Managing Remote Employees: Exploring Some Basic Principles

If you’ve read anything about Mom Corps, you know that they practice something called “ROWE” (Results-Only Work Environment). I read an interview with Mom Corps’ CEO, Allison O’Kelly and here’s what she had to say about this:

“Virtual managers likely need training on how to expand their communication skills to include how to keep employees motivated as a team, giving positive and negative feedback over the phone, making sure schedules stay on track without micromanaging and making employees feel appreciated for the work they do.” (Allison O’Kelly, http://mashable.com/2011/12/12/hr-remote-workers/)

What I like about this statement is that she points out 3 things here that I have also observed to be essential for managers who have remote employees taking on key roles in their workforce:

 

  1. Giving positive/negative feedback

While she says, “over the phone”, I’d like to expand this and say “over some kind of platform.” In fact, I often advise clients that feedback over the phone is one part of a feedback cycle, and should be either preceded or followed up by the same feedback formally documented somewhere. This could be taking a look at a word document and enabling track changes then emailing or uploading it to Asana (I use this actively, more on Asana and some other great tools in later posts), or it could be simply taking notes during the phone call and sending the summarized points back to the manager or employee after the call is done.

In this blog, you’ll see me repeat over and over again about the importance of written documentation when it comes to remote workforce management. In fact, this should be best practice regardless of Remote vs. face-to-face; its necessity is simply amplified when you engage workers in a Remote model. I love productivity tools, and promise to do a future post on some of my favorites for Remote working.

 

  1. Making sure schedules stay on track

Clear, agreed upon project and task timelines are crucial, and should be reviewed regularly to ensure each action tracks towards the completion of a project. I once had a client that hired a Remote worker, gave him an assignment that was due 1 month later, and then stepped back. When the 1 month mark came along, progress was not what was expected (go figure). If the person was sitting in your office, you wouldn’t let him work

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completely independently with no clear milestones or objectives, and, as I often say to clients, Remote working doesn’t magically mean you can ignore the basic principles of management. Remote and physical are more similar than they seem!

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  1. Making sure employees feel appreciated for the work they do

This should be an easy one, but more often than not I’ve seen this simple management concept ignored when a Remote model is engaged. When you’ve got someone on your team working Remotely, it is often hard to give them the day-to-day pat on the back they deserve when they’ve done something good.

The great news is that it’s actually quite easy to do, especially if you’re using the right tools, but, even if you’re just sticking to simple email and chat, a specific, purposeful note with clear, actionable feedback goes a long way (by schulte). I won’t go much more into this one as I believe it’s self explanatory – bottom line is, it can somehow be easier to treat a Remote worker as a ‘task factory’ to whom you give an assignment and get a specified output, and it is thus important to put systematic steps in place to ensure you motivate your Remote workforce just as you would anyone else on your team.

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As the Remote Revolution becomes the norm vs. a revolution, I believe that companies will begin to treat Remote employees the same as regular employees (and many already do), OR if the Remote employees are temporary contractors, they will be treated the same as any other temporary contractors. Remote will simply be a way of working.

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