How to manage remote workers


Date: 17 February 2011

Home office

This is a guest post from HP Business Answers. Check out our website, blog and Twitter feed. If you have a business IT question, why not ask our IT Agony Aunt for an expert answer?

Letting people work away from the office – at home, at client sites or even in the local coffee shop – can improve productivity and morale. It can also help reduce office costs. Many businesses are reluctant to take advantage of these benefits for fear of giving up management control. Here are some tips to help you manage remote workers more effectively:

  1. It's all about time. Set deadlines. Book phone calls and chats using instant messenger (IM) software. Set yourself a reminder.
  2. Know your team. Make sure you spend some face-to-face time with your team, both at work and informally.
  3. Share documents. Web services like Dropbox make it easy to share documents over the internet and for remote teams to collaborate together. For larger teams, an intranet tool may be more efficient.
  4. Measure. Find ways to monitor and track the work that people are doing. This will build trust and replace the more informal, face-to-face supervision.
  5. Delegate effectively. Set objectives that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.
  6. Respect people's personal time. Don't fall into the trap of treating remote workers as if they were on call 24/7 simply because you can contact them outside 'normal' office hours.
  7. Take pictures. Post pictures of your team members or people on a website or pin board so that you can visualise people when you talk to them.
  8. Listen. In an office you can see when someone is upset or angry or bored. When they're on the end of a telephone, you need to listen actively and ask questions to find out how they're doing.
  9. Trust and be trusted. Trust builds when people do what they say they are going to do. As a boss, you need to set the highest standards of consistency and reliability. When you say you're going to do something, do it.
  10. Take turns. Let other people run meetings occasionally.
  11. Get objective feedback. Use 360-degree appraisals (consider including employees' families) and customer or peer surveys to make sure your virtual team is working well.
  12. Keep a schedule. Use a shared calendar to book meetings and share your schedule with your team (and vice versa).
  13. Be a role model. Set an example with your own punctuality, commitment, reliability and availability.
  14. Give recognition. It costs nothing to write a thank you note or to give praise where it is due. Recognition is a powerful motivator.
  15. Change your management style. Switch from managing by input (time in the office) to managing by output (goals met).
  16. Avoid second-class citizens. Once you've proven the concept, everybody should get a chance to work flexibly (unless their job prevents it). Don't give one person a notebook computer while chaining a colleague to their desk.
  17. Training. Train managers and employees about the challenges and techniques of flexible working. Don't assume that everyone knows how to do it well – they don't. Individuals may need extra help with, say, writing reports or using IT.
  18. Don't isolate people. Encourage regular visits to the main workplace, include flexible workers in company social events; and have more of those. Put procedures in place to monitor for stress and counteract it.
  19. Over-communicate. Many remote and home workers use VoIP (voice over internet protocol - using the internet as a telephone connection). Many HP notebooks include a built-in webcam that makes it easier to do video conferencing.

Image of a home office from Flickr user Fabio Bruna under a Creative Commons licence.

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