Nail Down Management Issues Before Hiring Remote Workers

The decision to hire employees who will work remotely requires an examination of various pros and cons, and that examination includes considering how to handle the management challenges telecommuters present.

The management of remote workers includes issues ranging from building relationships to scheduling meetings with employees scattered across time zones. The human resources department can help managers smooth the way by guiding them through nine steps.

  1. Pick the right jobs for remote work. Some jobs are better suited to remote work than others. When considering whether a job can be performed remotely, Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a job search site specializing in telecommuting, part-time, freelance, and flexible jobs, has some advice for employers. She says they should “look at issues such as how much of the work is accomplished independently, how often the person must meet in person with others, and when and how they conduct important conversations.”

Nick Venturella, supervisor of sales for HR solutions provider Insperity, warns against treating the possibility of remote work as a reward. “Instead of weighing factors like tenure and performance most heavily when you decide whether your employees can telecommute, first consider the nature of their work,” he says. “Do you need them in the office to generate ideas and support others on the team most of the time? Or do you primarily need them to produce a high volume of work that can be done more efficiently away from distractions?
Consider also the type of manager involved. If the manager is very hands-on and likes to know what everyone is doing at any given moment, the position will be better performed on-site.

  1. Deploy the right people for remote work. Remote work is best reserved for excellent communicators with strong time-management skills and self-discipline. When hiring for remote positions, be wary of candidates who repeatedly return to the opportunity to work remotely during the interview, Fell says. That signals the candidate is more committed to his or her own needs than to anything else.

Don’t ignore the remote aspects of the job in the interview, though. Make expectations clear upfront so candidates know what they’re getting into and can assess whether the job is a good fit for them.

  1. Onboard remote workers properly. Set expectations again during onboarding. According to Keith Ferrazzi, the founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, “… you need to set clear, deliberate expectations in advance and establish ground rules for how interactions will take place,” or “things will break down immediately.” He suggests setting monthly, quarterly, and yearly performance goals, as well as “targets for what ‘hitting it out of the park’ would mean.”

Eric Siu, CEO of marketing agency Single Grain, suggests setting up an internal wiki with instructions on where to find company information, who can answer various questions, and the types of tools the employer uses, as well as screencasts showing how different tasks are performed.

  1. Maintain regular communication. Managers must take a proactive stance when it comes to communicating with remote workers. Ferrazzi says managers must set “an appropriate cadence” of communications. That includes how quickly employees should respond to email, the follow-up steps that should be taken, and the days that check-in calls will occur.
  2. Develop interpersonal relationships with remote workers. The conversations in one-on-one interfaces with remote employees shouldn’t be solely about business. Instead, set aside a few minutes for casual conversation so you can get to know remote employees as people. Asking them about their hobbies and interests, family, and background – along with more timely topics like weekend plans and other water cooler talk – will make remote workers more invested in the company.
  3. Include remote workers in the team. Rebecca Knight writes on a Harvard Business Review blog that remote team members often feel somewhat invisible and “that their actions and efforts aren’t noticed.” She recommends managers be generous with public praise and acknowledgement of remote employees to help make sure their work is recognized and signal to coworkers that they’re pulling their weight.
  1. Make the most of video tools and technology. Video technology has come a long way in recent years. Tools like Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx, and Facetime usually allow for much more effective communication than telephone calls. With so much of communication coming through nonverbal cues, managers need to see how their remote workers are reacting to the information being relayed. Team members also benefit from having a face to match with a voice.
  2. Focus on productivity. Some managers resist using remote workers because of concerns about their ability to monitor people on flexible schedules or working at home or at alternative locations. Whether consciously or not, they may take into account an employee’s “face time,” with face time acting as an indicator of hours worked. Managers should avoid getting hung up on the hours remote workers put in, though. Ultimately, it’s their productivity that matters most.
  3. Don’t forget their career ambitions. Managers must remember that remote workers can harbor the same kinds of ambitions that on-site employees do. At least annually, managers should conduct formal discussions with remote workers about their career goals and growth opportunities. Also, remote workers want to be considered for promotions. Even if a new job would require more time in the office, give them the opportunity to consider the change.

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