Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Business owners often resist the idea of employing and managing remote employees because of a fear that remote employees will be less productive than if they were under the watchful eye of an office-based manager.

"The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you've made a hiring mistake. The best people don't need to be managed. Guided, taught, led - yes. But not tightly managed" Jim Collins

However, if you're planning on expanding in to new markets then you'll need to find a way to work effectively with remote employees. Plus, the ability to use freelance and remote workers is a major cost benefit to business owners.

The trick is to make sure you employ people who are self-motivated and who value achievement more than the idea of slacking off.

In our experience remote employees who slack off are the same ones who are just as likely to slack off if they’re working in an office!

So, here are a few of our tips for making the process of managing remote employees easy:

1. Build the relationship

When you're managing remote employees you will need to make a much greater effort to make them feel well supported and a part of the team. If they don't hear from you for a week or so they soon start to feel disconnected.

You know how employees love to come and have some chitchat with your first thing in the morning? You might think its a waste of time but it's really important for relationship-building with your team and remote employees don't have this opportunity.

Regular chit chat phone calls where they feel they can have informal conversations with you are extremely important for their morale. Most people need to feel included - some more than others, so as a manager you'll need to judge how much each person needs.

So, call them regularly to check in with them and see if they need support from you and also take time to build your relationship with them. It is much easier to manage someone remotely when you know them well. Don't make the mistake of relying on emails - they don't make a good substitute for 'real' conversations.

2. Trust them

Micro-managing remote employees is obviously not possible but more importantly, micro managing employees to make sure they're being productive doesn't work anyway, in any context. You may think you're keeping a tight rein on performance if you keep a close eye on people but all it does is deplete morale because it's obvious you don't trust them.

When it comes to remote employees you actually need them to be self-sufficient and able to work independently. That’s the whole point. So employ people you can trust and let them get on with it - judge them by their results. If they're not getting the results you know more management is required.

3. Have very clear communication

This is probably the most important point. Your communication skills need to be very good to make the process of managing remote employees work effectively. Stay in contact with them regularly and also be very clear with your instructions.

We’ve seen some business owners get frustrated when things don’t get done the way they want or when they want. Closer examination often reveals that the problem starts with a confused brief at the very start.

It’s always important to give very clear instructions but especially so with remote employees. When you’re briefing them on a task it is best to talk through it over the phone or skype and then send a follow up email.

4. Set clear goals

When you’re setting goals it works best if you co-create them with your remote employee so you can discuss how they fit within the rest of their workload. Also ask them to agree on a realistic deadline – just saying ‘asap’ doesn’t work.

By giving them a deadline you enable them to more easily prioritise. Otherwise you might forget what you asked them to do and realise later they are working on your less urgent requests first.

5. Invest in systems

When you're managing remote employees in your business it pays to invest in some systems to make it all run more smoothly.

There are a lot of software and cloud applications available now that are very useful when you have remote employees. For example, DropBox allows you to share files online and there are also task manager programs which enable you to easily keep track of who's doing what. These allow you to cut down on emails.

6. Have regular meetings

You do need to be able to check in regularly with your remote employees to build the team culture and help keep them motivated and feeling as though they are part of your business. Isolation is one of the biggest problems that might cause staff turnover.

Meetings are great but don’t go overboard and have too many. Keep them short and simple. Once a week, or even once a month, should be sufficient in most cases.

Business Coaching Questions:

  • Have you made it clear what you expect from your remote employees?
  • In what ways could you create a team culture with them?
  • How regularly do you have more meaningful discussions with them beyond immediate tasks to check that they're happy with the way things are working?

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