28 Tips from Experts on Managing Remote Workers

remote workers
by Hillary Gamblin     Thursday, September 14th, 2017.

Managing Remote Workers

According to Gallup, more companies are hiring full-time remote employees and incorporating flexible work-from-home policies. The benefits of creating a friendly remote working environment are tremendous, and as a Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) provider, Jive is invested in making it easier for managers to engage with their growing remote workforce.

But there’s one large caveat in reaping the benefits of a remote-worker-friendly program: remote workers must be managed well. So how do you effectively manage remote employees?

As companies like Jive provide the technology that support remote workers, managers must also contribute their invaluable skills to keep employees organized, informed, and engaged. So we asked experts—individuals who have managed remote workers for years—for tips.

If you’re managing remote employees, or thinking about instituting a remote-worker-friendly program at your company, skip to the head of the class by learning from these experts.

Hiring

The success of a remote employee begins with hiring the right person.

Spencer Thomas Cannon Financial Institute

 

#1. Make sure the right person is hired for the position; not everyone can handle working remotely.
—Spencer Thomas, Cannon Financial Institute

 

 

If everyone can’t handle working remotely, you must identify good candidates early in the hiring process. 

Thayne Martin IT Recruiting Group

#2. Recruit workers with the proper skills, environment, and personality to work remotely. Determine if there’s a productive environment in the remote situation. A UC Irvine study indicated that a single interruption can cause 25 minutes of lost productivity. Does the candidate have a dedicated office or are they working from a kitchen table with family around?
—Thayne Martin, IT Recruiting Group

 

But are they the right fit? 

Scott McGrath Origo BPO

 

#3. Your remote or offshore team must fit your culture. To do this, we believe in behavioral testing to find what a candidate is really capable of.
—Scott McGrath, Origo BPO

 

 

While you’re posting jobs and on-boarding a new remote worker, let them know exactly what the job entails.  

Rolf Gehrung AccuZip

 

#4. I’ve managed remote employees for multiple companies, and the key is a clear job description and expectations. 
—Rolf Gehrung, AccuZip

 

 

Once you’ve hired someone, make sure they have all the resources they need.

Douglas K Williams Capella University

#5. Allocate the remote employee the funds to get proper office supplies and equipment. Avoid thinking that running a home-office is cheap. Instead, estimate and allocate funding for the remote employee’s electric, heat, space, furniture, Internet access, regular phone, fax capability, mobile phone, and office supplies. Remote employees enjoy the freedom to go use their allocated office budget to run their personal office. At all costs, avoid having the remote employee feel like they need to pay for their own pens and pencils, or even ask clients for them.
—Douglas K Williams, Capella University

Technology 

To effectively lead a remote workforce, you must have an appropriate infrastructure. Because your communication depends on the reliability and capabilities of your online chat tools, business phones, and video conferencing, you must offer top-notch technology. It’s just a given.

Natalie Cloutier Scalable Outsourcing

 

#6. Invest in good software. Whatever type of company you might be managing, if you’re managing remotely, the best way to avoid encountering problems and miscommunications is to have safe and reliable software.
—Natalie Cloutier, Scalable Outsourcing

 

Some information is best communicated a certain way, so ensure you have a variety of ways to communicate individually and to the team: web conferencing, email, training software, management software, chat/instant message, phone, and video.

Kelsey Grabenstein CipherHealth

 

#7. Introducing an internal chat function can also be a great way for team members to interact frequently, and get almost instant feedback or help! 
—Kelsey Grabenstein, CipherHealth

 

 

Along with chat apps, let’s not forget the importance of phone and video communication. Luckily, with UCaaS solutions, a provider can offer incredible features—especially increased mobility—for office phones, video conferencing, and web conferencing that remote workers will find indispensable.

Sterling Snow

 

#8. Unified communications makes it easy to manage a remote employee. I use Jive.me for audio, screen-share, and video. Plus Jive mobile makes it easy to text quick questions or have impromptu calls on the move. No one needs to be tied to a desk anymore!
—Sterling Snow, Jive

 

Finally, you must have a secure way of storing and sharing documents.

Nathan Zimmerman

 

#9. I managed a remote group for two years and I observed that electronic meetings and/or presentations should be recorded and placed in a library for future reference at any time. These meetings are easily carried out by sharing electronic documents.
—Nathan Zimmerman

 

When we talked to our experts, here are some of the specific software programs and/or apps that they specifically mentioned as helpful tools working with remote employees. Here’s a list of some of the tools our experts find useful: Hosted VoIP, Google Hangouts, Smartsheet, Slack, Facetime, and Cloudfactory.

