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Out of Sight Shouldn’t Mean Out of Mind: How to Effectively Manage Remote Employees

With the abundance of technology that is available to employers, it has become easier and more common for companies to employ people outside of the office.  Employers must manage, motivate, and retain both on-site and remote employees.  A common misconception about managing remote employees is that it requires an entirely different skill set.  While managing remote employees does have its challenges, those hurdles can easily be overcome by taking a proactive approach.  Here are some helpful ways to effectively manage remote employees.

  1. Set clear goals and expectations. Managers should set benchmarks for remote employees to meet on either a weekly or bi-weekly basis.  Walk through and explain the tasks expected to be completed and establish a timeline for when assignments are to be finished.  Set broader goals to be achieved in 1 or 2 months.  Be sure to provide feedback about the employee’s progress and implement a formal process to review performance and work product.  You cannot motivate remote employees if they don’t know how they are performing.Build rapport with every member of your team. When managers establish trust and build a relationship with team members it becomes easier to work through problems.  It can be challenging to get to know remote workers when they are not physically present in the office and they don’t participate in the proverbial water cooler discussions.  A simple fix to this is to take a small amount of time out of your week to check in with your remote employees and simply make small talk.

  2. Strategically use different methods of communication. A miscommunication is bound to occur when delivering a message to someone not physically in the room.  It is important to make sure all communication to your remote employees is delivered on the right platform.  Use email for neutral, short exchanges of information.  General announcements or group discussions can be easily facilitated by using an instant messenger chat.  Video conferencing is most likely the best way to communicate when the topic of discussion is long, detailed or particularly difficult.  Video conferencing also provides the essential non-verbal cues that comprise more than half of human communication.  An audio-only call deprives participants from seeing a person’s reaction to a change in plans or just what their overall mood is that day.  What a person is communicating non-verbally can easily help the receiving party to distinguish if the speaker is being sarcastic, serious, angry, etc.  It is less likely a miscommunication will occur over video chat than by email or over the phone.  Screen sharing is a helpful tool that can increase productivity by providing a visual explanation to aid in the explanation of a detailed assignment.

  3. Create a balance between inconvenient schedules. Your remote employees may live in different time zones from your on-site premises.  That can make scheduling meetings difficult and it is often the case your remote employees have to call-in at awkward hours to compromise for not working on-site.  Try to schedule meetings with team members located in your main time zones to accommodate the outliers every once in a while.  This will help your on-site team remember the sacrifice their remotely located teammates regularly make to contribute and better the team.

  4. Make remote employees feel like part of the team. The physical distance between your on-site location and their remote location can create an “us versus them” feeling.  Encourage collaboration between remote employees with on-site team members.  Focus on the commonalities you and your direct reports share.  Remote workers often feel invisible because their efforts aren’t noticed.  Try to be generous with acknowledgement and public praise of remote team members because recognizing their work is a signal to coworkers that they are pulling their weight.  Don’t forget to send remote employees the same swag gifted to on-site employees.

  5. Don’t worry about them not working. Remote employment is typically associated with the stereotypical images of a laid-back employee working from their couch or lounging on a beach with a laptop.  As it turns out, studies have shown remote workers, on average, record four more hours per week compared with their on-site equivalents.  However, you can still track remote employee’s hours and progress.  Don’t ask them to turn in a standard 9-5 timesheet; remote workers have chosen to work remotely and they want freedom and independence with their work.  Instead, ask them to take responsibility to measure their progress by sending you a daily three-bullet summary of their completed tasks.  No matter how you choose to keep track of their time and progress, the employee should always have the burden to get it don

  6. Schedule in-person visits at least once a year. It is a good idea to establish a yearly trip for remote employees to come in to the home office.  A few days of teamwork in person will build more rapport than months of remote efforts trying to get to know your employees.  This will also decrease feelings of isolation remote workers may have and can provide a great opportunity for discussions about your company’s vision, culture, and future that would be challenging to do with employees located in all different parts of the state or country.

By putting in a little extra effort and keeping in mind the team members who are out of sight, managing remote employees will be easy and your business will see a high return on investment.


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