As the economy and our marketplace become more global, having a distributed workforce is a normal part of business. Not only are offices spread around the world, but a growing number of people work either full- or part-time from their homes. If you are managing remote employees, a whole new set of challenges develop in these situations; you may rarely see, never have met or not even speak the same language as the people who you are supposed to coach and hold accountable for getting a job done.
Right now, approximately 34 million workers in the United States work from home or a remote location at least one day a week. That number is expected to almost double to 63 million by 2016, which represents a staggering 43% of the U.S. workforce. On a larger scale, according to IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Worker Population 2009–2013 Forecast, more than one third of the global workforce will be mobile by 2013.
There are many reasons to have a remote workforce, such as saving office/real estate costs, meeting customer requirements, offering a better work/life balance and having access to a larger talent pool. No matter what’s behind your decision, if you’re managing employees who aren’t in your office, you have to engage in a different management style if you want to make everyone successful.
The days of popping your head into someone’s office to check in or get a status update are long gone for many people. I experience this firsthand; for my marketing team at InterCall, half of them work from a home office. Below are some tips I’ve found from the Society of Human Resource Management and the National Federation of Independent Businesses that you can use to keep productivity and morale up for your virtual workforce. You can also get more information from our February webinar, Managing Blind: Redefining Management in a Global Virtual World. I’ve applied many of these in my own situation and found them to be quite helpful, particularly the unified communications tools.
- Take the time to train virtual employees and managers on the company’s mission, in addition to telecommuting policies and expectations, such as:
- Values and goals
- Expected business hours
- Not substituting working from home for childcare
- Make sure workers have appropriate and reliable equipment that is required to do their jobs
- Set up remote communication tools, like audio conference calls, web conferencing or video conferencing solutions, mobile apps and instant messaging, so remote employees can easily be reached and reach other employees, as well as collaborate on team discussions and projects
- Schedule regular meetings with all team members to get updates on projects and hold workers accountable for their deadlines
- Don’t micromanage; if your expectations are being met, then trust your employees to do their jobs
- Take time to understand the culture where your remote employees are located, particularly if they are located in another country
- Make sure to spread the workload among all employees so that those in the office don’t feel like they are unfairly taking on a larger burden of the responsibilities compared to those working remotely
- Create spaces in your office so remote workers can periodically come to ‘plug in’ or provide them with a location where they can collaborate with other remote co-workers/professionals
Remember, it takes self-disciplined and motivated people to work outside of an office, and those people usually work harder and longer hours. To avoid burn out and feelings of isolation, find ways to make them feel included. Using web conferencing with web cams or video conferencing solutions gives your team that face-to-face feeling they’d have sitting around a conference table together. And if you can get it in your budget, bringing everyone together in the office or another off-site location can go a long way to fostering team spirit.
What have you done in your company or work environment to put these practices to use? Do you have other tips to share?