Managing Remote Employees: Part Two: Measuring and CommunicatingYou don’t have the ability to always physically oversee and monitor their progress, so measuring effectiveness and keeping open lines of communication is very important.  If you introduce a framework and a structure that allows for easy communication and measure output, telecommuters can be just as effective as if you’re in regular physical contact.

What should be measured and how do you do it?

Let’s start with the obvious one – productivity: You can virtually drop into your staff’s office every day – or as often as you like – using a program that will track remote workers’ activity, including typed keystrokes, internet history, emails sent and received, webcam shots in addition to taking periodic screenshots throughout their workday.  A variety of activity tracking software exists to accommodate whatever your specific needs are and this can help improve accountability and transparency to your virtual office.  This also helps you quantify exactly how much time the workload of each project is taking.

The second – and equally important quantitative measure that both you and your staff need to keep track of – is time management.  Using shift scheduling software not only helps employees and managers stay on top of their schedules and payroll, but it also helps define how long employees need to dedicate to a specific task as well as tracking the progress being made or that has to be made for you to reach your goals and accomplish your projects.

This brings us to the next element to be tracked and measured: project management.  Software, such as SmartSheet or Trello, ensures that despite the distance between employees, everyone feels connected and on board with your company’s purpose and goals.  Establishing an online tracking system of items such as your employees’ progress, company expense reports and team goals helps create transparency within your company, as well as unified objectives.

When your employees feel accountable and connected, you reinforce the goals you are all trying to meet as a team. And when you have tools to measure their and your progress, you improve the success of managing all of your employees – whether they work remotely or in the same office space as you.

The Importance of Good Communication

Believe it or not, there are downsides to working remotely and many of these disadvantages are frequently felt by long-time remote workers. Working remotely can feel lonely and isn’t always a good environment to encourage regular breaks, exercise and time away from a screen.  Many miss the company, camaraderie and feeling of inclusion that is present in a shared workspace. Here are some things to think about and keep in mind.

  • Say That To My Face! Emails have revolutionized the way we do business but they have also opened the doors to a minefield of misunderstandings. Tone of voice, intent and hidden meanings can all become misinterpreted in emails and due to the lack of body language and physical interactivity, messages can too often be misunderstood.  Sometimes this is funny, other times it is disheartening and of course, it can also be inefficient and damaging.  For this reason it’s not recommended that you communicate and manage your employees solely by email. Even if it’s just a five minute phone call at the beginning of the week or a fortnightly coffee, voice-to-ear or face-to-face engagement will go a long way to helping you and your staff understand each other better.  And don’t switch off the camera when you use Skype. This will reinforce the face-to-face contact and perhaps also give them a reason to change out of their pajamas once in a while!
  • The Old Water Cooler. Of course it doesn’t apply to every single workplace or office, but often the personal relationships and friendships which develop between coworkers are integral to a happy and healthy work environment. Few managers will disagree that banter between employees is very important.  Studies show that water cooler talk helps organizations “keep it real and this could mean you’re missing out on this all-important morale (and productivity) booster when you’re running yours in a virtual world.  Create opportunities for employees to engage through non-work-related discussion boards and set up activities such as online games and competitions that will allow staff to team up, get to know each other and work together.
  • An Open (Virtual) Door Policy. Your employees are representatives of you, your company and your company’s brand.  This is a good thing!  If they believe in it, they will promote it naturally and they will be proud to do so.  Encouraging employees to ask questions so they can get to know you, your brand and what your company does is a crucial part of helping them feel part of something.  Make sure your staff knows that despite the lack of a physical office, you operate with an “open door policy.”  Provide them with an outlet to provide you with feedback.  Check in with – not only their progress – but also with their happiness of their virtual workplace.

Remember that while many clichés exist in discussions about management and team leadership, they often hold a lot of valuable truth and such is the case with communication: it really is the key to any successful relationship!

What tips or advice do you have for dealing with remote employees? What’s worked and what hasn’t proved successful?

This contribution comes from Mark Feldman, a long standing member of Findmyshift helps companies organize staff with versatile time tracking and scheduling capabilities.