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Managing Remote Workers

January 08, 2007

As commute times grow, gas prices rise, and technology becomes faster and more reliable, workers and employers are discovering the benefits of telecommuting. It is now possible for anyone with a computer, telephone, and a desk to become a remote worker, capable of completing a day’s work in bunny slippers. But how do we effectively manage these workers? The answer lies is striking a careful balance between autonomy and accountability and the key, as with many business challenges, is communication. Here are some tips to help you successfully manage this new breed of worker:
Recognize if an employee is telecommuting material. There are many distractions in the home: the phone, the neighbors, the cat. Take the time to discover if this worker is a self-starter and can stay focused on the task at hand. If it is a current employee, use past experience to estimate if this worker functions well with minimal day-to-day management. For new hires, ask targeted interview questions to get a feel for his/her ability to work with less supervision.
  • Set clear expectations. Is it a job that must be completed from 8–5 or can your employee work on his/her own schedule? Defining productivity standards and expectations can eliminate many performance-related issues down the road.
  • Touch base regularly. Let your employees know that are still a part of the office and that you are available to help resolve issues and see that things are running smoothly. Utilize instant messaging for employees that you need to contact throughout the day. An employee with an active, supportive manager is much more likely to perform better than one who feels disconnected from the office.
  • Use technology to streamline processes. Of course a remote-seat dialer is necessary for basic out-of-the office functioning, but don’t forget about the many other ways that technology can connect remote workers to the office. Web-based applications allow for workflow and workforce management. CRM tools keep customer data in order and make sure that all team members are on the same page. By providing remote access to ftp sites and internal application you can ensure that everyone has access to the most current versions of software and documents.
  • Conduct Quality Assurance monitoring. Chances are if you have one remote worker, you have many. Ensure high performance, accountability, and uniformity by conducting routine QA monitoring. If your office is not large enough to support a full time QA position, consider utilizing an outside partner to develop and execute a quality QA program.
  • Utilize performance reviews. Let your remote workers know what they are doing right and what needs improvement. Reward a job well done and give them the tools that they need to improve on areas that may be weak. By showing your employees that you are invested in their success, they will be more likely to give you their best effort.
One of the greatest difficulties of management is finding the balance between supervising workers and giving them the freedom that they need to get the job done. This challenge is amplified without the daily opportunities for communication that an office setting provides. But it can also be very rewarding for both company and worker. Telecommuters are typically appreciative of the privilege of working out of the home and will make a sincere effort to see that they are meeting their responsibilities. By carefully selecting remote workers, setting clear expectations, and following up with them in a proactive and positive manner you can create a successful partnership, one that results in a job well done and happier, more productive employees.
Christa Heibel is the CEO of CH Consulting LLC. Still in her early thirties, Christa is regarded as an expert in the field of integrated marketing campaigns as well as effectively using technology for supporting sales and marketing efforts. An accomplished speaker, writer and sales trainer, Christa is looking forward to leading her many corporate clients and partners to similar growth over the next few years. She continues her commitment to staying active in the political arena, and plans to expand CH Consulting to actively managing telemarketing and other outreach campaigns for public officials.

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