Specific Tips and Strategies for Managers when working with a Remote Work Force

By George Kaytor posted 02-20-2018 09:33


Your firm has decided to join the modern workforce and offer employees the ability to work remotely either on a part-time or full-time basis. The benefits are many: superior employee retention, savings on real estate expenses, improved work-life balance and perhaps even a bump in productivity if you can avoid the pitfalls. This survival guide was designed to offer some insight from those intrepid explorers that have already made the journey to assist you in what can be a perilous expedition.

It is critical to have a well thought commuting agreement/policy in place before launching your telecommuting program. Thoughts on this foundational piece are covered in Part I of this survival guide. It is equally important to have the right technology tools which will empower your remote workforce, which is covered in Part 2 of this guide.

“We like to give people the freedom to work where they want, safe in the knowledge that they have the drive and expertise to perform excellently, whether they [are] at their desk or in their kitchen. Yours truly has never worked out of an office, and never will.” (Richard Branson - Founder, Virgin)

This final chapter of our guide will deal with specific tips and strategies for managers when working with a remote work force.

The Manager: 
For telecommuting to be successful, management “style” should focus on productivity metrics rather than “eyeball” supervision ensuring staff is actively engaged. Let’s begin with a quick quiz to test remote work readiness from a management perspective.

As a manager, you are able to choose one of the following employees. Employee A works steadily throughout day without distraction and produces 30 high quality widgets. Employee B has a more sporadic work pattern (occasionally browsing the web, taking personal phone calls, etc. during work hours) but produces 40 high quality widgets daily. Which employee do you choose to have on your widget team?

If your answer is employee A, you will probably be frustrated during the process of managing a remote work force. If you’re ok with an employee occasionally loading a basket of laundry or signing for a package at the door if they are producing at a high level, then you’re ready to manage a remote work force. The successful remote manager is result driven and clearly communicates expectations with getting caught up in day to day minutia.

The Team: A culture of accountability and communication is the foundation for a successful telecommuting team. What does team accountability mean within a remote team?

1.    Each member has a clear understanding of their responsibilities, as well as how their performance will be reviewed by their manager.
2.    The team communicates well with each other, and will hold each other responsibility when someone is not achieving their goals.
3.    Team members are engaged in a regular feedback loop, both as a team and with their manager.

When things go wrong: Issues will arise that must be dealt with by the manager.

1.    Telecommuting is not an optimal mode of work for every employee, and that’s ok! It’s the duty of the manager to give each person on their team the best chance at success. Your employee may not have suitable work environment at home or may lack the discipline required for such work. If telecommuting isn’t the right fit for someone, allow them to work in their traditional office setting.
2.    Deal with productivity/engagement issues swiftly and decisively. Your team will likely know if someone is not pulling their weight before you do and the culture you work so hard to instill will begin to corrode. Ensure your team members understand the consequences of negative conduct from start.

TIPS: We close this final chapter with some tips from trenches…

1.    Presence can be a powerful tool in promoting a culture of accountability. Communicate the expectation that employees must reach out to you prior to going “inactive”. Lock down the activity threshold so individuals cannot set it to a large time to make it appear they are active. We lock our activity threshold at 15 minutes…
2.    Transparency is critical to the success of remote working. It may be ok if an employee needs to run out for an appointment if they solicit your approval first. It shouldn’t be ok if someone “sneaks” out, hoping their absence isn’t noticed.
3.    Schedule regular in office days if possible. This allows your team to reconnect on a personal level.
4.    Suspend telecommuting when on-boarding a new member of the team if possible. Alternatively, have each member of the team rotate days in to spend with the new employee. This will accelerate the transfer of culture and expectations to the new employee and ensure everyone is comfortable with each other.