As is probably clear to readers of this blog, I am a huge fan of remote work. I have both managed remote workers and worked remotely myself for just over 10 years and I find that under the right circumstances, remote work increases productivity and job satisfaction while saving companies money. Clearly, I’m not alone in feeling this way as estimates are that 20 to 30 million Americans work from home at least one day a week. Having said that, it is important to note that managing remote workers is a special skill and a relatively new one. Here are a few things I’ve learned that might be helpful:
#1 Hire the Right People – Working remotely is not for every person or for every job. Consider the person’s background and history of working independently. Are they the type of person who can work to remove obstacles when others aren’t nearby to help? Can they focus on specific tasks without succumbing to distractions? If so, they may be successful working remotely. On the other hand, people who thrive on praise and direct feedback or who gain energy and momentum when working in a group will probably do better in an office setting.
#2 Don’t Discount Face Time – There are certain situations where it just makes sense to meet with your remote team members in person. If your remote workers are far flung, be sure to budget for occasional travel. It’s particularly important when you have new or complicated information to share. It’s also a valuable way of keeping the team connected and relationships personal.
#3 Carefully Balance Management and Independence – All successful remote workers are good at working independently and enjoy it, but that doesn’t mean that managers can sit back and wait for outstanding results. It’s important to check in regularly and make sure that each team member has the tools and support to complete the task at hand. The day a project is due, is not the day to call and ask how it is coming along. Communication needs to be regular and two-way. One tool I love for this purpose is 15Five. It’s an entirely new way of thinking about the weekly report. It’s designed around the idea that each report should take the employee 15 minutes to write and the manger 5 minutes to read. It has a two way feedback loop built in and is one of my favorite business tools, especially for remote workers.
#4 Strive to Make the Remote Employee Feel like Part of the Team – The more connected your remote workers are with the rest of your company, the better off you will be. Management technique and technology play an important role here. Managers should think about things like professional training and career paths for their remote employees just like they do for those in the office.
#5 Consider Communications - Having a cloud-based business phone system that supports remote workers makes everything about it easier. Remote employees are just 4 digits away from team members, exactly as if they were in the office. Calls can be transferred to and from people working from home and the experience for customers is exactly the same as if they had called the headquarters location. Management gets call statistics and can compare the responsiveness of remote employees to that of those in the office with similar jobs.
Finally – Don’t Forget There’s a Person Behind the Voice- It takes a special kind of person to stay entirely sane while working from home, but remote workers appreciate a manager’s kindness and concern for their well-being just as much as those in the office. Call once in a while just to say “Hello” and see how things are going. Make sure that your remote workers use their vacation days and actually stay in bed when they are sick. A touch of warmth and concern will help develop a deeper and more connected relationship even if you don’t see each other every day.
What is your management approach to remote workers?