Managing remote workers is now a necessary skill in the workplace, as the gig economy encourages more employees to seek remote work. These 6 tips will help you to manage your team, whether they are physically present or not.
About half of the US workforce engages in some form of telecommuting, and roughly a quarter of workers currently already spend a significant portion of their work week working from home. Outsourcing has grown tremendously as well, with a growing percentage of companies in Europe and the US outsourcing much of their work to businesses and freelancers in other parts of the world.
In other words, more companies rely on remote workers today than ever, and it’s likely that the numbers will continue to grow. Yet while many business owners and managers have their own way of working with employees locally, managing remote workers requires a completely different approach.
Managing Remote Workers in 6 Steps
Rather than trying to impose greater control over a remote worker, or leave them to their own devices entirely, the right approach entails a simple set of rules and tips for:
- Managing communication
- Measuring and encouraging progress
- Developing morale and rapport
- Making the most of what could be an incredibly profitable employer-employee relationship
With majority of the workforce expected to engage in freelance or remote work by 2020, these skills are no longer just beneficial, they’re necessary. These 6 tips can help you manage your team more efficiently, while improving profitability.
1. Make Communicating Easy and Fast
First and foremost, it’s critical to outline the importance of simple, effective and instant communication channels. While working in an office, you and your workers have the luxury of simply getting up and taking a few steps through the office to engage in a face-to-face conversation. Your in house workers:
- Have the means to communicate with you whenever necessary
- Schedule appointments when talks aren’t strictly critical
- Engage in regular team meetings and one-on-one conversations whenever needed
Remote employees struggle to feel a part of something greater, or appreciated in any way, unless it’s explicitly made clear to them that they, too, possess some form of access to you and your time/attention.
Emails are an obvious and often critical communicative tool for remote workers and their clients/employers, but you need to provide your workers with a faster and more immediate communication tool as well. Choose a professional and reliable instant messaging system, like Slack or Google Hangouts.
In addition to communication channels, consider having these workers join together in one space monthly or bi-monthly. Renting an event space or coworking option every couple months can help all workers feel a part of the team.
2. Set Communication Guidelines (and Stick to Them)
Instant messaging and other reliable communication tools are critical, but they shouldn’t be abused. It’s important to instate clear communication guidelines that respect your remote worker’s time and rest.
This might mean that, should you live in vastly different time zones, the majority of your communication will occur over email due to the inherent delay (especially if you tend to start your workday around the time your remote worker would be going to bed).
If a project necessitates a greater degree of communication and coordination, give your remote worker enough time to plan accordingly and be awake on the hours they’re needed.
If you respect your worker’s time, you will get better results. This means no work-related communication over the weekend, no intrusive messages during sleep hours, and reasonable expectations for communication (such as having a 24-hour window to reply to messages and following up only as often as truly necessary).
3. Create and Manage a Water Cooler
Remote workers often do not feel as though they are part of the company they work for, even when formally employed. This is because it’s hard to feel like you are part of a greater team when you spend most of your work hours at a desk at home, alone, with no sense of how your other teammates or doing, or what they’re doing.
In order to help remote employees feel like they’re more than just a cog or a business function, but an individual whose presence within the company and the team is felt and respected appropriately, it’s important to develop a place for your remote workers to interact and communicate with other workers.
Rather than being a purely professional asset, help these workers remind themselves that there are other humans involved in the work they do. These people have names, personalities, lives, and humor.
Establishing channels to promote and encourage virtual mingling can help.
- Slack and other communication software allow teams to create and manage channels, giving you the opportunity to create a virtual water cooler for the sharing of memes, music, and off-topic conversations (helping remote and local workers mingle and establish friendships virtually).
- Particularly techy companies can take it a step further and schedule fun remote activities, like playing competitive or cooperative video games after work, or on a monthly, event-like basis.
4. Send Feedback and Offer Recognition g
Whenever your non-physical workers send something in, respond with appropriate feedback. It’s often enough to simply acknowledge (in a positive way) that you’ve seen their work.
However, it’s even better to talk about how the clients responded to a specific part of what they did, or what they could do better. If you do offer criticism, be sure to also stress the things they did right.
More than anything, managing remote workers relies on giving direction. It’s difficult to motivate oneself for work, especially from home. Feedback can help remind workers that the work they’re doing is valuable to the team and encourages them to continue giving it their all.
5. Forget Hours, Focus on Results
It’s much harder to supervise a remote worker and tell exactly how much work they’re doing within any given amount of time. As such, it’s important to forget about trying to control how a remote worker spends their time, or how they put in their hours.
Instead, focus on deliverables, deadlines, and results. Even if your remote worker is paid based on a 30-40-hour workweek, consider not how much time they’re putting into their work, but what they’re bringing to the table, and if it’s worth what they’re being paid.
If you ask your remote workers to work full-time, then expect results that you would receive from a full-time worker and reward them accordingly. Trust them to put in the time they need in order to deliver as per their expected quota.
6. Align Your Goals
Remote workers have embraced the nature of modern work, wherein flexibility is king. Every opportunity to work is also an opportunity to learn a new skill or hone an ability. Many workers no longer aim for stable careers or advancements within a single firm but aim to improve their portfolio by developing new abilities.
This happens from taking on greater workloads, to figuring out various types of editing software, to becoming competent at several different types of content production.
Encourage workers to intimate their goals and explain what they would like to develop while working for you. Then, see if you can align their goals with your own, assigning projects to them that would help them grow as workers and individuals, while benefiting you and your clientele.
Managing remote workers requires being empathic and aware of their needs and requirements, even if they aren’t able to voice them on their own.
Remember that you are working with humans, and that helping them feel like a true part of a team can do a lot to improve morale and productivity.