If you’re a small business owner or employer, chances are you’ve increasingly considered the value of remote employees to your company.
According to an academic study on the rise of alternative work arrangements, over 15% of the workforce in the U.S. participated in the gig economy in 2015.
Discussing the modern workplace in a rare 2013 interview, Miami Real Estate billionaire Wilbur Ross stated that “the Internet has changed the meaning of location.” And it's paying off. Studies have shown remote workers can be 20% more productive than in-office employees when approaching creative projects.
But managing remote employees requires a largely different approach. And there are dozens of mistakes you could make as a manager if you don’t think the remote worker situation through.
Here are the three big mistakes to avoid when you have work from home employees.
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Remote Management Mistakes
Failing To Follow Up
When teams work in one office, it’s easy to ensure that employees are getting their work done because you can see them. However, when they are half way around the world—or even a few towns away—it can be a little trickier to ensure that everything is getting done at the right time. This problem can go both ways. As a manager, you could communicate less clearly and often to remote employees.
An in-office employee can pop into your office to remind you to approve vacation, discuss the raise you promised, and talk about projects at the water cooler. Without the same opportunities, communicating with a remote employee will take a different approach.
The last thing you want is your employee to feel as if they are in isolation. While they are remote, following up and keeping in constant communication is a key way to keep the morale of every member of the team up. Communication is a must.
For example, discussing deadlines and expectations for projects in writing is just one way to maintain communication and follow up on clear objectives.
Not Trusting Your Employees
You will need to communicate more consciously and often with remote employees, which could walk the line of micromanaging. Remember: you hired that employee because you felt that they would be able to get the job done, whether by working from home or in the office. Don’t take your own insecurity of not physically seeing the employee as a sign that they are not working hard.
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Assess employees based on total contributions to the project at hand rather than keeping a constant eye on their day to day. If the work that they are producing is what you asked for and they’re communicating progress effectively, you have a keeper. If they happen to throw a load of laundry in between meetings, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re slacking.
You may be a very approachable manager. But if you don’t explain to your remote employees how to approach you, they err on the side of not communicating as often.
Set up some expectations on how and when they can seek your feedback or guidance. Here are a few tips:
- Virtual Meetings: Schedule a regular meeting where the employee has the opportunity to call in and talk to you. Depending on their work,it could be for 10 minutes a day or 30 minutes a week, but what you’re giving them is the chance to talk.* Well-Defined Calendar: I know when my boss isn’t in, but that’s because she’s down the hall. A remote employee may not have access to your calendar. If you keep your calendar current, even with little errands you have to run, they’ll know your availability.* Mobile Phone: Remote employees more often work flexible hours. What are good times for them to call? When is a bad time to call? Setting expectations early on will safeguard from frustrations further down the road.
Lastly, consider meeting remote employees in person. At one company I worked at, the development team worked all around the country. We flew them in to meet them. This resulted in us putting a face to the voice on the other end of the phone, which only made the team stronger.
If you can’t do that, you could also try something similar to Justworks. We have robots connected to remote employees on Skype so they can “walk” around and say hello to everyone at work.
And there’s no reason you can’t bring them in more often. Buffer, the social media company, has a completely distributed team with people in Asia, Europe, Africa, and North America. To ensure that they all continue to get closer, they have semi-annual trips around the world. They get together, work together, and grow relationships for a stronger company.
Tools That Can Help
Even if you avoid the above mistakes, it’s still tricky to manage work from home employees because you don’t have the benefit of face-to-face interactions.
That being said, here are some tools that I’ve used that have helped me when I’ve managed remote workers.
- Join.me: This is a great tool for conference calls and screen sharing. Every week, I have a call with my developers and if one of us is going over some business rules, we’ll share screens tofollow along.* Slack: This is an amazing chat tool that every company should use. It has the ability for a general chat for all members to participate in and then one-on-one communication when needed. It’s always open on my desktop.* Sneek:Sneek lets you see your teammates and start instant video chats. This way, you feel like you’re working together.
Do you have other tips for how to keep your remote employees happy? Feel free to tweet us @JustworksHR.
This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.