Posted by: Bill von Achen | July 23, 2010

Managing Remote Employees

I watched the season premiere of the AMC television series Mad Men this past weekend, which deals with the trials and tribulations of a New York advertising agency and its chief creative guy, Don Draper, in the industry’s halcyon days of the early 1960s.

While much of the series’ drama is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago, what clearly hasn’t aged well is the traditional concept of the workplace as depicted in the show. Gender roles are rigidly defined, of course, but what’s really old-fashioned is the once unchallenged notion that everyone needs to be in the same place in order for work to get done.

Don Draper lived in a world in which the telephone represented the state of the art in communication technology. “Mail” was available in paper-form only, the widespread use of fax machines was still decades away, and only comic strip character Dick Tracy had access to video phone calls through his 2-Way Wrist Radio/TV.

Today, we’re all participants in a giant virtual workplace experiment, even if we have a traditional workplace to go to each morning. Many times, employees and associates are sitting in the next office or cubicle, or down the hall. But it’s just as likely that they’re working elsewhere and out of sight (at a satellite office or branch location halfway around the world, for example), or at a desk in a home office, or even in an airport lounge waiting for a flight.

As a business owner, it’s tough enough to manage employees with whom you routinely share physical space. But what about the challenges of managing virtual employees? And what policies should your company adopt to ensure that such working arrangements are as productive and trouble-free as possible?

In researching the issue of managing remote employees for this month’s Best Practices Boards peer group meetings, I found a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that identified the most important points to consider when you’re dealing with employees who are either occasionally or routinely out of sight.

According to the article, “Six Ways to Manage a Virtual Work Force,” here are the key strategies for successful managing virtual employees:

Start off slow:  Assume that there will be problems, and be sure to build in safeguards. For example, with flextime employees, allow them to work at home just one day a week or three days a month. Then, check in with them at month’s end to address any problems.

Have a probation period:  The ability to effectively manage a virtual employee depends on trust, and it’s difficult to have trust with a new employee. So set a 90 day probationary period, that will allow a new employee to adjust to the company’s culture, and for you to assess the employee.

Set expectations up front:  Virtual employees will fail miserably without clearly-defined goals and agendas. And effectively managing remote employees requires more, not fewer, discussions, scheduled with greater frequency than you might otherwise think necessary.

Establish measurements for performance:  This strategy complements the strategy of setting expectations. Without concrete performance metrics, you’ll waste precious time assessing whether a virtual employee is really doing the job.

Use technology:  Take advantage of technology to maintain continuous connections with virtual employees, and to help them avoid the isolation that often accompanies their virtual status. Use e-mail, texting, and virtual meeting applications like Skype to make up for lost face time.

Don’t stalk employees:  Finally, resist the temptation to watch virtual employees too closely. If you’ve set clear expectations, established concrete performance metrics, and provided for regular follow-up, any more attention will be seen as micromanagement.

You can view the complete text of “Six Ways to Manage a Virtual Work Force” by going to our Resources page (www.bestpracticesforbusiness.com/resources), and clicking on the article headline under the category, “Effective Management.”

What practices has your company adopted for managing remote workers? Feel free to post your comments and ideas here.


Responses

  1. Intresting article! We also have an article about Remote workers on our Project blog:
    http://blog.projectplace.com/projectblog/2011/12/05/using-social-media-tools-to-improve-communication-for-remote-workers/

    Kind regards,
    Roza at Projectplace


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