How do you implement some of these tools into a daily management routine? 

Guinevere Lynn Earth Mama

#10. In an office you have the ability to see an individual’s nonverbal cues and see if/how your team is working through challenges. For the human connection, I recommend using Skype for Business, Google Hangouts or Facetime whenever possible.
Along with human connection, use tools like Smartsheet to help all employees access the same documents and work simultaneously on projects. This makes the work feel very collaborative, which is always a win!
–Guinevere Lynn, Earth Mama

Scheduling Communication

Now you know what kind of technology you need to communicate, it’s important to schedule your communications.

Kelsey Grabenstein CipherHealth

#11. The most important thing for me in managing a remote team is having consistent, regularly scheduled communication and measurable expectations. We have a regularly scheduled weekly team check in, and monthly individual check ins. I also have a set of weekly and monthly KPIs that I can easily monitor through our CRM.
—Kelsey Grabenstein, CipherHealth

 

How often should you communicate with individual employees and with your teams? Carissa Newton manages a large team of remote workers in Indiana and New York City, and created a helpful structure for meetings, collaborations, and one-on-ones.

Carissa Newton BrickHouse Security

#12. I’ve done the following structure with three different companies, and it works well whether you have staff in one location or dispersed.
Weekly Scrum: Participants: full team. Time frame: quick. Agenda: top three priorities, issues, roadblocks, and questions.
Weekly Project Meeting: Participants: full team or specific project members. Time frame: one hour. Agenda: in-depth status of all project tasks. As a manager, ensure that you’re on track and all questions are answered. 
Bi-Weekly One-on-One: Participants: manager and employee. Agenda: let each employee talk about work, questions, personal development, concerns, etc.
—Carissa Newton, BrickHouse Security

 

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Whether you prefer to do one-on-ones once a week or every other week, make sure they’re scheduled and try to utilize video technology! 

Brandon Hall CPA PLLC

 

#13. Have regular one-on-one video chats with your team members. I currently have a one-on-one (we call them Pulse Checks) every other week with each employee. You may think this is too much, but we’ve found it’s just the right amount of face time for our virtual employees.
—Brandon Hall, Hall CPA PLLC

 

What about daily check-ins? A lot of people recommended checking in with their remote employees every day. How do you manage daily check-ins without being disruptive or coming across as regimented and insincere?

Brandon Pindulic OpGen Media

#14. The easiest and most effective thing we’ve done is to avoid scheduled daily check-ins. Most companies subscribe to a daily scrum: updates in a general Slack channel, Skype, etc. We’ve found that daily check-ins hurt productivity and morale. We still communicate daily, but it’s organic. We touch base with our remote employees every day as we discuss the company, projects, and see how everyone is doing.
—Brandon Pindulic, OpGen Media

 

For including weekly real-time communication and collaboration with your team, consider instituting an “All Hands On Deck Hour.”

#15. Managers need to establish a block of work time when all employees are available. This gets tricky with employees working in different time zones, but designate at least an hour when everyone’s schedules overlaps. During the All Hands on Deck hour you can hold video conferences for collaborative brainstorms, department meetings, and formal announcements. Even if it is just for an hour, this hour will be your saving grace.
—Sterling Snow, Jive

In short, communication with remote workers requires a careful balance of flexibility and structure.

Jaime Conde Anyone Home

 

#16. Be flexible in working hours, but set specific times to meet. It’s okay not to work a typical 8-5, especially if time zones are far off. Set specific times to meet and be courteous with your team’s time. Make sure they get to talk to you when that time is planned.
—Jaime Conde, Anyone Home, Inc

 

Management Approach

Your management approach may require a paradigm shift. For example, the word management itself. 

Rolf Gehrung AccuZip

 

#17. Your job will require weekly one-on-ones, regular team meeting, and being out in the field to support your remote employees—not to manage them.
—Rolf Gehrung, AccuZip

 

 

Another paradigm shift is how you evaluate your remote employees. Working in a communal office environment, we’ve placed the utmost importance on the amount of time an employee puts into their work. Time is burdensome and difficult to track with remote employees, so you need to focus on something different.

Brandon Hall CPA PLLC

 

#18. Forget about tracking time and focus on results. We tell our employees they can work whenever and wherever they’d like as long as their work gets done on time. We focus purely on results and our employees know how they are performing at all times.
—Brandon Hall, Hall CPA PLLC

 

Along with these core changes in your management approach, to effectively manage your remote employees, you need to incorporate specific attitudes and techniques.

