Alert not aloof: keeping your remote team switched on and productive

If you don’t already manage employees who work remotely, it’s likely that you soon will.  Almost 50 per cent of Australian employees work off site for at least half of the week while more than two thirds spend one day a week out of the office. Remote working is a reality and as a manager, you’ll need to keep  your workers happy and engaged.  How can you achieve that from a distance, and maintain productivity at the same time?

If you need further convincing that remote working is here to stay, the 2017 OWLLabs State of Remote Work report stated that companies that support remote work have 25% lower staff turnover. It shows that remote working could actually be better for your business’s bottom line because recruiting and training new team members obviously limits output, but it’s also costly. By having a remote work program, and experiencing lower turnover as a result, you’re already boosting productivity.   

The importance of induction

When you’re bringing on board new remote employees or your existing staff are transitioning from onsite work to offsite operations - will you be ready for these changes? Do you have an induction plan in place? Remote work calls for the use of communication platforms to facilitate team meetings or one-to-ones.  Work delivery channels have to be mastered, and all data and systems must be at their fingertips. Will your employees have all the information and access they require to hit the ground running and maintain productivity levels? With remote work now commonplace, it’s a good time to review your on-boarding process to bring it into line with the changing environment. 

Be proactively interactive

“To enable your remote staff to be independent and productive, you need to start by effectively communicating your mission, vision and values in a way that resonates outside of just headquarters. In addition, having regular goals for communication makes it easier (e.g. quarterly check-ins). As a result, they feel like a part of the company culture but succeed autonomously.” Preethy Vaidyanathan, Tapad

In an article on managing remote employees, Lighthouse, a leadership and management blog, emphasised the importance of communication. Salient points include:

  • Build a genuine rapport with your employees by talking about things other than work from time to time, especially topics that interest them.
  • Use video when interacting with employees.  You can gauge their reaction when announcing changes and judge their mood while discussing contentious issues.
  • Schedule regular one-to-ones; show your colleague this is as important to you as it is to them by always being ready to start on time, and only cancel if you really have to.  
  • Organise a face-to-face get together at least once a year.

A good measure of productivity

To measure the efficiency and output of your remote team, there is a huge range of employee monitoring software at your disposal. Apps like Basecamp, Timely, and Time Doctor allow you to monitor and collect online activity data and carry out productivity analysis of individuals and teams. 

While you’re perfectly entitled to use such technology, don’t be too intrusive, or too clever, when measuring productivity, managing projects, or communicating with your team. For example, using a combination of applications like Slack, Trello, Skype and FaceTime can feel like a full-time job on its own. 

As Sean-Patrick Hillman of hillSTORY Marketing puts it: 

“The issue with having so many ways to disseminate information internally is that you spend far too much time chasing messages, versus getting work done.”

Resist the temptation to use every innovation and give your remote employees some breathing space and autonomy. 

The fundamentals of good management apply everywhere 

Notice any similarities between how you manage remote workers and an onsite team? There are reassuring parallels in areas such as communication and training that prove you don’t have to make a quantum leap to manage your remote employees. The fundamentals of good management apply regardless of where your team is working, so any smart leader should be able to easily make the adjustment from managing onsite workers to guiding, encouraging and inspiring remote employees.

Explore Griffith University's online Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Graduate Certificate in Business Administration programs to fine tune your management skills.

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