There is a dichotomy at the heart of any company which allows staff to work remotely from the office. Clearly, there are some roles where this cannot be avoided. Salespeople often have to operate away from the office, and the huge networks of delivery vehicles cross-crossing continents plainly need staff able to operate to strict deadlines under their own steam.
Yet, employees working remotely is not new. A 2016 Vodafone study of 8,000 employees and employers found that three-quarters of global companies have already switched to more flexible working models. The reasons cited are illuminating. Sixty-one percent believed it increased company profits, whilst eighty-three percent saw a boost in productivity.
Of course, that latter point comes with a caveat. Not all personalities will necessarily be ideally suited to self-supervision in a remote working setting. As Geoffrey James sees it “… personality types were conceived long before the advent of the internet and the hundreds of online tools that we now have available to coordinate work efforts remotely.”
It’s also worth mentioning that the evolution of remote working has opened up new possibilities for employers. It means that the potential pool of people that can be hired no longer need be tied to the same location, country or time. If you have a great remote working set up, you can hire the best people in any geography.
With this in mind, let’s now look at how a company can get the best from staff working offsite.
1. Set targets & expectations
This might seem abundantly obvious but it still needs to be reiterated. Goals matter. If you set targets and timelines in which certain tasks are to be completed it adds a sense of urgency as various deadlines approach.
Don’t forget to set your expectations of a remote employee from the get-go. Be clear and consistently revisit those expectations. Fundamentally it’s the job of management to hold people accountable for meeting their set goals, timelines and objectives.
If these are missed management needs to be certain that the issue is with the employee and not the monitoring mechanisms for helping a remote member of staff meet their targets.
2. Ensure your tools are geared to remote working
You could have the best employee on the planet for a remote working role. Yet, if not given the tools to achieve the task at hand, a remote-working set-up will be as good as useless. It is vital that the support IT and telecoms infrastructure is in situ to ensure that there is a ready two-way channel of communication between team leader, the team and all the supporting collateral that may be required.
3. Stay in regular communication
Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to check in with remote employees on a daily or even hourly basis (see point 2). However, depending upon the task, over-communication can become a distraction to achieving goals. The key will be finding the optimum balance, which may be different depending upon the characteristics of the employee and the nature of the task.
4. Where possible use video to communicate
People are social creatures. A great deal of what we communicate to each other will not be what we say but also how we say it — the tone of voice, the expression on the face. For all of the amazing power of language to communicate complex ideas, there’s a whole other level of meaning which will not be captured by audio alone.
As Ron Carucci explains in Harvard Business Review, “People are constantly telling you how they feel about you through their nonverbal cues. While people may withhold verbal feedback, their faces and bodies will often tell a different story. If you learn to read them, these cues can provide a steady stream of useful feedback about how your words and actions are being received.”
5. Be human
Managing a remote team can seem, and may ultimately be, far more challenging than the equivalent experience with employees under one roof. If anything, the pressure to achieve results may be more acute than in a traditional setting. This may mean that there’s a much greater focus on meeting targets and goals in a timely manner.
But it’s critical that this isn’t to the exclusion of small talk. Small talk, or chit chat, is a form of social communication and helps people bond above and beyond the primary purpose of the call. It’s about asking how an employee is doing, how their family are, what they got up to last weekend.
It helps to alleviate tension, momentarily distract from the task and establish trust. You might think that this simply draws away from the job at hand and, strictly speaking, this is true. However, it also helps add vital social cohesion between remote team members and management.
6. Beware of email information overload
With a remote team, there will inevitably be a greater reliance on digital communications tools such as email. Email can be incredibly useful, but if its use is not well-managed, it can become a source of productivity inertia.
How many times have you encountered emails where the TO field is filled with dozens of people, most of whom have no direct influence or involvement in the task? This then draws others away from their own objectives.
A 2013 survey found that email has, “caused tension, confusion, or other negative consequences for 64 percent of working professionals.” Yet email remains one of the most perennially effective tools if used correctly. Mindtools suggests ways to get the most from email and minimize the negatives:
- Avoid overcommunicating by email
- Make good use of subject lines
- Keep messages clear and brief
- Be polite
- Check your tone
- Proofread before you send
7. Praise remote staff
This may seem like an after-thought but, in truth, it is possibly the single most important aspect which management can overlook. As Karen Higginbottom sees it, “There are clear links between employee appreciation and its impact on employee engagement and productivity.”
If staff are consistently meeting or exceeding the goals set for them, recognize their efforts and make it clear they are a valued part of the team. With various personality types, the optimal approach to getting the most out of a remote employee will inevitably vary.
Yet, without a doubt, almost all employees need to feel valued, appreciated and recognized for their contribution. This is one of the intangibles which go above and beyond the remuneration package an employee enjoys.
Remote management is still management
It’s clear that the dynamic between a remote employee and their manager will be very different from that experienced where staff are in the same office. Yet, the key to managing remote employees well is still about effective communication, good work tools, and practices, setting goals and expectations early on and always making time to recognize and praise effort.
Any manager on top of these will already have made inroads into getting the best from remote employees.