Remember the good old days when all your employees (every one of them) showed up at the same place and at approximately the same time? You’d stand around for a few minutes, drink coffee and talk about the results of the big game, or whether or not you saw last night’s episode of Home Improvement.
(Yes, it actually WAS that long ago.)
The truth is, fewer and fewer remember those days at all. They are gone—long gone—and they’re not coming back. Today companies of all sizes, from the largest corporations to the smallest consulting firms work virtually, with employees, contractors and partners doing all manner of tasks from locations all over the world. It’s not uncommon in companies today for a meeting to include a conference room in Houston, connected to an at-home worker in Toronto, an analyst in India and a manufacturing facility outside Rio de Janeiro.
The dilemma is: How do you maintain a sense of company unity when you have workers all over, even if it’s only home-based workers in the same city?
Managing a remote or mobile workforce is different than managing a single-location. You can’t walk down the hall to see how things are progressing. You can’t stick your head in an office and ask a question. Sure, some management techniques (like daily briefings) can still be effective. Still, you’ll have to engage in some basic techniques to insure greater success managing employees from one or more remote locations.
Here are four to get you started:
1. Communicate. It’s a misconception that having employees in a remote location lessens the amount of communication necessary to get work accomplished. It actually increases it. You’ll work harder to keep open communication than with those employees than with employees who work in a single location. Distance and lack of common experiences means it’s up to you to ensure that remote employees do not feel isolated. Increased communication helps, making employees feel more connected with the team and company.
You’ll need multiple avenues: email, video conferencing, phone, webcasting and regular, face-to-face opportunities.
2. Create culture. With employees working from one or more different locations, it becomes a challenge to keep them feeling like they are part of the company and team. This is critical to your success. The overall motivation and drive to follow company initiatives is magnified when each member of the team is connected to the culture. Foster inter-team communication and events. Create partnerships between on-site and remote employees. Form virtual water coolers and opportunities for small talk, re-living past successes, humor and experiences.
3. Maintain accountability. Without daily drop-in conversations and visual observation, how will you know your remote employees are performing up to your expectations? It all revolves around setting goals, establishing objectives and holding each employee accountable for what he or she is tasked to do. With some of the virtual project management systems like Basecamp, it’s easier to keep everyone on the same page, and consequently for tasks and responsibilities not to fall through the cracks. A system of checks and balances is a great place to start. Employee A does this, which enables Employee B to do that, followed by Employee C who can then do this.
4. Performance checks. When the performance of an individual employee is in question, it is crucial to address it quickly. Because the employee is not in line of sight, there can be a tendency to ignore employee performance issues and hope it improves on its on. This is a mistake. Address and correct performance issues sooner rather than later, and your productivity will not suffer.
The fact is, more and more companies are engaging remote employees at higher and higher rates. The more adept you are at managing the process, the further ahead of the competition you will be.