Join Britt Andreatta for an in-depth discussion in this video Managing remote employees, part of Management Foundations (2013).
- With today's technology, it's likely that you have employees working remotely. Nearly 2/3 of US companies give employees workplace flexibility. This can range from the colleague who works from home a few days per year to the employee who permanently lives and works in another geographic location. You may even lead virtual teams with members spread around the globe. A lot of wonderful tools make this all possible. File sharing and cloud based tools make it easy for people to work on projects and documents together without actually being together.
E-mail, instant messaging, and video calls have turned our phones and computers into high-powered communication devices that can cross continents and time zones. While all of this leads to enhanced productivity, it can also lead to some challenges for today's manager. Let's explore some methods you can use for maximizing the benefits while mitigating the risks. Set people up for success with the right technology. Remote employees can only be successful if the technology works. You need to outfit your people with the right tools, including internet access, computers or laptops, and software.
Make sure that they have what they need, and develop a schedule for keeping everything up to date. Measure work by deliverables rather than activities. Since it will be harder for you to observe people actually working, you need to shift your focus to the results of their efforts. Focus on outcomes or products. This shift should be addressed in your performance management process in terms of how goals are set and how and when you measure success. Focus on communication and inclusion. One of the pitfalls of remote employees is they can miss a lot of the spontaneous communication that occurs when people gather near the copier or coffee machine.
Encourage both the local and remote employees to use tools like instant messaging and video calls to include people in the informal exchanges that occur every day. Also, consider how you can include your remote employees in the culture of the organization. Whenever you have something for the local employees, see how you can create a mirror for your remote people. You can certainly include them in onsite trainings and events by making remote viewing possible. But what about the birthday celebration for a colleague? Consider bringing a laptop so they can attend via video.
Or what about the family day at the local zoo? Send them tickets to the zoo in their town. Help them create a healthy work-life balance. Research has shown that remote employees tend to put in more hours than their local peers. This is both good and bad news. It means that you don't have to worry about them goofing off, but you do need to worry that they'll overwork, which can lead to burnout. Discuss how they'll monitor their work time so they don't overdo it. And also have them create a dedicated workspace so they keep work separate from their home life.
Our home should be where we go and relax at the end of the workday, not a place that reminds us of work. Let's turn our attention to virtual teams where you have several employees working together from different locations. This is also known as dispersion, and there are actually different types of dispersion. Each type requires different kinds of guidance or support, and some teams are combinations of several types. First, you have people that are geographically dispersed. This can be as close as different buildings on a campus to offices scattered around the world.
The amount of distance matters, as farther distances make it impossible to just pop by for a face to face discussion. Second, you have temporally separated teams, meaning that people are in different time zones. This often means that work cannot occur synchronously, but is always offset by several hours. This can create challenges, because all communication is mediated through written words like e-mail, losing valuable non-verbal cues. Another level of dispersion is any quality in the configuration. For example, if you have four people in one location working with two people in another.
This can start to create a click, if you will, of the people who work near each other, because they share experiences, communication, and even culture. And of course, you have cultural diversity. People from different regions, countries, cultures, and languages may not produce or perceive work in the same ways. The behaviors that indicate trust and respect in one culture can be offensive in another. Add to this the additional barriers of language and then communication mediated through e-mail, and you have a situation that's ripe for misunderstandings and conflict.
The solution to all of these challenges is communication and training. As a manager, you need to provide tools for communication and even set standards for how and when it should be done. Dispersed teams benefit from training on how to work in a dispersed environment. This should include an opportunity for members to get to know each other and build trust. This goes a long way to mediating conflict when it does arise. Also, consider appointing someone as the facilitator of the group process. This is separate from the task they're accomplishing together.
This person would keep an eye on the issues we've discussed, helping the group successfully navigate the challenges. As a manager, be open to learning from your experiences with remote employees and dispersed teams. This will help you make adjustments over time that will improve the experience for everyone involved.
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- Choosing a management style
- Hiring employees
- Coaching employees
- Managing team performance
- Establishing trust
- Motivating and engaging others
- Delegating responsibilities
- Avoiding micromanagement
- Managing remote employees
- Knowing HR regulations<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.