managing remote employees

A tried-and-true guide to managing remote employees

Managing remote employees requires a mental leap for traditionally minded managers, who tend to judge productivity based on workers’ “desk time” and activity levels.

Instead, remote work requires that managers focus on what gets done and whether it meets well-defined quality standards. It’s a strange combination of letting go and holding employees accountable.

Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for making sure remote employees remain productive and efficient. Luckily, some basic tips can help you get the most from your remote workforce.

1. Set productivity standards

Some productivity standards will vary with the job; others may be standard across the company.

A company-wide policy may be that all customer emails get answered by the end of the day, or that everyone is available for meetings and calls from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Individual standards must be analyzed and documented, however informally. For example, you and your team may decide that any developer assigned a project must deliver code ready to be tested in five working days, and if a deadline won’t be met there must be 48 hours’ notice.

Meanwhile, a call center employee may need to resolve 10 client calls an hour while ensuring there are no crying babies in the background. A recruiter may need to conduct 20 phone interviews and fill five positions a month.

While some managers may see documentation of productivity standards as extra effort, it may help you spot trends that need to be addressed. For instance, after 90 days of tracking a call center employee’s work, you may discover the need to extend customer service hours or identify a bottleneck that impacts productivity.

2. Identify and provide the right tools

Remote employees need the same access to spreadsheets, policies, templates, stationery, mail supplies, software and security measures that onsite employees have.

Whether these tools are provided through a shared drive accessed by a secure VPN, or via Dropbox folders, should be determined by your company’s needs and security standards.

It may be necessary to discuss whether remote employees are provided company laptops or can use their personal laptops. You may also need to verify bandwidth and the reliability of internet connections, and whether the person works from home or from a co-working space.

The key is to make all tools easily accessible when they’re needed. Keep in mind that someone may be trained on a protocol six months before it’s actually implemented from home. You want your employees to be able to refresh their memory on that protocol and accomplish their work as easily as possible.

Depending on the work, you may also need to equip employees with a company credit card or set up an account at a local copy shop or mail services center, all with clearly communicated spending limits.

Keep in mind: You and your remote employees may find that some tasks must be conducted in the office for security reasons or because it’s simply more efficient to meet in person. Be ready to accept the limits of remote work for some portions of a job.

3. Set aside specific days, times and methods for team interaction

When everyone on a team works in an office, they naturally cross paths and overhear conversations. This casual interaction means that people get to know one another personally, can easily share ideas and offer help when a teammate is overwhelmed.

This camaraderie is vital to team cohesion and job satisfaction. Since they’re not running into their coworkers in the break room, remote workers need to make an extra effort to recreate such communication, and managers should look for opportunities to include them in team activities and discussions whenever possible.

It may seem artificial or cumbersome at first, but encourage your remote workers to contact you and other team members regularly and vice versa. What constitutes “regular contact” depends on the job and the tasks they must accomplish. Email, instant messages and phone or video calls can all be deployed to ask questions, offer help and get feedback.

You may institute a set time for group online interaction between 11:30 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. At the very least, everyone should share a weekly email that outlines what they’re working on with any upcoming deadlines and concerns.

Also, encourage all employees to keep their calendars up to date so you don’t have to walk around and ask if people are available when a meeting needs to be scheduled.

4. Follow up with remote employees regularly

As with the rest of the advice here, there’s no one-size-fits-all for how often a manager should call remote workers.

This isn’t necessarily a call to monitor productivity. This call should focus on identifying bottlenecks that the manager can help eliminate, and whether the remote worker is getting what they need from coworkers and clients.

The main purpose of the call is to help the remote worker feel connected to the company and their team. Depending on the person and the job, Amanda may need a call once a week while Matthew may require daily calls.

5. Create a video or tip sheet with other remote employees’ suggestions

Fellow employees who have traveled the remote road before will know exactly what software is most helpful for maintaining productivity.

