Saturday, February 12, 2011

Modern Workforce: Managing Remote Workers

As an HR executive, my project social partner Dave Ryan ponders how to manage remote employees, which he wrote about over at HR Official. And as a remote employee, my challenge is to stay engaged. So as our next tandem blog topic we decided to tackle remote workers from these different perspectives.

How do you keep a remote employee engaged? The simple answer is, you don’t. Employees are ultimately responsible for their own feeling of engagement. But there are things you can do to encourage that feeling:

Perspective #1: Team Lead

The largest team I ever managed was made up of 109 functional experts in 9 sub-teams in multiple locations. Each of the 9 teams had a senior consultant that reported to me and worked directly with each team. Several of the consultants on my team worked in the same building with me so it was relatively easy to connect with them. But with the remote folks I had to be more proactive about reaching out and staying in touch.

Over time we adopted a number of processes to facilitate communication and identify potential problems before they became actual problems:

  • Weekly 30 minute 1:1 – Although I’m a firm believer that technology can replace most meetings, some personal interaction is necessary so we kept these 1:1 meetings fairly religiously.
  • Weekly status report – Instead of status meetings we used a weekly status report to make it easy for anyone who actually cared (mostly me) to scan and identify overall status, current tasks, milestones, potential issues, to dos, etc.
  • Monthly team meeting – We met as a team about once a month to brainstorm and share information. After the meeting we also went for dinner, for which I footed the bill and charged in as ‘team bonding.’
  • Team communications – I used email to communicate process changes and team updates. I know that seems hopelessly outdated now but it was what we had. I tried to keep it short.
  • Prompt follow up – I responded to any email from my team members immediately and insisted on the same courtesy from everyone on the team. There is nothing more frustrating as a remote person than feeling ignored.
  • To each according to his need – Some of the consultants in my team needed more guidance and support than others. I triaged my time according to how much help each person needed.

Perspective #1: Remote Employee

I currently live and work in Munich while most of my colleagues sit together in California. In addition to the geographical difference, I’m 9 hours ahead of the corporate action. Sometimes it gets lonely here in the future and staying motivated can be a challenge. A few things make it easier:

  • Good management – A big challenge for remote teams is that not all managers feel comfortable managing someone they can’t see and talk to face to face.
  • Corporate support – Working with remote colleagues can be a challenge for people who aren't used to working in virtual teams and they may forget to include - or balk at including - their remote colleagues. But at companies where virtual teams are the norm the difficulties miraculously evaporate.
    • Effective communication – If you aren't an effective communicator you cannot work remotely or manage remote people. That means being able to communicate clearly and concisely without relying on interpersonal crutches like appearance, personality or body language.
    • Web 2.0 – I rely heavily on collaboration tools like Webex, Lifesize, and an all-purpose corporate wiki to communicate what I’m working on and stay current with what others are working on.
      • Experience – I’ve worked in the IT industry for 15 years in various roles so I can run with projects with very little guidance. If I were to start a new job in a new industry remote work probably wouldn’t work that well for me.
      • Accountability – At the end of the day it’s up to me to make sure my manager doesn’t regret having a remote employee. This means being responsive, reliable and available. It also means reaching out when I need something and communicating early and often.

      These are my experiences of what works best for managing remote people and working remotely. Be sure to check out Dave's post as well and if you have any other suggestions we’d love to hear them!


      1. Fantastic post! It can difficult to foster a sense of "team" when everyone is spread out across the country & some have never even met one another. I think that the culture- how engaged everyone is can be crucial to keeping everyone motivated. Also trust- if the management is doing things that gives the remote workers a feeling like they are out of the loop, it can foster a sense of disengagement. They will stop caring & have a feeling of indifference if they feel that they are just another worker bee & not truly a valuable part of the team.

      2. Awesome, concrete advice for remote workers and managers of remote teams. It is challenging sometimes to work remotely and stay connected to colleagues who are many hours behind you (I have a similar situation), but these are great tips for taking the initiative to remain a responsive member of the team.

      3. Thank you both for these comments - you both seem to agree that that a feeling of connection is key and I definitely concur!

        1. A very nice informational blog.Keep on making such important blog post.Your work is really being appreciated by some one.

      4. Great post Working girl, informative insights about remote workers. It happened that I also manage remote workers for years now and based on my experience I would say that communication is the key to remote workers. There are also different online tools and resources that can be use to manage remote workers effectively it is just depends on what you really need most. Using Skype I can easily communicate with my employees and guide them on how to do tasks. I also use Dropbox for easy collaboration of files, photos and videos that are needed at work. Lastly, I use this tool that allows me to take a glimpse on how employees use their computer at work. Using this tool it constantly monitors employees during working hours to assure that employees are working on their tasks. It also help employees improve productivity and most of all it does not invade employees privacy.

      5. Great post, Managing remote workers can really get tricky as you have no clue if the worker had really worked for the time he is suppose to work, also keeping all the workers on the same page to avoid any communication gap is a must. With the help of tools and softwares available in the market one can assure productivity. Tools such as :
        Skype for video conferencing
        Dropbox for file and data sharing
        Hivedesk for Time and productivity management
        Hangouts for instant messaging


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