Remote working has increasingly become a controversial subject. With Marisa Meyer most recently telling Yahoo staff to work from the office, or quit. There is increasing controversy over the output of a remote team. As a manager, you’d probably prefer if your entire team were on-site and working together as well. On the other hand, there’s plenty of evidence to show that letting your team work remotely can make them more productive.
The old structures of rigid workplaces are breaking down and giving way to a mobile workforce. So instead of fighting it, embrace the change.
Here’s how business management can help your remote workers fit in.
Clearly Communicate Goals and Deliverables
An interesting study conducted by E. Glenn Dutcher and Krista Jabs Saral showed that remote workers could be productive and valuable team members. However, if your team isn’t managed properly, it can quickly escalate into some serious problems.
Just not the problem you’d expect.
When teams have remote workers, on-site workers are shown to be the ones who 'slack off' because they think remote workers are doing the same thing.
A great way to handle this problem is to set and share each employee’s goals during a weekly team meeting. During the next week’s meeting, have each member be held accountable for their goals. This will show who’s doing what, when and if they are reaching their target(s).
Ensure There Is Open Communication
Reporting to a remote boss can be an odd situation, especially for a newbie remote worker. There are four things that can be done to make the communication between supervisor and team member easier:
1. Spend Face Time Early in the Relationship
Wouldn’t you like to know who you are working with? Or at least what the person looks like outside a Facebook profile picture (which can be misleading sometimes). A face-to-face conversation can be the most powerful mode of communication.
So, invest time at the start of the working relationship to really get to know each other and build trust.
2. Know Which Type of Communication to Use and When
It’s much easier to convey emotions when talking to someone over the phone than it is over e-mail. It’s also very easy to miss the tone and urgency when reading someone’s e-mail. If you need to ask your remote worker a quick question, or tell them to push a deliverable through ahead of schedule, pick up the phone or hop on Skype and get it done.
3. Schedule Regular Check-ins
Just because you don’t work in the same office, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t supervise your remote workers. We’ve already established that they share the same responsibilities, so schedule a recurring time every week to check in with them and see how they are progressing.
4. Make sure people know they can reach out
Communication needs to go two ways, so make sure your remote workers can reach out to you if needed. You don’t want them to feel cut off by limiting your interactions to weekly check-ins or conference calls.
Provide as Many Tools as Possible
Virtual workers can actually be more engaged than on-site workers. The reason? They have to work harder to connect and they want a bigger return on their investment. To help them stay in touch more easily, provide your remote workers with tools and tech to increase communication and collaboration.
With the right setup, your virtual team will feel more included and can constantly stay in the loop. Internal chat programs, like HipChat, can even lead to virtual workers staying in touch after office hours, strengthening the company culture.
Accept That Your Management Style Must Adapt
Helping remote workers fit in is the first step to creating a productive yet distributed workforce. The next step, of course, is for you to adapt to this new reality.
As a manager, it’s important for you to keep in mind that even though every worker shares the same responsibilities, they employ different means to get things done. Remote workers may prefer working in a coffee shop or some other public space. They may prefer working different hours as well. There are people who hit peak productivity at 6pm in Starbucks or at 6am after an early run.
Embracing dispersed teams and building a culture that supports a flexible lifestyle can actually help increase productivity. As remote workers feel less constrained by tight office hours they may start to exercise their creativity more and take the initiative in leading new projects. The challenge is to make them feel like an integral part of the team and get them to interact more with on-site workers.
Start working on the steps outlined here and watch your productivity increase.