Remote working is on the rise. A Global Workplace Analytics Report found that over the last 10 years, the number of U.S. telecommuters grew 91 percent. For entrepreneurs, hiring remote workers can be an excellent way to add necessary skills to a company without concern for geographical boundaries.
The challenge of remote workers can be managing them to maximize productivity, and traditional processes may not apply. Leadership practices must change for an organization to get full value from their telecommuting staff.
Hire the right people.
Before you can lead a team, you need to bring one together. Before you hire a remote worker or transition an in-house worker to a telecommuter, determine if they exhibit characteristics that will lead to success in a remote working environment. The most important personality traits here: self-motivation and discipline. If the person can’t remain on task and complete work on time without constant oversight, then they shouldn’t telecommute. Also, make sure the person has good written and verbal communication skills. The former is especially important, as much of their connections to other employees will be through email and the wrong tone or word can quickly derail a process. Strong verbal communication skills are also important in order to effectively communicate during telephone or video conference calls.
Use the best tools.
To effectively manage a remote worker, you need to provide the right tools to your entire team. At a minimum, this should include teleconferencing capabilities with cameras and sound so that everyone can participate in a meeting and the remote worker is more than just a voice on the phone. Another option is to invest in remote team management software, which supports communication, tracks productivity, manages timesheets and coordinates interactions across time zones. There are many programs on the market, including Slack, InVision and Trello, that can streamline remote management processes and support your business objectives.
Establish clear expectations.
As part of the hiring process, be clear and direct regarding your expectations. These should be repeated once hired and putting them in writing for reference is always a good idea. These expectations should include work hours, availability, deadlines, meeting scheduling and attendance, work submission and more. When setting these requirements consider the differences between remote and in-house workers. With off-site staff, you will want to set rules specifically about checking in and availability since you can’t walk down the hall to see what they are working on. However, there is a fine line between monitoring and hovering, and your expectations should reflect this balance.
Rethink communication processes.
Remote workers don’t have the opportunity to engage in casual conversations with you or other team members over lunch or on a break. As a result, they can feel ignored and ostracized. A Harvard Business Review study found that many remote workers felt left out and ganged up on by their on-site team members. The best way to combat these feelings is through consistent face-to-face team conferences and encouraging one-on-one connections between remote and on-site employees. Also, have a regularly scheduled call with the remote employee and spend a portion of each one engaging in small talk. You probably do this with on-site staff more than you realize, and it’s important to have this interaction with your telecommuters as well.
Something else to keep in mind: Keep remote employees in the loop, especially regarding deadlines and meeting times. It’s common for people to verbally communicate time changes of meetings to others physically in the same space, and there must be a procedure to communicate this information to off-site workers.
Adjust corporate culture.
Traditional corporate cultures are built around an in-house staff environment, but you need to adjust this to reflect the value that remote workers bring to the table. Focus on transparency, so everyone knows what’s going on and what to expect regardless of where they are located. Communication should also be a critical part of your culture, with employees encouraged to connect as often as possible. Find opportunities for the staff to physically be together at least once a year. Combined, these elements should create trust between all employees, but especially between remote and in-house workers.
Invest in employee career paths.
As a leader, part of your job is to encourage the growth and development of an employee to prepare them for the next step on their career path. Providing this direction to remote workers can be challenging and result in development isolation unless you are mindful of the process. This could include giving them a leadership role on a project or providing opportunities to develop new skills. You probably already take these actions with your in-house staff, but don’t let “out of sight, out of mind” hinder the development of remote staff.