MANAGING REMOTE WORKERS
The challenge of managing remote workers is not new. There always have been “road warriors,” off-shift workers, and people at remote locations. However, technology has greatly enlarged the ranks of remote workers at home and in other non-traditional work spaces. As a result, managers today frequently have to oversee the work of one or more of their direct reports on a distance basis. In fact, “virtual teams” have become commonplace in the 21st century.
Although the need to manage remote workers has existed for quite some time, it remains difficult to do. The goals of remote management are the same as those for supervising on-site workers, but the methods are quite different. Productivity, quality, and timeliness still must be managed, yet managers cannot just walk down the hallway or onto the shop floor to do it.
Managing remote workers begins with hiring the right people. Last month’s e-blast from PSP Metrics highlighted the attributes of successful remote workers. In addition to hiring the right employees, the right manager also must be hired. The best remote managers are clear expectation setters, skilled informal communicators, excellent motivators, constructive advice givers, disciplined progress monitors, effective accountability managers, knowledgeable performance coaches, and embracers of technology.
With these management skills in mind, here are some suggestions for creating a climate where remote management can succeed.
- Use videoconferencing liberally – on-boarding, virtual tours of the office, meeting new coworkers, team meetings. There is no substitute for seeing each other’s faces.
- Consider weekly “kick-off” and “recap” meetings to highlight priorities, challenges, and results for the week—using videoconferencing to do so.
- Allow a few minutes at each team meeting for small talk and get-to-know you time. Have one team member each month give a two-minute autobiography. And, hold team meetings at least monthly to acknowledge successes and give recognition.
- Keep your team updated on what is happening at headquarters and what is on the horizon – in-between monthly team meetings, if necessary.
- Don’t forget monthly one-to-ones with each team member, to discuss highs and lows of the past month’s work, to motivate and inspire the team member, and to plan next month’s work.
- Consider using videoconferencing for a “virtual water cooler” chat, where team members can drop-in to just talk with each other.
- Set up a “buddy system” by matching team members with each other for informal consultation and peer coaching.
- Remember to evaluate team members by accomplishments, not by hours of effort. This approach avoids micro-management and builds respect and trust between team member and team leader.
- If you can’t use videoconferencing, use the phone. Schedule phone appointments before calling. Then, follow-up decisions and action plans with an email to confirm.
- Meet in-person with the whole team at least every six months, quarterly if possible. There is no substitute for meeting face-to-face in three dimensions. Launching a project or celebrating a successful completion are excellent times for in-person meetings.
Selecting managers who can perform these ten tasks, or most of them, is no small undertaking. How can you know if they can manage people long distance? Previous experience in remote management is a good start, but many managers today still lack such experience. Ask candidates what methods they found helpful when they were a remote worker or part of a remote team. If they have managed remote workers previously, you can ask them to describe their remote management experiences in detail to determine if their expectations are realistic.
Employment tests are the best way to evaluate an applicant’s ability to deliver the “soft skills” needed in remote management. Well-designed and validated tests can measure an applicant’s listening skills, organizational and follow-up skills, social interaction skills, accountability/conflict management skills, and leadership skills.
Remote management is an inevitable part of doing business in the 21st century. Take some of the risk out of selecting managers for remote management assignments with help from PSP Metrics.