Published Date: 05/19/2014
By Reneé Watkins
More and more businesses are embracing the use of remote, or virtual, employees. Whether the opportunity to work remotely is provided as a perk, a recruiting tool or for cutting costs, it requires a different mindset on the part of both the employee and their manager to be successful.
Some managers would argue it is difficult to manage employees working on the same floor of the same building, let alone across the country or on another continent altogether. Despite the advent of technology designed to enable team collaboration around the globe, there can be challenges with managing remote employees.
Employees and managers alike wrestle with trust issues in a remote situation. Often remote employees are rarely seen in person on a regular basis. Management can sometimes question whether work is being done when they cannot see it with their own eyes. Remote employees wonder if they are getting the same or as much information as their counterparts at the home office.
Peers who may not have the opportunity to work remotely may show signs of resentment toward remote employees. This can serve to alienate remote employees and lead to being disengaged. In some instances, remote employees do not receive the same level of recognition as local employees upon completion of a significant milestone – “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Hiring the right worker for a remote opportunity usually means someone who is trustworthy and professional enough to work independently and efficiently with little direction from management. For this same reason, management needs to make an extra effort to include remote employees in meetings, announcements and other activities as if they were on-site.
Here are some tips on how to manage remote workers:
Regular Status Updates
These should be held often enough to stay in sync with the remote employee, but not so often as to constitute micromanagement. By definition, a remote worker should not need micromanagement. However, if the remote worker desires more frequent status updates, do everything you can to accommodate them. This is a sign they desire more interaction and you want to keep them engaged in their job and the objectives you are working to achieve.
Work and Play
Remember interaction is not always about work. Employees and managers who work in the same office will naturally establish a bond on a personal level as well and engage in conversations which are non-work-related. Remote employees do not get this type of daily interaction, so it is important to work harder to have conversations about something other than work from time-to-time. Encourage other team members to reach out as well. If feasible, make sure remote employees are brought in for group activities or outings.
Where teams are involved, route documents and status emails to the entire group throughout the life of the project. Make sure everyone understands the importance of their own role, as well as others. Keep the remote employees involved and visible to the project and project team.
Open Lines of Communication
Remote workers are less likely to report problems out of fear they will lose the opportunity to work remotely. Also, it is more difficult to recognize a worker who is under stress when they are not in the office each day. Make sure your remote workers know you are there to help them be successful and they have an equal amount of access to your attention as local team members, regardless of distance or geography.