How to manage remote staff – tips and guidelines

How to manage remote staff – tips and guidelines

Clarify types of remote working:

  • Home-based
  • Satellite offices
  • Mobile
  • Client based
  • Part or full-time remote.
  • Professional or clerical staff

Are different issues.

Myth 1– employees can take care of themselves
Myth 2– trust and control are easy
Myth 3 – unless I can see them they are not working

Successful virtual/remote working requires radical new approaches to evaluating, educating, organizing and informing workers.

Staff worry – that they will be forgotten, that they will lose promotion prospects, that they will not be trusted, that people will think they are not working when they are. Evidence is, may be benefits to both organization and individual but there really can be isolation, reduction in promotion, tendency to overwork and reduction of intra-organization communication, identification and (potentially) commitment.

Remoteness does have implications, don’t assume you know how to manage. As employees move away from office managers need to change their managerial style. There is a risk that managers can slip into communication patterns that are totally task oriented and miss verbal cues that let them know that these patterns are demotivating the staff.

Three different styles may be appropriate in different circumstances:

  • At hands reach
  • Collaboration
  • Relationship and trust

Issues include: trust, identification, socialization, control

Remote/virtual staff must clearly understand why they exist and be able to translate their purpose into actions. Research suggests greatest problem for staff and managers is still communication. Managers must become results oriented, shift from being a controller to a leader or coach. Need to develop specialised communication and planning skills, including the ability to communicate well electronically.

Managers and supervisors should:

  • Establish a relationship based on mutual confidence and trust.
  • Ensure well structured, relevant and regular communications.
  • Be available for consultation and advice – set expectations for response times (same day preferable). 
  • Ensure technology and support easily available
  • Enable and encourage good communication with other workers
  • Jointly establish precise goals and objectives (and ensure resources available)
  • Evaluate and feedback on a regular basis
  • Ensure staff participate in organizational activities and are kept informed – don’t assume they have seen the intranet notices.
  • Make sure managers and employees are clear on performance objectives and measurement.
  • Pay close attention to peer relationships, set up buddy systems and agreed forms and frequencies of communication.
  • Plan to communicate by f2f as well as telephone.
  • Set up socialization events and/or drop in facilities, ensure these are genuinely encouraged.
  • Certain areas demand f2f – particularly appraisals, salary reviews.
  • Don’t just e-mail – think before you send. Relevance and impact in particular – how will the other party respond to this? Do they need to know?
  • Re- educate managers and employees for a virtual culture, when and how often to communicate, when to talk vs. type, what to say etc.
  • Ensure staff are trained in time management and how to establish effective off-site/client-site office.
  • Set up a knowledge management/repository so staff can find out who can help on different issues.
  • Set up mentoring and coaching programmes for new or inexperienced personnel.

Practical guidelines on monitoring

  • Communicate goals clearly
  • Set priorities
  • Assess on results (set project milestones, hold periodic reviews, establish check-in periods and frequent updates)
  • Agree on results indicators and how to track these
  • Make sure/check that communications are clear and understood
  • Get regular feedback from employees co-workers and customers
  • Collect specific examples of performance related actions and results to facilitate objective performance discussions.

And do this all with an air of trust and confidence its a  balancing act for sure!

Need to focus on key areas such as communication, trust and control and expand on these.
Perhaps need to assess current mindsets and explode the myths etc.
Start by asking what problems they have in managing remote staff (if they think they don’t have any, ways to explore?)

So communication…

Consider aspects of office that technology not (yet) replaced:

  • Corporate culture and socialization opportunities
  • Creation of loyalty and identification
  • Unplanned and f2f communications – can give additional information and assess attitudes or concerns.
  • Control by observation
  • Access to additional materials
  • Symbols of corporate structure and political workings

Topics that may need addressing include team leadership, work-life balance, orienting new employees to culture and managing performance.

The nature of the information needs to be changed, as well as the medium.

It is recommended that companies:

  • Institute new information flows to replace current ways of communication.
  • Ensure all understand the strengths and weaknesses of various technologies for communicating in specific circumstances – aim to make communication more rational and considered.
  • Educate all employees on how to be more effective providers and consumers of information.