Managing a Remote Team
Back in my early days of managing employees, I had a local team and one individual who worked remotely. Since he was a strong performer when he was local when he had to move across the country for a family reason, we gladly set him up on a remote basis with all the hope in the world for success. This was at the beginning of the digital age, and we didn’t have the tools available to us that we have today.
Given I was busy running a local team, and we only communicated with our lone remote employee via phone, it was easy to forget about him. There were times when he was on a conference call with the team, and shamefully we all forgot about him on more than one occasion. We would break out into a conversation and only afterward wished we had of asked for his input. To be fair, it was all new to us. While we tried to adjust, it wasn’t long before he was nowhere near the productive level he was when he was in the office, and we mutually agreed that we weren’t able to make the role work remotely.
Fast forward 20 years, and I have had the experience of working with remote workforces on a global basis and have had the opportunity to discover what works and what doesn’t work. Fortunately, in our business, we use two tools to communicate: 1.) the phone and 2.) the computer, and now with VOIP, it’s just one tool. At TQR, when we set things up five years ago, we determined that all our tools would be cloud-based even for those who worked in the office. As a recruiter, if you are effective, you can do this business from anywhere in the world and not lose an ounce of productivity. You can be more productive from home as offices offer distractions of their own.
Here are five things that stand out for me that may help other leaders who are managing remote staff:
1. TRUST IS KEY:
For micromanagers who have not yet discovered that productivity has little to do with presence, a remote workforce will drive you crazy. It’s virtually impossible to micromanage a remote workforce, so you are going to have to change if you want it to work. A leap of faith is required regardless of checks and balances. It is important to put metrics and accountability in place and manage productivity on a shorter-term basis than you usually do, weekly or monthly instead of quarterly or annually. Aside from that, if you hire the right people who are self-directed and are largely compensated for productivity, you will be able to sleep at night, not wake up at 3 in the morning worrying if anyone did any work that day.
2. NOT EVERYONE IS CUT OUT FOR REMOTE WORK:
Some employees are unable to find a way to cope in a remote environment. They are too easily distracted in their home environment. Or they crave the camaraderie of an office environment. Others get stir crazy from the lack of face to face contact. When hiring, best to look for employees who have had some experience with the world of remote work and see the benefits of telecommuting.
3. THE TOOLS MATTER:
Tools for remote workers are much more advanced today. There are excellent tools like Slack, GoToMeeting and Zoom, which we have used and experimented with. We find the Office365 suite effective for internal communication. Microsoft Teams supports video calls, and we’ve had video calls with up to 4 users, and it has been seamless to use. Most users on TEAMs use it effectively for ad hoc chats and sharing files. At TQR, hundreds of messages go back and forth across remote employees daily.
Is it distracting at times? Yes, it is! But it’s necessary. Create the feel just like you’re all in the office and magnify that three times. Make your remote staff your first communication priority. If they reach out to you, get back to them right away. Let them feel your presence online. If you leave it as a secondary priority and leave messages unanswered, they will stop reaching out to you, and things will slowly unravel as communication becomes sparse.
4. CREATE WORK FROM HOME POLICIES:
Employees need to know the parameters for working from home. When should they check-in? How do they communicate their absence or if they are sick? A degree of structure must remain that allows employees to separate their work time from their home time. Too much blending can create ambiguity and lead to burnout or a reduction in productivity.
5. CREATE AN ONLINE COMMUNITY WITHIN YOUR COMPANY:
Yammer is a message board and a collaboration tool that is the hub of our organization’s communication. It’s where we share successes, policy changes, project work, and updates and generally communicate everything going on in the company. When working with a remote team, it’s important to overcommunicate and Yammer has proven to be an excellent tool for overall transparency. If you don’t use Office 365, other tools out there include FreshConnect and Chanty.
The benefits of remote staff are clearer than they’ve ever been. The recent coronavirus has forced many companies to re-evaluate the necessity for office space where illnesses spread quickly, and office politics can abound. I’ve always been torn between both worlds because I do like the energy and sense of community a shared office space creates, realistically, this can’t be 100% duplicated in a digital environment. However, I believe the benefits of a remote workforce outweigh the negatives. It’s time for us all the re-evaluate the logic in getting up in the morning to drive across town to sit at a computer and a phone that most of us have available at home.
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