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Nobody can dispute the advantages of being able to work remotely at least part of the time.  After all, research has shown that not only do remote workers lead less stress-filled lives than their office-going counterparts, they can save their employer $11,000 per year by working remote.

Everybody wins, right?

Not necessarily.  Embracing remote workers is not without it’s risks, and companies that can’t rise to the new management challenges often find themselves struggling to keep their projects and employees on the same page.

This post is going to help change that by looking at 5 things to help managers find, motivate, and oversee remote workers.

 

Always Be Organized

Organization should always be one of a manager’s top priorities, though the consequences of neglecting it are compounded when you’re managing a team of remote workers.  Because you’ll often be communicating less frequently and across time zones, your attention to detail is going to matter more than ever.  Keep everyone on the same page by ensuring they know project goals, timelines, and their respective roles.

  • Have a clear and transparent roadmap - while you might get more value from a long term or quarterly plan, breaking projects down by weeks or even days can help your team understand their tasks.

  • Evaluate, edit, and add tasks often - your roadmap or plan should never be inflexible and keeping tasks updated with new developments and progress will help prevent confusion.

  • Opt for video calls to improve understanding - yes, I know that many of us live and die by pings and emails, but there are just some topics that are more easily covered when you can see a face and hear a voice.  Save your employee some time (and possibly some confusion) by embracing video calls.

 

Hire the Right People

I know what you’re thinking - no brainer, right?  Not so fast - one of the main issue managers run into is that there is no test to evaluate whether or not a person will be able to be productive in a remote capacity.  In fact, almost every potential hire will tell you they can do it, right before their eyes glaze over and they start imagining themselves responding to emails from some tropical beach.  Luckily, there are some things you can look for that tend to indicate a person’s ability to function without supervision and outside of a traditional office:

  • Previous experience working remotely - this is obviously ideal because it not only shows that they have done it before, but also it gives you a solid reference with which to follow up.

  • Solid communication skills and prompt responses across all channels - if a candidate is unable to form a concise thought during your interview or takes a week to respond to an email, don’t expect that to change once they join the team.

  • Self-motivated - if a candidate has their own side project, a long list of hobbies, or an impressive list of self-taught skills, there is a good chance they will apply that same mentality to your company.

  • Problem solving ability - this is actually something you can test and will be crucial in a remote workplace - you want your employees to be able to resolve issues as they arise without having to wait for help.

 

Standardize Your Team’s Tools

Trust me when I tell you that the sooner you determine which tools your team will use, the better off you’ll be.  It doesn’t matter if you choose fax and carrier pigeon, nothing is more frustrating that trying to coordinate over different platforms or trying to implement a new tool in the middle of a project.  

There is no shortage of good tools out there and my advice is to find some that meet your current (and expected) needs and commit to them.  An added advantage of this is that it also helps you hire better people as you strive to find ones with relevant experience.

 

Show Your Emotions Electronically

Emojis aren’t just for teenagers anymore, at least according to Oxford Dictionaries who named the 2015 word of the year.  What a time to be alive, right?

Regardless of if you agree with the rise of communication through symbols and pictures, you can’t deny that it plays a big part in how we communicate today.  With that in mind, it’s better to adapt than to be left behind, especially when you are likely dealing with a younger workforce.  Don’t be afraid to sprinkle some emojis into your normal communications over email or Slack, they will help to better convey your thoughts, make you appear more approachable, and help you relate to your younger teammates.

Just make sure not to use them when speaking to clients unless they do it first!

 

Use Video and Web Conferencing Often

Did you think emoji-filled emails and texts would solve all your communication problems?  Think again.  When it comes to working remotely, being able to hear a voice and see a face does wonders for your employees.  

Using web conferencing when it comes to even minute things like progress updates accomplishes a few things, the biggest of which is connecting with your remote peers on a more human level.  Other advantages include the ability to explain and analyze things more quickly than you would over text and perfecting that ever-important rapport with your coworkers.

Getting people to embrace video calling can be a constant struggle, but trust us when we say the benefits FAR outweigh the initial hesitations, especially in a remote environment.

If you’re looking to incorporate video calling more into your daily routine, here are some prime opportunities to start:

  • Team meetings

  • One on one checkins

  • Product feature reviews

  • Client touchbases

Wrapping Up

As a fully distributed team at Visiple, we are constantly working on how to better communicate, collaborate, and connect with our peers around the world.  The five tips mentioned above are a product of much trial and error and while they work for us, they might need to be tweaked for your organization.  Our advice is to try one, see how it goes, and iterate as needed.

Good luck!