The global economy, location and desires of the labor market, and the incredibly rapid change in technology have all had a significant impact on the way business is conducted. Likewise, the price of commercial real estate, commuting and traffic challenges and the unyielding competition for talented and skilled labor have led many organizations to offer remote work.
I’ve been an intermittent, part-time and full-time remote worker, but more importantly, I have managed remote workers. It is from this experience that I offer you eight insights into supporting them well.
1. Choose wisely – pick who or what is ripe
Not everyone is cut out for remote work. Managers should make sure the employee is ripe for remote work. He/she will be self-directed and self-disciplined, responsible and accountable, and capable and competent to perform the job with little or no direction and assistance.
Managers should also make sure the job and activities are ripe for remote work. The tasks and duties must lend themselves to being performed efficiently and effectively “off site.”
2. Be flexible
Remote work arrangements and strict structure are not good bed fellows. Compromise and flexibility will be needed when making decisions that were previously easy and assumed. When does the remote worker need to be “on the clock”? When and how will meetings occur? When and how will training or feedback occur? How will we measure success? How will files or documents will be sent/gathered? Rigidity in protocols may be possible when everyone is in the office, but remote work requires flexibility. This is not to suggest that Managers kowtow to the remote worker, but trust me when I suggest they’ll benefit from a compromise.
In addition, some managers think remote work is flexible and/or beneficial “enough” and therefore, they don’t offer the remote worker the same flexibility for taking time off. This is simply not true; remote employees deserve the same amount of flexibility that their colleagues in the office are receiving.
3. Communicate to all stakeholders and customers
Managers needs to communicate to all stakeholders that someone is going to be working from a different location. Thorough communication helps identify the expectations for all affected parties and provides an avenue to discuss challenges, barriers or concerns.
4. Make good use of technology
Managers should adopt technological solutions that effectively enable group think and engagement across distance. One of the objectives and/or benefits of working remotely is significant cost savings; this savings is sabotaged if technology isn’t put into place to support the effort.
Whether it is by providing quality and predictable audiovisual solutions, audiovisual technology or group collaboration software, managers should give all employees an opportunity to succeed in their work by providing the right technology to support it.
5. Manage by objectives and outcomes
“When the cat is away, the mice will play.” This, unfortunately, is true for many work environments, remote or otherwise. That being said, management by objectives and outcomes has become a common way of incentivizing work. With remote employees, it is often the only way. When the methods and means of the work are not critical, the outcome becomes the thing that is measured or inspected.
Please note, if the outcomes and results are not what is expected, the remote work agreement needs to be re-evaluated and/or stopped. There are very few instances in which a Manager MUST allow employees to work from home. If there is a choice in the matter, and if the remote work is not being done to the Manager’s satisfaction, the Manager should be empowered to make necessary changes.
6. Evaluate fairly and thoroughly provide feedback
Managers sometimes find the evaluation and feedback process tricky; they struggle even more when there is distance between them and the employee. This may be because they don’t know how to effectively manage by objectives, they don’t know how to provide direct feedback, they haven’t developed an effective, trusting relationship with the remote employee, or for any other number of reasons.
Regardless, Managers need to step up. Having a remote workforce isn’t a free pass for leadership. Managers need to monitor and evaluate the work consistently and fairly, they need to pro-actively engage and follow up, and they need to provide direct, timely, and actionable feedback to ensure the remote worker can improve or succeed.
7. Engage consistently and often
Remote workers have a tendency to be “out of sight and out of mind.” Regardless of their independence and self-discipline, most remote workers don’t appreciate being left out or forgotten. Additionally, working without professional interaction isn’t good for creativity, innovation, and problem solving. That said, everyone needs to take a pro-active role in engagement as decreased communication leads to distrust, resentment, and inefficiency.
8. Be patient
Remote work, while it may be increasing and becoming easier with the digital age, is still complicated. As this post suggests, quite a bit can go wrong. That being said, patience is required. While Managers may be able to immediately “call back” the employee when things get difficult or something goes wrong, I strongly suggest they hold tight, learn about why the work or process is failing and see if they can’t mitigate or solve the situation. Additionally, the employees need to be patient. It is difficult to be isolated from others, but it is the price of allowing remote work. Tension, stress and similar issues are likely to affect relationships and communication, but disengaging from the relationship is not effective. Demonstrating patience will go a long way into establishing a successful dynamic.
In summary, know this: management is difficult. Most of us evolved to our current positions not because we were great leaders but because we were good at our trade. While some of us learned how to supervise employees along the way, many of us still struggle with managing effectively. The increase in remote workers adds to the challenge.
May I suggest you simply change your verb? Instead of thinking you must manage your remote worker, consider your ability to support the remote worker. Perhaps that subtle change, along with executing some of these ideas, will result in increased and sustained performance.