They’ll know whether it’s necessary to have dedicated desk space in the home with a full desktop setup or whether a small filing cabinet to house supplies and a laptop is enough.

Ask your in-house experts to share their tips on what keeps them organized and efficient, and you’ll get ideas specific to your company’s tools and culture.

6. Remember, remote does not mean cheaper

Budgets play an important side note when talking about remote workers. Some business leaders may assume that instituting remote work and cutting office space by 50% equals a 50% reduction in the expense of housing employees in a traditional office.

However, the formula is not so straightforward. Yes, your company will probably spend less on physical office space, but those savings are likely to be spent elsewhere, depending on the remote work that needs to be done.

For instance, your travel budget may increase if remote workers in other states need to travel to the main office once a quarter. Or, you may need to invest in new or upgraded software or additional hardware such as headsets to properly outfit remote employees.

Remote workers can be just as productive, if not more so, than in-office employees. You just have to set them up for success.

Find more tips for adjusting to the remote workforce of the future. Download our free magazine, The Insperity Guide to Leadership and Management.

P
Prasanta Shee

Above mentioned tips helps one to effectively manage remote employees. Tools like webex, gomeetnow, gotomeeting, R-HUB web conferencing servers etc. can be used for working remotely, online meetings etc.

Insperity Blog

Great point, Prasanta. Thank you for your comment!

D
Don Greiman

Wow. Is this topic timely and relevant. I’ve worked remotely for two companies: one R&D focused and the other engineering focused. In one case, by boss was in EST and the main company support (HR, Contracts, IT, security, etc) was on PST. My phone rang from 8M to 7PM. Getting in touch with PST support amounted to a very small workday window (most did not arrive until 8:30 or 9:00…11;30 AM to 12:00PM for me). First imperative: don’t assume anything works as well remotely as it does in your home office and keep in mind, there’s no one sitting next to your person who can explain how something really works. Now some specifics. Input #1: be mindful and respectful of time zones and “normal” working hours. Second, remote access was always a challenge, even with company equipment. I learned to hate the word “should” from the IT guys: “you ‘should’ be able to access Sharepoint/intranet now” usually meant they had not tested it end to end and at least 2 more phone calls and remote mounting of my PC was in order. Input #2: Have a single point of contact in the home office for remote support issues including all functions (HR, contracts, etc) and work access trends, not just outage by outage issues. Make sure the help desk knows the time zone issue as well and that remote folks get the extra attention necessary to completely resolve the whole problem (symptoms and causes). And have an account with a local IT hardware repair company so someone from time to time can physically look at the PC, etc. Item #3: Schedule regular conversations and have an agenda for them: any production challenges or questions? How’s your access working? Were you able to call in for the CEO’s All Hands Call? What questions do you have about the new appraisal process? Don’t skip the calls–your commitment to those calls will be interpreted as indicator of your commitment to the remote employee. Item #4: Run crisp telecon meetings: show up on time, be on line at the starting time, have an agenda, insist on making sure everyone knows who’s on the line, have people in the main conference room speak slowly and clearly and watch the paper shuffling on the table near the microphone. Summarize the key points and publish minutes, especially for the remote users who can not ask someone in the hallway after the meeting what tasks or expectations were expressed. Item #5: Cheatsheets are essential with web addresses, phone numbers for co-workers and main support functions, etc. Don’t assume your web menus are self evident.
And when you say “Susie handles that” don’t assume people who work remotely (especially new people) know her email name is Bethanne (she goes by Susie in the office) and that she works in the safety office under Jolene Jones. One of the best ways to help remote people is to ensure folks include their phone numbers and titles in email signature elements. I could go on…and on… Thanks on behalf of all remote workers (all generations, all levels) for writing this important piece on remote employees. I’m sure I left out many other important tips.

Insperity Blog

Hi Don, Wow, these are great pieces of advice for remote workers! You definitely provided thoughtful input on many common issues, while making points that most people wouldn’t even think to consider. Thank you for sharing your insight and your kind feedback. Glad you found this article helpful!