Working remotely has increased considerably over the years. Not only is it the result of technology being more flexible, but it’s also the result of a cultural shift with Gen Y’s.
Flexible work conditions have been shown to improve employee happiness, so rather than restricting and controlling working arrangements, here’s a few tips to make managing remote employees work:
Develop the relationship early
If you’ve already got employees that have been working on-site or in the office, you’re off to a good start. One of the biggest problems with remote employees is building relationships and communicating effectively.
If employees have never visited the site/office in person, it’s important to develop relationships early and make an effort in having small-talk. While it may seem pointless, relationships are often formed by talking about things outside of work – and this is especially important for off-site workers.
Working from home often means a lack of connection and communication with others. While it can help you from being distracted by others, it’s nice to have communication with people once in awhile.
Developing the relationship early and communicating expectations is also a great way to manage remote employees effectively. Without being accessible in the workplace, it makes it harder to check-in, give feedback and set ground-rules, so it’s more important to communicate openly and establish foundations.
Use tools to keep track
Naturally, there are some simple tools to keep track of employees that work remotely or off-site. Aside from the obvious communication tools such as phone and email, there are a variety of other tools such as:
If you have shift workers or off-site workers, scheduling software such as Ento can give you and offsite employees visibility, as well as help to organise what shifts they work.
Another benefit to scheduling software is facial recognition and GPS time clocking. This means that when employees start and finish their shift they can take a quick photo or check in (with validated GPS), and management can be informed as to their hours (their pay is also automatically calculated based on overtime etc.).
If you’re a retail business, POS (Point Of Sale) systems can also help to give visibility of sales performance of each employee . If sales trends over a weekly basis start to drop, you can get an indication of whether employees are either not performing, or need help.
Of course, communication tools are essential to managing remote employees. Aside from email and phone however, there are some other great tools to keep in touch:
If your team needs to regularly communicate or chat, Slack is an awesome platform to do this. You can have specific channels for topics, leave and sites, making it great for keeping in touch with work and random banter.
Due to the nature of remote working, not being visible at your workplace means you don’t get the same connection or updates as you would normally. A great way to overcome this is by having face-time over video.
Some great platforms for this are:
- Google hangouts
- Apple Facetime
- Cloud docs
Rather than sending a thousand cryptic emails and documents around, it’s much easier and smarter to set up cloud documents or storage. Whether it’s Google Drive, or Dropbox, having cloud accounts make everything much easier to work on.
Project management system
If you run projects with your remote team, it’s important that you have some form of project management software. This allows you to get clarity on outcomes and the progress of work, without pestering and disrupting remote workers.
Some great tools to do this are:
Keep in touch with them
It might sound obvious, but managing remote teams mean you need to keep in touch with them more regularly than you might think. This doesn’t mean you should be pestering them regularly, but you should make an effort to:
Have weekly meetings/chats/updates
If you can, have weekly chats and updates about work to make sure everyone is on track and doing the right tasks. There’s nothing worse than spending your day doing work, only to find out the project has changed and you’ve wasted time. Have regular chats, and use communication tools to let people know if something changes.
Get together face to face once a year
Everyone knows that working remotely can be lonely. To strengthen relationships it’s a good idea to meet face to face once a year – even if it’s not work related. Spending time face-to-face makes a significant difference in getting to feel how people are and making real connections. It’s easy to hide or create a persona behind technology, so make the time for face-to-face connection.
Include them in group meetings (where appropriate)
If you can, it’s a great idea to include remote employees in group meetings. You obviously don’t want to waste their time, but making them feel a part of a team and showing them that their work impacts and contributes to a team will make a huge difference.
Chat about non-work stuff too
Remember that on-site employees develop relationships by talking about non-work related things. When managing remote employees, it’s easy to forget that they need the same sort of connection, since communication is typically to discuss work, but it’s important to engage remote employees in non-work discussions to develop relationships and help make them feel connected to a team.
Managing remote workers effectively means you need to manage them based on performance and outcomes. And because you can’t always as easily give feedback, it’s important to make up for it when they achieve milestones. If you want to reward employees, consider sending them a surprise gift to their workplace. It’ll help bridge the gap and make them feel like they’re actually a part of a company, rather than just an outlier.
Accommodate different time zones
If your employees work in different time zones, it’s a good idea to at least occasionally arrange meetings or discussions at a time that suits them. Being forced to work in a specific time frame can be tough, and although you can get used to it, making some compromise in both directions will help to develop reciprocity and relationships.
Manage on clear outcomes and deliverables
When you aren’t able to pop over to someone’s desk or workplace, managing employees needs to be treated differently. Of course, no employees should be micromanaged, so this should really apply to all employees, but it’s especially important for those who work remotely to be managed with clear outcomes and deliverables that can be easily measured and tracked.
The aim is not to micromanage and keep strict control over your employees – you need to be able to trust people to do their work – the idea is to help you understand how they’re progressing and whether/how their work affects other team members or projects.
More so than on-site employees, it’s important for remote employees to receive regular feedback on the work they’re doing. This doesn’t mean you need to hassle them on a regular basis, it just means you need to give praise, constructive criticism and open communication when they’ve completed milestones. Preferably, this should be done over the phone or video. There is a considerable amount of communication lost or misunderstood in emails and chat, so do yourself a favour and communicate things as clearly as you can.
Stick to meetings
One of the most frustrating experiences of working remotely is trying to organise meetings with others. If you make a meeting with remote workers, make sure you stick to the time and date. Blowing off remote employees not only makes them frustrated that they’ve organised their day around the meeting, but it also is accentuated because they have less contact with others.
In many cases, communication is taken the wrong way, and you can spend half the day thinking that someone meant something negatively, when in fact it was just miscommunication.
Provide a good working environment
While some people have room for an office, a lot of employees don’t have adequate space for working remotely. While it seems like a nice idea, working at home on the couch isn’t as great as you might think. It’s gets uncomfortable at times, it’s hard to separate work and home life and distractions can creep in.
If you can, provide remote workers with a better work environment. This might be a store location, another office or a co-working space such as a shared office space. This helps to keep them productive, as well as connected to other people – and stop them from going insane.
Remote working certainly has it’s pros and cons. While more flexible and sometimes more productive, there can be considerable gaps in communication, project management and connection. If you do hire remote employees, make the effort to ensure those gaps are bridged, they’re a part of your team and are as productive as they can be.