I have both managed remote workers and worked remotely myself for just over 10 years. I really believe that the nature of work has changed and that we are about to enter a post-cubicle era. While this is good news, it does present some challenges and modern managers must learn how to make it effective. Technology can be a big help. I’m sure that you already know about the most popular tools for collaboration and remote meetings like GoToMeeting and Google Docs, but I’d like to highlight a few that are less well known. (We are taking for granted, of course, that every remote worker has a high-speed internet connection and access to company email.)
15Five is an excellent tool that simplifies weekly reporting. The basic idea is that each employee should take 15 minutes to highlight important information from the week that will take their manager no more than 5 minutes to read. This is an incredible tool for remote workers and managers because it reminds everyone that frequent communication is important and that it is a two way street. Nothing is worse for remote workers than little or no feedback on their work and 15Five is a great way to entrench the practice, and it is fun.
While online meetings like WebEx and GoToMeeting are useful, sometimes necessary communication can happen with a simple screen capture. When I’m working with an employee who has a question about something they are doing online, I often say, “Show Me.” Google Chrome, for example, has an easy to use screen capture tool that lets someone capture just part of the screen or an entire webpage. This is sometimes even better than a remote meeting because the employee may be working when I’m not available. They can save the screen and I can look at it later. After all, the fact that not everyone has to work at the same time is part of the beauty of remote work.
Box is a tool that takes file sharing one step further by adding a level of project management. Not only can you share files and control who sees them, but you can also assign tasks and track comments. Box also can be integrated with Salesforce.com or Google Apps and can be used on mobile devices. There are a lot of products that compete with Box, but i like them for their stability, performance and ease of use.
The ShoreTel Sky cloud based business phone system is an indispensable tool of working from home and managing those who do. With a cloud VoIP system, I am just four digits away from all of my co-workers, exactly as if I was sitting in the office. They can see when I am on the phone and transfer calls directly to me. In fact, the other day I got a breakfast invitation from a vendor. She said that she was going to be in “the city” on a particular day. No one calls Sacramento “the city” so it took me a while to figure out what she meant. She meant New York City, of course. She thought I lived there because that’s where our division is headquartered. I’ve been talking to her for a year and she had no idea I was in California. That’s because people who call me get exactly the same experience as if they had called our headquarters office. I can see the telephone activity of the people I manage and can even see their Live Answer Service Metric, which tells me how often they answer the phone live. This gives me a great way to gauge their responsiveness vs. people with similar jobs who work in the office. The other advantage is that my home phone number and work phone number are completely separate, so I can manage my work/life balance.
I hope you’ve found this helpful. Here are a few other articles with advice about remote work. If you are a remote worker or manage someone who is, please drop us a note in the comments to let us know which technology tools you find helpful, indispensable or not worth the bother.