Managing remote employees without micromanaging: 7 do’s and don’ts

Can you maintain relationships with remote employees like you do with employees you pass in the hall? What’s the best way to communicate with them? How do you monitor their productivity without spying or interfering?

Whether your remote employees are road warriors making deals or homebodies writing code, your approach as a manager has to change to accommodate the circumstances.

Here are seven do’s and don’ts that will help you be a better manager to your remote workforce.

1. Don’t: Worry about them not working

Research suggests that the stereotypical images we have of a laid-back remote worker lounging on a beach or a couch with a laptop are really quite unfair. As it turns out, people who work outside the office aren’t slacking one bit.

Remote workers record an average of four more hours per week than their on-site equivalents, according to data from Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report .

Similarly, Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom found in a study comparing traditional and remote employees that the stay-at-homes did 13 percent more work overall than their in-the-office counterparts.

So, in most cases, you can put aside the fear that your remote employees are taking advantage of their flexible arrangements and dodging work.

2. Do: Consider them for promotions

Despite high productivity, remote employees aren’t earning more performance-based rewards.

Daniel Cable of the London Business School argues that companies are still rewarding “presenteeism” (i.e., being in the office) based on his research that shows telecommuters are less likely to be promoted. It seems that being out of sight may put remote workers out of their bosses’ minds when it’s time to move someone up, regardless of how hard they work.

Gallup also found remote employees to be slightly more engaged (32 percent) than employees who work on-site (28 percent).

So the next time you’re considering promoting from within to fill an opening, be sure to include telecommuters on your list of eligible candidates. Even if the bump up would require more office time for that employee, give them the chance to consider making that change if their performance merits the opportunity.

3. Don’t: Expect them to work 8 to 5

One big advantage of working from home for many people is having the flexibility to work around commitments that are in conflict with an eight-to-five routine, such as picking up kids from school, taking an elderly parent to see the doctor or attending a mid-morning college course. Other remote workers may simply feel more productive before the sun comes up or long after it has gone down.

“[R]emote work lets people operate efficiently at the weird hours they’re most ‘on,’” writes Clive Thompson (Wired).

It’s reasonable to ask your work-from-home staff to be accessible for a few hours that overlap with your office hours, but otherwise they may be more productive if you let them work at whatever time they choose. If this kind of flexibility would prevent them from covering their responsibilities, then perhaps a remote working arrangement is not suitable for that particular position.

4. Do: Ask for their timesheets

But just because you give your remote employees freedom over their schedules, it doesn’t mean you should be in the dark about how many hours they’re logging and when they may be logging them.

Getting accurate timesheets from your teleworkers gives you more insight into the productivity of your exempt employees and critical timekeeping data for your employees who are eligible for overtime pay.

To get this information, you may consider a time and attendance system that allows both your traditional employees to punch in with a building badge and your remote workers to use a Web or mobile application to clock in.

5. Don’t: Let them work too much

Because remote workers have a tendency to work longer hours, their timesheets will also tell you if they’re at risk of burning out. If you see that one of your work-from-homes is consistently logging extra hours, you should encourage them to make more time for personal activities or use some PTO.

Some companies even implement measures to encourage work-life balance for remote employees who may work more because technology enables them to stay constantly connected.

Volkswagen, for example, turns its email servers off after hours and during holidays (Time). However, you should also be sure that a policy like this doesn’t damper the flexibility of working remotely.

6. Do: Ask them to come in for regular face time

As we covered earlier, research shows that telework can make your employees more productive. However, other studies prove that working together – at the same location – makes people more creative.

Researchers from Arizona State proved that teams are most creative when they are closest to each other and most physically active by monitoring workers at three tech firms using “sociometric badges.” They tracked the workers’ locations and proximity to each other as a means of measuring employee interaction (Wired).

This knowledge could lead you to developing hybrid schedules with your remote employees that enable them to work in isolation at home on some tasks (e.g., putting together reports) and to work with their colleagues at the office on other tasks (e.g., brainstorming for an upcoming event or project).

7. Don’t: Use remote working opportunities as a prize

Jennifer Robison with the Gallup Business Journal warns against treating remote work as a reward in your organization.

Instead of weighing factors like tenure and performance most heavily when you decide whether your employees can telecommute, first consider the nature of their work. Do you need them in the office to generate ideas and support others on the team most of the time? Or do you primarily need them to produce a high volume of work that can be done more efficiently away from distractions? Let those factors determine where and how you let your staff work.

If you’re looking for more ways to get the most value from your workforce, Insperity TimeStarTM can help you confirm that your employees are working the right hours, in the right place.

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