Monday Mornings with Madison



Over the past two weeks, we examined the question of whether it makes sense for companies to have remote employees.  For those that do… which is a great many companies today – we then looked at the kinds of technology tools that make it easier for those remote employees to be successful.  However, it is not enough to simply equip remote employees with the right technology.  Those tools must be leveraged to generate communication, rapport and teamwork between office staff and remote employees.  Managers of remote employees should use technology strategies to help build rapport and foster virtual community.  Here are some examples:

Tool 1 – Email newsletter
Profile articles can put a face on co-workers, especially when they give kudos for work- or community-related accomplishments.

Tool 2 – Chat
Set up chat capability on the company website and create internal forums based on what the team wants, such as topics affiliated with work.  Some companies, for example, hold a “virtual happy hour” every Thursday afternoon, off the clock. Employees share everything from weekend plans to recipes.

Tool 3 – Blog
At Sun Microsystems, the CEO blogs with all staff several times a month. Employees can pose questions which he answers, making him highly visible and accessible.

Tool 4 – Presentations
Some companies hold web conferences where each employee on a team gives a personal PowerPoint presentation, including what they’re responsible for, what they really do, what motivates them, what bugs them, and their goals.

Armed with technology and technology strategies, remote employees are poised to produce.  However, even with the right tools, managing remote employees requires a different approach.  Here are some tips.

1.  Manage by results.
Management should focus on the quality of remote employees’ work, not their style of doing it.  The nuances of how people work, and when, become more pronounced when they are in remote locations, yet they’re not a good basis for performance evaluation.  It is better to forget points of style — how long it takes an employee to reply to emails, for example — and focus on the results: both tangible and intangible.

Tangible results might include launch of a software program, generation of a report on next quarter’s sales program, presentation of next quarter’s public relations campaign or development of a manual to improve quality customer service.  Look at whether the work product submitted is comprehensive, on time and most importantly, on target.

Intangibles are just as important.  Determine if the remote employee collaborates well, makes decisions on his/her own, delivers what is promised, anticipates problems before they happen, generates ideas, communicates clearly and takes responsibility for his/her work.  Does he/she go beyond the call of duty to help a customer or coworker or hit a deadline? 

2.  Set measurable goals and communicate expectations.
Set and revisit goals.  Make sure goals are measurable and attainable.  Put them in writing. Then set expectations and communicate those to the employee verbally and in writing.  Lay out requirements for the job and the relative importance of meeting deadlines versus producing quality work.  Explain the balance between giving a client what he/she wants versus the cost to the organization of giving it.

3.  Keep records.
Take notes of what is discussed. Jot quick anecdotes about each employee’s performance, positive and negative, every few weeks. Notes become a starting point for the next performance review.

4.  Request reports.
When work has a lot of variables — as most technical or professional jobs do – managers should ask remote employees for regular reports.  Reports give insight into how an employee spends his/her time. For companies that allow flex time, an easy way to track productivity is to have remote employees track their hours and estimate percentages of time spent on types of tasks on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.  Alternatively, time can be tracked according to time spent per division or project.

5.  Keep open lines of communication.
Managers should ask detailed questions. The more that a manager talks to remote employees, the better the understanding of whether that person is playing the role needed.  It is wrong to ask one employee if another employee is doing their job well.  That puts an employee on the spot. Managers should ask specific questions about current projects and challenges to determine each person’s role and productivity.  Consistency in a manager’s work process — quarterly gatherings, weekly phone meetings — also provides structure for remote employees and prevents gaps in communication.

6.  Avoid burnout.
While a results approach to managing frees workers from a set shift, some forget to look at the clock entirely.  That can lead to burnout.  For managers of remote employees, the trick is recognize that an employee is losing steam before the person quits. Burnout is usually exhibited by people not completing deliverables because they have too much on their plate. Managers can keep remote employees engaged but not overtaxed by switching them to other projects or rotating jobs to other people when they are overtaxed. Other ways to help a remote employee fight burnout is to suggest a vacation, offer a promotion if it is fitting, or reward or recognize the employee (see tech strategies above).

7.  Schedule visits. 
Last but not least, plan to see remote employees at least a few times a year. Set aside time for regular travel, update calls, and to be available for people in different time zones.

With these strategies, remote employees can be highly productive and successful long term, which is good both for the employees and the company!

“Don’t be a time manager, be a priority manager. Cut your major goals into bite-sized pieces. Each small priority or requirement, on the way to ultimate goal, becomes a mini goal in itself.”   Denis Waitley

© 2010 – 2012, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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