An increasing number of employees work remotely. Given the ubiquity of computers with wireless access, it is likely that the number of remote employees will continue to increase. Managers will find themselves managing remote workers and operating in environments that have a mix of telecommuter and on-site employees.
A remote or partly remote office poses some management challenges that physical offices don’t. Managers need to plan for how to screen potential remote employees and manage them.
Set Up Expectations and a Community
Plan your business strategy first. As the Harvard Business Review points out, remote work is task-oriented. It’s best to establish transparent goals for remote workers. What amount of work and kinds of tasks are they expected to accomplish in a week, a month, a quarter?
It’s important to treat your remote and physical employees fairly and manage perceptions so that they see it as the same. If remote employees are expected to do x amount of work in a month, make sure that expectations for on-site employees are reasonably similar.
The perception at an all-hands meeting that one group is the workhorse and the other is not can impair the team’s functioning.
Utilize technology news to create what HBR calls virtual “water cooler moments.” To achieve cohesion and a sense of community, remote and on-site workers need to share some moments, just like an all on-site team does. Utilize videos on sports teams or an in-house sharing site to create a space for shared informal moments.
Plan how check-ins will take place. Will you talk to remote employees once a week or once a month? Skype with remote workers? Are there general staff meetings that would accommodate the on-site team members around a table and the remote team members on Skype or a similar video service?
Take time zone differences into account when planning team meetings, especially if you manage a global team. Rotate meeting times so that no person or group of people is constantly inconvenienced.
Remote workers need to be independent self-starters.
What Kind of Person Makes a Good Remote Employee
Give some thought to the hard and soft skills needed for remote employees.
They need to be proficient in technology for the hard skills, of course, as nearly every remote job interfaces via digital methods.
Don’t underestimate the number of soft skills needed for remote work. As Fast Company points out, not every employee can make a good remote worker. You need people who can work independently. They need to be self-starters.
Remote workers also need excellent written communication skills. It is likely that most of their communication will be handled via e-mail or other written formats. While written communication is important for all employees, it may be even more important for people who do not interface in person every day.
While managing remote employees can be a challenge, there are ways to meet that challenge. Plan your strategy first, including metrics, communication methods, and water cooler moments. Hire people who are independent self-starters with good technical skills and excellent written communication.