How to Manage Remote Employees

If you’re managing staff members who telecommute or work in a different location than you do, you’ll need to put extra effort into making the relationship work smoothly. Here are five tips that will help.

1. Establish a clear system for communications and stick to it. If you leave it informal, regular communication is less likely to happen than with someone who’s just down the hall. For instance, you might decide that (1) you’ll have one regularly scheduled phone meeting per week; (2) you’ll proactively and regularly create opportunities for less formal interaction, since your separate locations mean those won’t pop up on their own; (3) you won’t rely on email for big-picture or complicated issues and instead will get on the phone to talk them through; and (4) the staffer will come to your headquarters for a few days at least twice a year.

2. Get aligned up-front about your expectations about the remote staffer’s accessibility. For instance, you might ask remote employees to make sure it’s easy for coworkers to reach them and to be especially responsive to calls and emails during business hours since people can’t just walk down the hall to their office.

3. Create ways for remote staff to stay in the loop. Since it can be harder for remote employees to know what’s going on in the office, pay special attention to ensuring that they’re included in communications. Make sure they hear about any significant development, as well as informal news within your team, and ensure that there’s not an information divide between those physically near you and those further away.

4. Create opportunities to interact in-person. This plays a big role in building trust and getting to know each other. And because this increased familiarity will lead to increased comfort, you’ll almost definitely find that in-person interactions lead to useful conversations that don’t happen when you’re just communicating by phone and email.

5. Find ways to see remote staff in action. In order to know what’s really going on in your remote staffer’s realm and how she operates, find ways to actually see her work in action. For instance, you might join some of her phone calls, go on site visits, or simply spend a day with her. Not only will this give you a better grasp on how her work is playing out, but she’ll probably appreciate knowing that  you’ve seen her world firsthand and understand its dynamics and challenges.

Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • Sarah

    re #2: Make sure you agree about whether the remote employee must work normal office hours, set regular alternative hours (e.g. 11 am – 8 pm), or if they can make their own hours as long as they get everything done. There are so many different ways to organize remote work, and different people have different expectations. 

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Yes!  Great point. Getting really clear up-front on expectations means you can often avoid a conversation down the road to correct something.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=11700137 Anne Mason

    I work from home full-time, as do all other employees at this small start-up. Setting up a way to ask “quick questions” is critical, whether it be by instant message (how we do it), phone call, email, etc. It can feel like you’re bothering someone with a phone call, but an instant message feels less intrusive to me.

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Absolutely! When everyone’s in the same location, you can walk down the hall and stick your head in someone’s office. When they’re off-site, it’s important to find ways to replicate the accessibility (although not abuse it, of course, just like you don’t want to abuse it on-site).  Instant message can be a good one — I agree that the phone is more intrusive since it demands “answer me this second!”

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    Steve Berg Reply:

    When I telecommuted, instant messages felt every bit as intrusive (“answer me now”) as phone calls.  In fact, I preferred phone calls over IM because the back-and-forth was easier.

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    Steve, I think that points to the need to talk this stuff out and come up with a system that’ll work. It won’t always be the same system for everyone, but what’s consistent should be that that conversation is happening!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=11700137 Anne Mason

    I work from home full-time, as do all other employees at this small start-up. Setting up a way to ask “quick questions” is critical, whether it be by instant message (how we do it), phone call, email, etc. It can feel like you’re bothering someone with a phone call, but an instant message feels less intrusive to me.

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  • Andrea

    Establish work hours and response times.  Most people I know who work from home hate it a bit and feel like they always have to be able to take a call or respond instantly to prove they are working.  One friend spent three years afraid to use the bathroom and working pretty nonstop, since home meant work.

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    Alison Green - Ask a Manager Reply:

    You definitely need boundaries, even if just in your own head. It’s hard when work is always physically present to feel okay about taking yourself out of work mode.

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  • http://blog.vigneron.biz Anthony Vigneron

    Hi Alison, useful post here in addition to your blog! 
    A great tool to help manage and engage remote team members: http://bit.ly/MeaningfulFeedback (I’m just a big Fan of Rypple!)

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  • E Pourmahabadian

    is there any effective software for managing them and keep tracking their performance?

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    Intuit QuickBase Reply:

    Actually, QuickBase is great at helping manage remote teams. It provides a central place for teams to track their activities and collaborate. It also allows you to create reports and dashboards on all this data so you’re always aware of your team’s performance. You can click here to check out a free trial: http://bit.ly/wBBEom 

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  • Kurt

    Managing remote employees is a great way to save cost and go green. I believe that in order to manage remote employees effectively you will need the right tools and resources that can help you run your business. Trust and communication is the key to remote employees. Skype can help you improve communication to manage remote employees effectively. Here are some of the tools that can help you manage remote employees. ( http://www.timedoctor.com/blog/2011/04/14/compare-screen-monitoring-software ) With the help of these tools it can help you improve collaboration, project management and team communication.

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  • ivanhoe

    Facebook groups are the BEST for keeping everyone in the loop

    Make a private or secret group and invite both remote AND office based employees to the group. It becomes the office watercooler!

    Remote staff can be just as much a part of the team as local staff, and memos and announcements only have to made the one time – there in the group for everyone to see.
    They can even get a fb notification for any updates

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