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SA entrepreneur has a solution to manage remote teams

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When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, thousands of firms in South Africa sent their people home. For a while, it worked brilliantly – until it didn’t. While early surveys showed up to 80% of remote employees were more productive when working from home, new data suggests that productivity and engagement plummets between 30-40 days after teams go remote, and few businesses know what to do about it.

The challenge of managing remote teams is only going to grow in the coming months, as more companies announce plans to permanently allow remote working. Twitter has already said that all its employees can telecommute. But many managers of remote teams are battling to know what is really going on in their teams, says Oran Cohen, the founder of online people management platform GWork.

“If productivity plummets after 30-40 days, what happens after 180 days? How do you onboard someone remotely? How do you gauge anxiety, and know who is battling and needs support? Who is slacking, and who is an asset? Most managers just don’t know the answers to these questions, which means they don’t always feel in control and struggle to have a full picture of how their employees are showing up,” said Cohen.

There are many performance measurement tools, culture tools and task management tools. However, they don’t connect the dots about employees, or drive behaviour change. As a small business owner himself, Cohen was looking for a system that could drive accountability, productivity and engagement from remote working employees, give managers the ‘people data’ they need to manage remote teams effectively, and strengthen remote teams’ performance, culture and capability.

He couldn’t find one – so he built one himself. As an expert in behaviour change and organisational psychology, Cohen has worked with major brands like Google, Nest and FNB to drive innovation and change, so he knew what the pain points were for organisations trying to manage their people effectively.

“Organisations are good at managing tasks, but are they thinking about leading their people? The remote work problem is real and complex, and requires innovative solutions. There are platforms out there that do culture, and others that measure performance. But none enable the view of a holistic journey to a remote workforce that organisations need right now,” said Cohen.

Part of the challenge is how to build trust and connection in remote teams. A CoSo Cloud study shows more than half of remote employees feeling disconnected from in-office employees, while a Buffer study on the state of remote work says 19% of remote employees report loneliness as their biggest challenge.

According to a Harvard Business Review poll of 1153 workers, 46 percent of them said that the most successful managers check in frequently with remote workers, rather than just leaving them to work on their own. These workers also said that managers who are always available during the remote employee’s work hours were best at helping workers feel supported and cared about. Employees also appreciate awareness by managers of their personal lives: water cooler chat about family, hobbies and challenges.

“The GWork platform empowers the manager to gain access to insightful data about their people, but it doesn’t stop there. Like a co-pilot for managing your remote teams, it links daily actions to performance to learning feedback, guiding the behaviour managers want and unlocking their employees’ ‘genius’ work remotely,” said Cohen.

“We’re not talking about tracking productivity, especially when we’re dealing with knowledge workers in service or tech-based businesses. We’re seeing a mass exodus to remote work, but we need connection. We want to see each others’ faces. We want the chemistry that comes with workplace interactions. We want to find ways of staying connected to the people we don’t with directly. How that connection will look going forward will be completely different.”

Cohen says it was important to put the psychology of how people grow and change at the heart of the GWork solution, and then guide them to change their behaviour to optimally fulfil their role. “What makes GWork unique is that it offers all of these solutions in one single platform, equipping managers with the people data they need to make intelligent decisions about their teams and enabling employees to get the feedback they need to grow, know where they stand and have a clear idea of how their work moves their organisation forward,” said Cohen.

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