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The Art of Managing Remote Employees: Top 10 Tips

Finding, acquiring and retaining the right talent continue to remain top challenges identified by C-suite leaders at companies of all sizes.  Companies are increasingly offering alternative work arrangements that include a full or part-time remote component to engage the talent they need to drive success at their companies. As such, the debate around the relative productivity of remote employees compared to those located at a company’s office remains strong even after gaining the national spotlight in March when the newly appointed CEO at Yahoo took a strong stand essentially banning remote working arrangements at Yahoo. 

The opportunity to manage multiple people simultaneously across multiple states and time zones, and a front row seat at several CFO Roundtables in 2013 have inspired me to offer a Top 10 list for effectively managing remote employees.

  1. Make sure that an employee is correctly “wired” to be successful in a remote working arrangement- there is a certain level of maturity and self-motivation that is required to function successfully in a remote environment.  A recent college graduate may not be the best candidate for a remote working arrangement.
  2. Communicate frequently-  I am not a fan for meetings for the sake of meetings, I even wrote a blog , Meetings Can Lower IQs: Mitigate the Risk, but communication can just be touching base and not a formal meeting.  A common argument against remote employment is that “water cooler” moments are lost. News flash, it is 2013, and virtual water cooler moments can be facilitated.
  3. Communicate with video- Not all communication needs to include a video interaction, but Skype and other tools like GoToMeeting allow virtual "face to face" conversations and body language and expressions can be critical in understanding someone’s state of  mind and level of engagement.
  4. Establish a culture of open communication- the most common issue I have experienced in managing people remotely is a real or perceived disconnect around work priorities and expectations. I have found that questions that may well have been asked to me if someone could just drop by my office in person were not asked and problems occurred that could have been avoided.
  5. Provide technology that facilitates collaboration and engagement- provide software, data access, and relative training that allows and empowers online collaboration
  6. Solicit input from co-workers in managing a direct report remotely- touch base with a co-worker who sees your direct report daily and keep tabs on their energy level along with the types and quality of interactions with co-workers at the office.
  7. Learn what makes your direct reports tic and create trust- managing a direct remote employee effectively requires that you know what motivates and derails his or her productivity.  This means that you have to know them personally on some level, like it or not. Yes, you need to draw a line, but the rewards to really getting to know an employee can be huge.
  8. Establish a culture that promotes a work/life balance- it may seem counter intuitive, but from my experience remote employees can be just if not more likely to work excessive hours and become burnt out from not maintaining any sort of work/life balance.   Do you offer a work environment that allows this balance? Unless you truly understand all that your employees do and how much time it takes them to do it, then you do not even know if your employees are capable of achieving this balance.
  9. Invest in trips that allow face time- you should be sure that you spend time with your direct reports “in-person” at least once a quarter whether that means them going to you, you going to them or meeting somewhere in-between where you have company business. Employees need to feel plugged-in and this commitment can speak volumes to them in this regard. Note, again, not meeting for the sake of meetings, but being in the same location to observe what they do and how they do it can be quite productive.
  10. Involve remote employees in cross-functional projects- you need to be sure that your direct report is engaged and visible to company leaders. This may require that you “volunteer” them to lead and participate in cross-functional projects. You still have a responsibility to help manage the brand of your direct report at your employer.

It takes a real commitment to define and manage the right amount and types of communication and to offer the right environment that each remote employee needs to maximize his or her productivity.  However, the ability to engage and retain the right employees is the foundation of any company’s success.