equality, such as making meetings on Zoom for all participants to eliminate the side conversations that inadvertently happen when a group of people gather in a room and then have others dialing in. 

Use your Tools
Beyond the department oversight and heading up projects, much of a manager’s day-to-day duties include matters that could so easily be handled by an automated HR system. Time off requests, vacation bank questions, and general PTO requirements could all be addressed if your company leverages an HR system that gives workers access to their own data with just a few strokes of the keyboard. More to the point, an automated system can make it easier for managers to see where their crew is going to be and plan for workplace absences or other issues that may change the trajectory of projects or deadlines. Don’t think you can afford a system of your own? Consider partnering with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), such as Abel HR, which will set you up with a system and help run the show so that your managers can focus on the important elements of your business.

Review your review process: 
In many companies, performance reviews include a whole lot of back and forth and shuffling of paperwork as people sign off on various aspects of the process. In general, this is a tedious process with multiple opportunities for error, but with a hybrid workforce, it’s a recipe for disaster. Set your managers up for success by implementing an online, automated system whereby managers can electronically collect, review, and sign off on performance reviews without ever touching a piece of paper! Many programs also allow managers and even HR to track the reviews as they wind through the process so that you can quickly and easily identify where it’s getting held up and fix it without wasting time on a witch hunt.