2016-03-01

Leading from a distance: how to manage remote employees

Jim Robinson

If it seems like more and more people are working from home lately, it’s because they are. The latest Global Workforce Analytics survey found an 80% increase in telecommuting since 2005. Researchers believe this is due to not only the wave of new technology making it possible, but also the benefits of telecommuting, including greater productivity, efficiency, and employee morale — three things any business owner would like to see more of.


Opening up your business to a remote workforce also allows you to recruit talent unavailable in your local area. And eliminating the need for large office space can significantly reduce your operating expenses. Clearly these are all compelling business justifications for going virtual, but the critical question is: Can you lead effectively from afar?


The answer is yes, as long as you have the right team, use the right tools, and implement the right systems.


Know the status of each project in real timeOne of the biggest challenges of the transition to a remote workforce is figuring out how to make sure everyone’s doing their job. Without a good system in place to track tasks and projects, your workers will be floating out in the ether, and you might get blindsided by missed deadlines or confusion over who is responsible for certain projects.


Fortunately, cloud-based software options are available for managing and organizing projects — a wide variety of general purpose project management options, including Basecamp, Trello, and Wrike, as well as options geared toward more technical projects, like JIRA or Pivotal Tracker. These systems allow you to create tasks, recurring projects, shared calendars, and more for your remote employees. Not only do they enable you to keep track of your workforce’s productivity, but they keep your employees and contractors on track with reminders of upcoming tasks, projects, and deadlines.


Make time for face timeSome have said that 93% of communication is non-verbal, of which 55% is body language and 45% tone of voice. Therefore, if you’re communicating with an employee over the phone, you’re missing almost 55% of their message. When you’re communicating with an employee via email or text message, you’re missing 93%.


While the prevalence of email has forced people to improve their writing skills, no substitute exists for face-to-face interaction. Tools like Skype and Google Hangouts make it easy to get that interaction with individuals on a daily basis, and make it free or inexpensive to hold a virtual conference with your entire team.


Focus on goals more than trustLack of trust can poison any workplace, and employees who feel mistrusted will likely withdraw and become disengaged. While time-tracking tools are important, excessive focus on how telecommuting employees spend their time each day can signal mistrust. When communicating with employees, it’s best to focus instead on goals.


By outlining your expectations early on and adopting a management by objectives (MBO) approach, you can shift focus from how employees spend their time to results: Did they accomplish their goal? Goals should act as motivation for employees, and if they meet targets, you should offer recognition or performance-related bonuses.


Don’t skimp on company cultureYour company culture shouldn't cease to exist just because your employees are working from couches instead of cubicles. However, the lack of face time and person-to-person communication can make it difficult for your remote workforce to feel like a team.


Even with weekly conference calls or video chats, it’s easy for members of your remote team to feel like they’re labouring alone on an island. Get creative and help them break out of the solitude with some fun team-building events that generate competition without requiring everyone to be in the same room. Think multi-player video games, informal hangouts, or a “name that desk” photo game.


Today’s workers want to telecommute, and you don’t need to be afraid to let them. With trust, communication, good tracking, growing camaraderie, and innovative organizational models, your remote workforce will rival any office-based team.


Reprinted with the permission of Jim Robinson, founder and president of ClickSeed, a digital marketing agency specializing in enterprise SEO and audience development for medium to large companies, as well as publishers in news, financial, and entertainment media. Clients include NASDAQ, Rolling Stone, and US Weekly. Learn more at www.clickseed.com.The first step in building a remote team is ensuring each employee has the skills, abilities, and behavioural characteristics to ensure success. The Drake P3 online assessment solution reveals a person’s natural tendencies, communication styles, emotional intelligence, motivational needs, decision-making abilities, energy levels, and more.Any time person-to-person or person-to-job fit is an issue, Drake P3 can help. To find out how Drake P3 can help you, contact the Talent Management Solutions team.Canada: 416 216-1067 solutions@na.drakeintl.com

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