Managing a Remote Workforce

As more employees transition to work-from-home positions and as far more companies begin to realize the benefits of telecommuting, managers may find themselves forced to respond to an all-new set of needs and concerns from their staff.  Managing remote employees is no different than supervising those who are right down the hall from you.  By following a few simple tips, it’s actually very easy (even intuitive) to boost productivity, enthusiasm and performance among your dispersed employees.

If you’re a manager of remote employees and you feel like you’re in over your head, don’t despair.  Keep the following tips in mind:

1. Communication is vital. This is true whether the employees you manage are fifteen feet away or 1500 miles away; it’s just that the means of communication have changed.  Email and instant-messaging are both great ways to quickly issue assignments, touch base with workers and receive feedback, but they lack the personal touch that effective communication often requires.  Phone calls are good, but video conferencing is frequently your best option, as it allows more complex dialogues to happen and provides full affirmation if it was interpreted correctly.

2. Stay on top of employee performance. Regardless of whether an employee works at the office or from home, the barometer of her success is the same: is she getting her work done in a timely manner?  Regularly assess each employee’s performance and schedule video conferencing meetings as required, and you’re sure to get great results.

3. Establish guidelines and rules. A remote manager’s worst nightmare is the idea that an employee is doing the dishes and watching daytime television on the company dime.  If you’re worried your workers are blowing off their assignments and goofing around, then establish rules and guidelines about productivity, clocking in and out, attending meetings, submitting their work and more.  Make them accountable.

4. Stage formal and informal meetings. A team works best when everyone is pulling in the same direction towards a common goal – a feeling that can be hard to instill if the team is in wildly different places geographically.  Hence the importance of staging both formal strategy meetings and informal team-building meetings: they make people feel like part of a team and instill a sense of mutual responsibility.

5. Differentiate channels of communication. Sometimes employees have big questions about assignments or the direction of the company; other times, they might have a quick question or concern that’s best addressed in a low-key fashion.  Make sure they have different ways of getting in touch with you, from video conferencing and phone meetings to simple IM chatting or emailing.

The important thing to remember about managing employees who work from home is that, at the end of the day, you’re looking for the same things from them as you are from your in-office employees: productivity and reliability.  Once you’ve realized that, it’s easy to find a way to get just that.

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