Carissa Newton BrickHouse Security

 

#19. Recognize and reward remote employees. This is an easy one to lose sight of when you have others remote or in other locations. Be sure to always recognize and reward the work your employees are doing. A simple message, gift card, or catered meal for the group.
—Carissa Newton, BrickHouse Security

 

With workers in different time zones and locations, you need to provide structure and organization.

Guinevere Lynn Earth Mama

#20. Be organized. Keep your business calendar up to date so your team can grab time whenever needed. This is also a wonderful bonus for your colleagues/team etc. since everyone internally can see open availability, which creates operational efficiency.
—Guinevere Lynn, Earth Mama

 

Your management of remote workers may require more familiarity and less emphasis on hierarchy.

Jaime Conde Anyone Home

#21. Get Friendly. Let them get to know you on a personal level. The further you are away, the more of a friend you need to be. People say that bosses can’t be friends with their employees (or they did 20 years ago), but I have seen that being friends with your remote employees can encourage them to work hard for you. Having a personal relationship makes that distance seem shorter.
—Jaime Conde, Anyone Home, Inc

 

To go along with the familiarity in your management style, encourage participation and collaboration.

Natalie Cloutier Scalable Outsourcing

 

#22. Managers need to remember that they are managing humans, and that there is nothing that humans care about more than feeling important. I found that my team was much more productive and focused when I encouraged them to contribute to executive decisions and gave them more responsibility, which in the end gave me less work: it’s a win-win.
—Natalie Cloutier, Scalable Outsourcing

 Engagement

Employee engagement and growth with remote employees is perhaps one of the most difficult long-term issues you will deal with. Luckily for us, Douglas K Williams is a Doctoral candidate and researcher about remote employee management, and he had three wonderful ideas to help your employees feel engaged and included in the company culture.

#23. Avoid the negative impact of sending central office only emails for pie-day, birthday cakes, and other items. Remote employees often find these to be exclusionary. Announce internal job openings to all workers, regardless to having a choice or not. This allows the remote worker to feel like they have a chance to be included.
—Douglas K Williams, Capella University

Build support and understanding for remote workers among your office workers. Too often office workers misunderstand the roles remote employees play in their company, and this leads to resentment and belittlement.

Douglas K Williams Capella University

 

#24. Sponsor a remote worker day once or twice yearly where all workers are remote. This helps local workers better understand how remote work is.
–Douglas K Williams, Capella University

 

 

Realize that at the end of the day, technology can’t replace physical interactions. Hiring remote employees does not mean you won’t spend money on travel. Travel is a necessity if you want your remote employees to succeed.

 

#25. Budget for regular visits for the remote employee to come to the main location, and not just for group trainings or kick-offs. This allows them to network with others.
–Douglas K Williams, Capella University

International Remote Employees

Not all remote managers work with employees around the globe, but if you do manage employees with extreme diversity in location and culture, we’ve got you covered. One of our experts for managing international remote employees is Kirk Donan. He manages a virtual marcom/digital agency, and while Donan’s central office location in Silicon Valley, 80% of his team reside in Europe and Asia.

Kirk Donnan Donnan Creative Strategy

#26. Over-communicate. Most collaborators who are a part of my virtual marcom agency are in Europe and Asia, so while their English is sufficient, many times it’s not what I might call fluent. I find that outlining specific project directives — in a very basic step-by-step format over email — results in the the best outcomes on client work. For example, I state project deadlines at the very beginning of an email, so that my people can immediately do triage for their workloads. Unclear, non-specific instruction nearly always leads to work that’s off. And we don’t have time for that.
—Kirk Donnan, Donnan Creative Strategy

 

How do you navigate communications across different time zones? 

#27. Make time zone differences work for you. Since most of my people are 10–15 hours ahead of Pacific Time, I often make assignments at the end of my business day, so when I wake up the next morning I find first drafts in my inbox.
—Kirk Donnan, Donnan Creative Strategy

What are some ways you should be sensitive to international remote employees?

Daniel Christensen Morningdove Marketing

 

#28. If you manage employees or contractors who aren’t in the country, take into consideration the time difference and local customs. For example, if you give them days off for their national holidays, it goes a long way for morale and long-term productivity. Treat them with the same considerations you would with local employees.
—Daniel Christensen, Morningdove Marketing

See What Jive Can Do for Your Remote Workforce

Buttress your management of remote employees with the right technology. Sign up for a demo of Jive Voice or Jive Video to see how a UCaaS solution improves management, real time communication, and efficiency among remote workers.   

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