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In the past we frequently heard from owners and managers that they were not interested in hiring someone who wanted to work from home. Many managers have had poor experiences with remote workers or expected control, quality, and productivity problems. But, according a study released by IBM last week, “54 percent of Americans want to keep remote work as their primary mode of work, and 70 percent say they’d like it to at least be an option.” Assuming more of our top candidates will expect to work from home at least some of the time, here are some ideas about how to prepare for this and not sacrifice control, quality, or productivity.

1) Who makes the best remote worker?

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that some people are better suited to working from home than others. Behavior seems to have little to do with predicting success or failure working from home. It is overly simplistic to say introverts are better at it than extroverts. Home-based employees tend to be more self-disciplined, task focused, and comfortable making decisions independently. They do not require a lot of hand holding and are comfortable working with ambiguity.

Solution: Be sure to explore these factors in an interview before changing someone’s work status or hiring them for remote work.

2) Maintaining control, quality, and productivity

One of my favorite exercises is to ask a group of managers to write down instructions for their team, imagining that in 15 minutes they are leaving for an 8-week remote vacation destination where there is no possibility of communication—not unlike today! The successful responses take all of 30 seconds and basically say: “We have trained you, you know the clients, you know our mission, vision, and guiding principles, you know how we do things, and you have my full trust. Best wishes.”

Solution: Control, quality, and productivity are best achieved by hiring the right people, on-boarding them well, training them in the values and mission of your company in addition to the tools and techniques you employ, and providing opportunities for mentorship and varied experiences. This takes management time, but the cost of not taking this time is even higher.

3) Policies and procedures to adapt to a remote work force

Communication is the biggest single challenge. As we are finding out today, video meetings are a lifesaver because they can be organized quickly and most people have everything they need on their laptops, but a host of common technical problems alone can make video meetings a challenge. Conference calling among a small group has all the same benefits, but it is harder to share files and have any sense of body language among the participants.

Some solutions:

  • A) Have regularly scheduled day-long or multi-day face-to-face meetings with the whole team. Depending on your unique circumstances, weekly to monthly meetings may work well. In-person interaction provides opportunity for relationship building and learning from others over lunch, “at the water cooler”, or simply as you are gathering or dispersing from the meeting.
  • B) Have regularly scheduled phone or video meetings with individual team members. A more seasoned or remote-comfortable employee may only need (or want!) to interact with you bi-weekly or monthly, but someone who is less comfortable working independently may need a weekly or twice-weekly call to assure they are not spinning their wheels. These need to be well-structured conversations and trainings focused on project handoffs, project tracking, and both technical and interpersonal challenges. Managers have to be prepared to teach remote employees how to prioritize and plan their work if they are struggling with time management, for example.
  • C) Encourage remote employees to have weekly or more frequent phone or video meetings with other employees on your team or within the company. Just as informal mentorship and idea sharing happens organically when you bump into a colleague at the office or purposefully seek out their opinion when they work down the hall from you, encourage your employees to build these relationships when they are miles apart.
  • D) Measure productivity in results with a suitable number of check-ins along the way to ensure a positive outcome. This has always been the right way to manage, but if you have a manager who prefers to lead by example or micro-manage rather than train and delegate…you may have a problem. Just as every employee cannot work remotely, not every manager can manage a remote team. Just as remote work may highlight performance issues with employees, it will do the same among your managers.
  • E) The final and perhaps easiest thing to deal with is resources. While email, internet, and networks make the sharing of files easier than ever, remote employees need a quiet workspace and physical resources that an employee with young children and a small house may simply not have. Perhaps “working from home” means they go to a rented space in a local incubator or shared office facility, but still avoids relocation or commuting. Take inventory of what your local employees have available to them and find a way to replicate that for remote employees.

If you implement some of our recommended solutions, and are better prepared to manage remote employees, the real advantage is that you will expand your candidate pool of capable and talented individuals. Our solutions are good management practices for any employees working anywhere. Perhaps the positive that comes out of COVID-19 forcing us to work remotely is that we all become better managers!

Need help with planning, managing, or developing your managers?

Give us a shout. Please also comment below if you’ve found other tools and techniques for making remote employee management more successful.

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