3 Keys to Managing Off-Site Employees

Flexible work programs abound. Telecommuting is seen as a company benefit now, often helping to attract and retain top talent. Whether these virtual employees work in another state or just spend a couple days a week working at home, there are inherent management challenges. The right employees, good communication, and clear objectives are the formula for keeping your off-site employees productive — and you sane. 

  1. The right virtual employee. Working remotely is not for everyone or appropriate for many careers. Traits of successful remote employees include high motivation and self-discipline, strong communication, team-oriented, and flexible. However, even managing someone with all these traits will demand your very best people skills.
  1. Beautiful business woman talking on cell phoneCommunication and trust. Set the stage by outlining clearly-defined, attainable goals up front. Use technology to make reporting, communicating, and collaborating easy. Initiate ongoing dialog to help build trust. Ask for input and feedback. Ask for opinions. Be available. Show your remote employee how important they are to the team, by returning calls promptly, and asking your in-office staff to do the same.  Equal effort by both you and your remote team members will help ensure success. Extra work? Compare it to the time you spend with in-office employees who pop into your office and it might pale in comparison.
  1. Manage by results. You will not be able to gauge productivity by appearance. So having clearly defined goals is critical. Measure accomplishments. Set deadlines and stick to them. But ultimately, your dialog will quickly show how things are progressing. Business is not static — your dialog is also critical to determining if there is a problem outside your employee’s control and there needs to be an adjustment to the goal. Keep your finger on the pulse through consistent, ongoing communication.

Check out the two scenarios below, assuming the employee is the same person, and notice the use of technology and the manager’s actions.

Visionary businessman using binocularsSuccessful scenario: An employee was hired without meeting her boss face-to-face. She makes out-bound phone calls to set appointments for a company in another city. She has a well-defined call quota and appointment goal. She emails updates to her boss as they occur, and can see the centralized calendar to determine open time slots. 

At the end of each day, the employee logs her calls and time in a database. Her boss calls several times a week to check on progress, talk about the script, upcoming changes, and life. Her boss knows her kids’ names and that there’s a school play coming up.  Her boss notices and praises her efforts and results frequently.

The employee takes the time to occasionally call the outside sales person to check on the outcome of a specific appointment or two. There is no office, and in a year’s time, there has only been one in-person meeting between the boss and this remote employee.

webcamUnsuccessful scenario: An employee sells advertising for a small magazine with an office across town. The magazine is struggling, making her boss uptight. Goals are loose and territories are undefined. There’s no centralized database, and no way to see if an account is being worked. The boss is interested in results, and has some of his own accounts (giving him a good feel for what’s happening in the trenches, but also putting him in a competitive situation with his employee).

The employee initiated sending a weekly report with new account activity. There is a quarterly out-of-office meeting for the off-site employee as well as the rest of the magazine staff. The experienced employee started out with a passion, but has gradually found that her weekly document goes unnoticed and that calling in will yield complaints rather than constructive dialog. She calls less and less often, and eventually quits after a couple small sales. 

Great employees are great employees, regardless of whether they work in the office or out. They are a company’s number one resource.  Avoid the disconnection caused by bad communication or a lack of interaction with a manager.  Use technology and well-defined goals to keep your virtual workers happy, connected and productive. 

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