In an increasingly digital work environment, managing remote employees has become necessary know-how.
Today’s head office is often merely a nerve centre co-ordinating far-flung sites and projects. But even if employees are out of sight, it’s important to keep them top of mind. For tips on keeping remote workers engaged, motivated and productive, we talked to some experts with plenty of experience: Stephen Clinton, a vice-president at consulting engineering firm InterCAD Services Ltd.; Cori Maedel, CEO at the HR consulting firm Jouta Performance Group; and John Scott, CEO of Scott Construction Group.
Keep staff on the team
While the good news is that technology can facilitate frequent contact, different time zones can put a strain on the relationship between remote workers and head office. Scott advises employers to take the time to figure out how to make these employees feel they are a part of staff meetings and that their input is rewarded. When sending employees to a remote site, make sure the transition is as smooth as possible, and whatever you do for your local employees, do the same for your remote teams.
Out of sight, out of mind. It’s easy to simply assume remote workers are doing their job, only to be surprised when problems arise come delivery time. The best way to monitor productivity is for the individual to develop a work plan that co-ordinates with that of the office schedule, suggests Maedel, ensuring that targets mesh with those of the head office. You have to have solid practices in place at the head office to make sure that everyone is held accountable, advises Scott, and it’s also imperative to foster a healthy work culture, both in head office and at remote sites.
Find the right technology
Smart phones and online technology have made it easier to communicate with remote employees, “but that doesn’t mean the telephone is obsolete; it’s still one of the most important communication tools,” says Maedel. Social networking has also been a game changer because it doesn’t cost the company anything and managers can get in touch with employees instantly. Employers can use Skype or similar web-based technology daily if they have a teleconferencing system set up.
Assess suitability for working independently
“You’ve got to have the right people,” says Scott. Remote workers have to be self-motivated, particularly if they’re on their own and working out of their house, he adds, suggesting companies might set up a shared office space at remote work sites to help motivate employees. Handing out assignments to lone operators only encourages alienation. “On all our projects, we work as a group, so we don’t hand projects off to individuals,” says Clinton.
Give them space
Employees working at a branch away from the home office will want to do things their own way, and it’s important to give them some latitude. Maedel advises that it’s important to get to know the place where your staff are working and the type of community your company is getting plugged into. “Giving them space and keeping employees engaged is another factor that employers need to consider,” says Scott.