Managing remotely

March 21, 2012
Tina Chemini

Issue 4

Do you have employees who work from home? Or employees such as sales reps working on the road with no set home base? Or how about employees working in an established location but being managed by an off-site manager such as in a satellite lab?. If you do, you know managing off-site employees in each of these scenarios has its rewards and challenges. If you are considering a remote management situation or are being challenged by an existing situation, keep the following key points in mind. Choose the right people

Do you have employees who work from home? Or employees such as sales reps working on the road with no set home base? Or how about employees working in an established location but being managed by an off-site manager such as in a satellite lab?.

If you do, you know managing off-site employees in each of these scenarios has its rewards and challenges. If you are considering a remote management situation or are being challenged by an existing situation, keep the following key points in mind.

Choose the right people

Not everyone can work remotely. Remote workers must be able to set priorities, keep on task, and to a large degree, be self-motivated and self-managed.

Employees who require a large degree of direct supervision will not be successful working in a remote environment. If you have the luxury of hiring the employees who will be working remotely, look for these qualities in your candidates.

However, many of us “inherit” remote workers. It is up to us then, as managers, to groom them into successful employees or replace them. Honesty is the most important quality to look for in off-site workers. You need to trust that they are working, that they are productive, and that they are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Set goals and establish priorities

Even if you have the utmost trust in your remote employees, they still need to have goals and to know the priority of each of those goals. The goals should be mutually agreed upon, committed to writing, and must directly support the overall goal of that department and/or the organization.

Clearly defined and mutually agreed-upon goals and priorities help the remote worker know exactly what is expected, and the motivation to reach these goals is then internalized.

Use effective measurement tools

The old-fashioned report is the tool of choice. Sales reps submit daily, weekly, and monthly reports of their sales activities. Remote customer service employees complete a daily call log, tracking all incoming calls, the reason for the call, and the outcome.

Satellite technicians log in cases, and then bill them out when they are done. Remote managers run production reports and sales reports to measure the performance of their employees.

The reports compare the mutually agreed-upon goals with the actual outcome and will reveal success or a need for improvement. The output measured by these reports will confirm the remote arrangement is, or is not, working, or if priorities need to be adjusted.

Communication is key

E-mail, instant messaging, phone and conference calls, Web and video-conferencing, and face-to-face meetings are great tools to keep off-site employees in close communication with managers and other employees.

Not everyone communicates successfully using the same method, so while many employees like using e-mail as their primary communication method, others will prefer picking up the phone. The downside of e-mail messages is they do not accurately convey the author’s tone and can often be misinterpreted. Long e-mail exchanges should be avoided, instead opting for a phone conversation. But nothing can replace the face-to-face meeting. Most of our remote managers are advocates of monthly meetings, with an absolute minimum of annual visits.

Make sure remote employees have everything they need to be successful. Having the proper communication equipment such as cell phones, PDAs, laptop computers and fax machines is vital to a successful remote arrangement.

Decision-making authority

The authority to make decisions is as important as the equipment. Employees working remotely will face many instances during the normal work day when they need to take immediate action. If they must stop and call their remote manager each time, then work stops until they get a reply. Giving the remote employee a clearly defined authority level will eliminate this often overlooked and underappreciated contentious issue.

The remote workplace is becoming a business trend of the future. It dramatically cuts overhead costs and actually can make a company more agile in responding to shifts in the industry. Before you enter into a remote arrangement, be sure to weigh the pros and cons and be ready to make changes when necessary.