working in the park
Remote working may sound like a walk in the park to some, but it causes new headaches for managers PHOTO: Tanel Teemusk

Being on the leading edge of the evolution in how people work can be exciting, but it can also be difficult. The current trend toward remote, digital work environments is a prime example of that double-edged sword. 

In the last decade, there has been a fundamental leap forward in what can be accomplished using computers and the internet. Employees in certain fields can work from remote locations just as — or more — efficiently than their office-bound counterparts.  

Managing Remote Workers Requires New Management Tools

What’s more, liberation from the office environment has also given rise to freelance employees hired to complete specific tasks while remaining outside of the formal business structure.

That means supervisors, who generally are not remote employees, must learn new ways of managing remote employees, many of whom are independent contractors.

Managing freelancers, although not difficult, deprives supervisors of many managerial tools they would normally use. Face-to-face meetings become difficult, as well as direct observation of work habits. 

5 Strategies to Manage Remote Workers

So if you supervise remote employees, it’s more important than ever to focus on these five specific areas:

1. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

All too often, remote employees feel like they have been forgotten by their parent companies. Once tasks are assigned, remote workers are expected to do the work without supervision, but that shouldn’t translate to working in a communications dead zone.  

Most freelancers will put your company at the top of their preferred lists if you maintain contact, ask for updates and communicate. In fact, those communications don’t even have to be work-related. They just need to show the remote employees that they are important to the company. 

With technology making communication easier than ever through texting, messaging services, video conferencing and even the good old telephone, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with your remote employees.

2. Focus on Project Goals

Every project has definable goals for completion. Creating an atmosphere where those goals, not the overall project, are emphasized will keep remote employees focused on the details. Most remote employees are not hired to be in charge of the big picture, so giving them smaller tasks with definite milestones can often better keep their attention on the project. Encouraging communication between remote employees who are complementing each other on a project will also help them focus on their specific tasks.

3. Create Team Accountability

Ensure that your employees, digital or otherwise, know exactly what it is they need to accomplish. Create an accountability protocol that is clear and concise. If your employees know your expectations and, in turn, know what to expect of management and their co-workers, it creates a focused team effort. 

If your company uses remote management tools, make sure that remote employees understand that part of their job involves using these tools properly and provide the necessary support and training if they require it. 

4. Make Sure All Players Know Their Roles 

As an employer, you have every right to expect quality, timely work from your freelancers or remote employees. Your remote employees have every right to expect you or other supervisors to know what they are doing, to be able to keep up with rapid shifts of job focus and to communicate clearly across distances. 

Project quality always comes down to collaboration between employees and supervisors. Supervisors have the responsibility to maintain the details of this relationship but if employees are consistently behind or turning in substandard work, the fault may not lie completely with the employee. Monitor your supervisors so that they understand that remote employees are as important to your company as your traditional staff.

5. Standardize Your Processes 

As important as having consistent systems is to the onsite office environment, that need pales in comparison to the need for standardized procedures for remote working. Because your remote workforce lacks the constant supervision of an office staff, consistency can easily suffer. 

For example, one team may work best in digital chat rooms, while another team works well using email. But unfortunately, unless the teams are permanent and non-transferable, they will have difficulty meshing together because their procedures are different. That’s why standardization in procedures, intragroup communication, documentation and other policies should be a priority for your company.

Embracing the Remote Workforce of Tomorrow

The remote workplace is still a relatively new concept. As such, we are still exploring the boundaries of a new way to do business. It’s easy to throw your hands in the air and claim that, like herding cats, these new workplace paradigms will never succeed.  

But remote and freelance employees represent a shift in the way today’s businesses are run, and you and your organization can be at the forefront of it.