Many businesses and managers, with little experience managing off-site employees, are now faced with leading a team that have hunkered down at home. Some businesses have essential personnel on the premises, but even those organizations have teammates who are working from home. So, how do you manage off-site employees?

I don’t have all the answers for successfully managing detached employees. Chances are I’ve never worked in your industry and I certainly don’t know the challenges you and your business face. What I can do is share a few of the activities that have worked for me over the years, and some links I’ve found helpful, and then hope one or two might help you.

Use the Tools Available

Thirty years ago I managed detached salespeople — salespeople who worked and lived in territories not covered by a sales office. These sales reps only occasionally visited an office or attended meetings. I didn’t have today’s multiple methods of communications. We had pagers and pay phones. Today, using video conferencing, mobile devices, and multiple networks, managing off-site personnel may be more convenient, but it’s still a challenge. In many ways, it’s just as difficult today as it was thirty years ago.

Where Do You Begin?    

Talk about communication

Not only should you reach out and converse, but establish communication expectations. How, when, and where you plan to share information. For example, I once had a teammate send me three emails of an urgent nature that I did n’t respond to. The last Email was in all caps. I didn’t respond because I check email three times a day, and it was between checks. I hadn’t communicated how to share important information with me. In my case, if it’s urgent, call or text me. I didn’t set communication expectations.

“So, how do you set communication expectations that work? One of the problems with modern communication is there are so many medias available. Phone, text, email, and face-to-face are just a few of the options. No single communication network works universally. If you’ve ever missed an urgent email because you were off the grid you know the frustration. You may have thought, why didn’t they call or text me, but the question is, did you give them your communication expectations?” — How to Set Communication Expectations that Work

Make them part of the team

Involve remote teammates in team meetings and initiatives through video conferencing. Don’t leave them out.

“Don’t assume because you know how to use online video conferencing tools like Zoom, that everyone else in the office knows how to use these tools. Ask a member of your IT team or someone in the office who is a pro at using remote collaboration tools, to host a webinar and invite employees to attend. Record the webinar so that people can refer back to it, should they need to do so.”
How Leaders Can Keep Remote Employees Engaged And Productive During Tumultuous Times

“Not being able to work together in the same room with colleagues may become a major challenge in the next few weeks. To make virtual meetings work, you might need to adjust how your team conducts them. But a small investment in preparedness now could have a huge impact if that time comes.” — Harvard Business Review — What It Takes to Run a Great Virtual Meeting.

Video conferencing has it’s own set of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. Entrepreneur — These Are the Biggest Dos and Don’ts of Video Conferencing

If you’d like to learn more about what’s available for hosting video meetings try this post, Staying Social: How to Video Chat

Listen, seek advice, and ask how you can help

One of the best ways to stay connected with employees that are working from home is to seek their advice. Asking for their opinion and help keeps employees engaged.

“Individualization is key. The best managers have always individualized their coaching to the worker, but doing so at a distance requires greater intentionality. Managers need to ask each team member to describe the conditions under which they perform best, their concerns about their workflow and their emotional response to the situation.” — COVID-19 Has My Teams Working Remotely: A Guide for Leaders

Let people know what they do matters

“People want to know that they matter and that what they do has meaning. We spend hours marketing to customers to explain the benefits of our products and services, the problems we solve, and what that means to them, the customer. Shouldn’t we do the same with employees? Shouldn’t we let employees know that what they do has meaning as well as how it impacts the business, and what it does for them personally?” — Why You Should Treat Your Employees Like Customers

“Burnout, which is affecting more and more employees, may be something we associate with working in an office, but for employees who are adjusting to a work-from-home schedule, burnout remains a possibility. Without a commute to bookend the day, employees may struggle with officially “ending their day” in a way that feels natural and satisfying. Work with your team members to help them establish boundaries to their day in a way that is both productive for the team and helps team members avoid costly burnout.”
How to Effectively Manage Remote Teams during COVID-19

Give clear expectations

Clarify your expectations. Share deadlines and milestones then follow-up as frequently as needed. Review their responsibilities, let them know what they control and where they need approval, and share how you are available to help. “If you want people to meet your expectations you have to share them, and provide the tools necessary to achieve them. Because if you don’t set expectations what can you expect?” — If You Don’t Set Expectations What Can You Expect?

Offer constructive feedback

With off-site employees it’s easy to put off criticism until it’s too late. If criticism is based on objective criteria, numbers, stats, and observable behavior, then presenting it in a business-like and non-accusatory manner will make an impact. Coming from help, even over the phone, is better than waiting until a problem reaches disaster level.

Share Goals

Put goals in writing, tie them to activities, and follow up — not only on the results but the activities. “Are you a manager? Do you set and review goals with your team daily? I’ve been involved in more corporate team and individual goal setting sessions than I want to remember. Because, many of them were a waste of time, and I knew they were, until I learned a few keys to successful goal setting. Goal setting directs behavior, not results. Although the goal must focus on measurable objective criteria, activities achieve goals. Goals should include an activities plan and clearly defined objectives.” — You Cannot “Do” A Goal – You Can Do Activities

Managing off-site employees takes planning, consideration, and effort. It may not be as easy or convenient as managing employees who are in the next office, but it can be done and if someone can accomplish their tasks working from home — it’s the right thing to do.

How Can I Help You?

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a  management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. Check it out.

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash