Monday, October 22, 2012

Managing a Distant Work Force.

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.
~Henry Ford

With the advent of new (and not so new) technologies, our working environments continue to evolve. More and more people are working from their homes or in remote locations. This is especially true in the current real estate market. Many people cannot afford to move to follow an employment opportunity as they are upside-down in their current homes and just cannot sell them without taking a terrible loss.

Having a remote workforce brings a unique set of issues and it requires both a special kind of manager and, of course, a special type of employee.

The number one problem affecting remote workers is isolation from their colleagues. Often, these employees begin to feel separate from the team.  To combat this, the manager needs to promote regular interaction between remote workers and the rest of the team and ensure the lines of communication are always open.
Websites and sharepoints are great ways to encourage the sharing of information between remote and on-site employees.

Additionally, managers of remote workers should check in with them frequently, not via email, but by phone, at the very least. Video chat would be even better. These days, many cell phones are equipped with video conferencing capability, and Skype is another great option. Remote employees also really benefit from having a mentor assigned to them.

Many times, I see companies hire workers for remote positions, have them come in to the office for about a week when they first start and then immediately put them out in the field. This just does not work. A week is not adequate time for the new employee to grasp the organizational culture or establish relationships with their fellow staff members. For this reason, some firms only permit an employee to work remotely if they have been with the business for a year or more. Most, however, require at least two months in the home office before operating remotely.

Another problem managers of remote workers need to be aware of is that these employees often feel that because they are out of sight, they will be forgotten or overlooked for promotions. One good way to address this issue is to require them to work in the office three days a month so people are used to seeing them around and they have better visibility.

Finally, when hiring remote employees, it is critical that you choose a candidate that has the right skills and attributes. To be successful, remote workers must be self-motivated because they will need to perform without much supervision. It is also essential that remote workers have great communications skills.

This kind of work environment is not for everyone. For this reason, many firms will only hire someone for a remote position if they have remote work experience to ensure they can handle the isolation.

Remote workers can be at any level of the organization. In one case, a firm was headquartered in Tallahassee but the CEO lived in California. The firm was willing to hire this CEO because he had such unique skills and they believed he could make it work.

Now go out and make sure you have considered all these issues before you decide that remote workers are right for your business. Candidates will need a special set of skills to be successful, and you will need to be prepared to deal with the unique managerial issues that accompany a remote workforce.

You can do this!

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