Project Management

7 Not-So-Obvious Tips for Managing Remote Workers

Nathan Gilmore
January 24, 2014
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This guest post was written by Sandy Stachowiak.

If your business employs or contracts remote resources and you are managing one or more of them for your project or business, there are some obvious and some not-so-obvious things that you need to do and keep in mind.

The obvious includes time zone differences, work hour differences, and possible language barriers depending on if the resources are out of state or country. Scheduled calls, regular check-ins, and inclusions in meetings via conference call are all part of the drill with remote workers.

The not-so-obvious includes several items that I have provided tips for below. All of these tips come from my personal business experience managing remote resources as well as working as one myself.

1. Do not forget they’re there.

You may laugh at this at first glance, but you would be surprised how many times a remote resource can be forgotten.

  1. Make sure to keep their queue full of work and/or project tasks.
  2. Respond to their emails and calls as quickly as possible so that they can continue their work momentum.
  3. Make sure they are aware of any unexpected company closures (i.e. closing early due to bad weather) or if you will be out of the office.

True story: A manager contracted a remote resource that consistently went without work in queue. Communication was close to nothing and they were not made to feel like they were in the loop. This led to the resource finding work elsewhere.

Do not forget that your remote workers are there!

2. Find creative ways to make them feel like part of the team.

Remote resources do not have the in-office advantages that the rest of your company or team may have. They may miss the latest company news buzz, they cannot join a co-workers birthday celebration, and they are unable to meet new hires. So, make sure that you keep them informed with what is new. Here are some great ways to do this:

  1. Consider sending a recurring email to them (similar to a newsletter) with what is new in the company, team, or department. Let them know when someone is hired or quit, what the latest company acquisition was, if a co-worker got married, and how the company performed in the previous month – any news that they are not there to hear or see for themselves is helpful.
  2. If your company allows it, send them some photos now and then. A photo of the redesigned conference room, new hire at their desk, or even one of the project team can go a long way to making them feel closer to the office and the people in it.
  3. Try a video call. Being able to see each other face-to-face helps to remind you both that you are real people and not just a voices or emails.

Remember that they will feel more like a part of the team if they are treated that way!

3. Obtain more than enough contact information.

Having an email address and phone number for a remote resource is a given, but it is not enough.

Be sure that you have and confirmed their physical address, backup and emergency phone numbers, and backup or personal email addresses. See if they will provide you with the phone number of a friend or family member in case of emergency.

If you only have one way to contact a remote worker you are limiting yourself if they cannot be reached using that method.

True story: A company has a resource working in another country. The resource has always been very responsive…until recently. There is only one phone number and one email address for the resource and there has been no response to either methods of communication.

The company is limited because the resource cannot be contacted at all. At first it was a matter of “maybe they have another job”, but the concern turned into worry since it was so unlike them not to respond. If there was an emergency contact number and/or personal email address, there would at least be other options.

Do not make this mistake. Be sure that you have more than enough contact information from the beginning of the remote relationship.

4. Make unscheduled phone calls.

Setting up a specific day and time every week to touch base with your resource is obvious.

However, giving them a call that is not scheduled can not only ease your mind that this resource is working when scheduled but can make them feel good at the same time.

You should always be able to get in touch with a remote resource during their work day. If you are unable to then it may be a sign that they are not working when they are supposed to be.

If you hear a circus show or night club in the background when they answer, it is time to discuss their schedule. Additionally, giving them a call unexpectedly is similar to the pop-in, in a physical office.

Give them a ring whether to discuss a work-related item or just to make sure they are doing well and have what they need to perform the job successfully.

5. Keep up with news in their area.

Make sure that if there is a breaking news alert, weather alert, or major event in their city, state, or country that you check in with them.

Having #3 above in order will help in situations where it may be difficult to contact your remote resource. Aside from the effect something could have on your resource’s work situation, it is also good to make sure that they are safe and goes a long way with letting them know that you care.

6. Give them a virtual pat on the back.

Do not think of this as silly. Think of it as motivational.

Everyone likes a pat on the back when they have done well.Rather than an email saying, “great job, John” try to be creative in showing your appreciation.

Depending on your company or business, you can do something serious, funny, or just plain cute. Email them an image of a big gold star, send them the high-five emoticon on instant messenger, or create and send them a certificate of appreciation using a Word template.

Again, they are not in the office for you to physically pat them on the back for a job well done, so come up with a creative way to let them know they have done well and are appreciated.

True story: I have done this many times and have received a very positive response each time. Sometimes I received an exclamatory “thank you” and other times it was an appreciative, humorous image in return.

Remember, it does not take a lot of time to be a little creative and will no doubt put a smile on the recipient’s face!

7. If it is not working, speak up.

Remote resources are becoming more and more common in all industries. However, not everyone can work remotely and not everyone can manage a remote worker.

If for some reason the situation is not working out, speak up. Have a talk with the resource to see if another arrangement can be made. Try everything that you can, within reason, to make the situation work successfully on both ends.

But, if it simply cannot work then speak with your boss or supervisor about removing them from the project or try moving them to another manager or project if you have the authority to do so.

Finally, keep in mind that remote resources are a part of the team and need to be remembered, utilized, informed, and appreciated just like those that work at the desk next to you.

Do you have any unique tips for managing remote resources that you would like to share? Or maybe you are a remote worker yourself and have some ideas that would help others.  Feel free to share your comments below!

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