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Over The hills and Far, Far Away ......

At one time it was envisaged that more people than not would work remotely. The advantages are obvious. Workers can be more productive. Home-working saves time and money; workers will be less tired; it’s less stressful; they won’t be exposed to winter flu bugs etc. on public transport or sat fuming in traffic jams. It’s generally more efficient.

So far so good. But there is a downside. Like everything else, remote working has its difficulties. Remote workers can feel isolated and lack of social interaction can cause a drop in motivation. Not having colleagues at hand to discuss ideas may cause a loss of focus. How do we manage remote workers effectively, to help them reach their goals?

When you don’t see people every day (or even every week) you’re getting to make far more effort to talk to them. One of the key areas in which mistakes are made is inadequate communication. You have to talk to your remote workers regularly, fully, accurately and in person. You know how hard it can be to communicate accurately when people are in the same office. It’s that much more difficult when you’re some way apart.

Clear communication is the number one essential. Giving and receiving feedback to workers on a regular basis is important in any workplace. When the team members work remotely it assumes a bigger importance.

Technology is on our side to support clear communication. Processes like Skype or Go to Meeting are brilliant for having face-to-face real time team talks. You have the ability to share information on screen, you can keep an audio record of the conversation and there is a record of discussions. Some applications also have video chat possibilities which can be very helpful in the communication process. This is not a substitute for regular face-to-face visits, so make sure these are factored into your diary too.

The next area of error is leaving remote workers out of team events. People are herd animals. Belonging and being part of a group is essential and even though workers are remote, you should make sure they’re included in team events and team-based out-of-work activities to keep them feeling part of things. This could mean having group work events every month or bringing them together for a team social sport or social activity. Make sure they feel that they are part of your team.

Not trusting the worker and/or failing to revise the work process are also potential problem areas. Trust is important in businesses. Interestingly, research by Microsoft suggests that’s not as much of an issue as you might think. The key thing to do is ensure that they realise home working means just that i.e. working, not watching daytime TV. When people work remotely the dynamic changes. The way in which remote workers carry out their duties may be different from someone who’s in the office 9-5. In many cases, more emphasis will be placed on the quality and quantity of work produced. Have precise objectives and regular check in times so you know that the worker is staying on track and can take corrective action at an early stage if needed.

Inadequate work sharing systems. Make sure the technology works for you. Have a system where you can share information, data, plans, milestones, updates etc. There are a number of online collaborative task managers which can you manage remote employees.

Take on board our tips and you should find that managing employees who are over the hills and far, far away far more easily!

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

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