Remote Employees: 5 Ways to Engage and Manage Them

This guest post was contributed by JT Ripton who is a business consultant and freelance writer out of Tampa. You can follow him on Twitter @JTRipton

As the modern business world becomes more dependent on independent contractors and remote workers, the models of leadership have to change. Today’s manager has to use every tool at his or her disposal to make sure every member of the team is on the same page, whether in person or telecommuting. Here are some strategies to keep remote employees engaged and on-task.

1. Pop-In Communication

Just because there’s no break room to share with remote employees doesn’t mean spontaneous communication is impossible. Take the time to check in every now and then with an email, phone call or social media message that isn’t about specific projects, just the employee’s state of mind. You don’t want your presence to become wholly associated with task management.

2. Know Their Needs

Remote employees can start to feel isolated or over-taxed if their needs for materials, information and communication help with other departments aren’t being met. At least once a week, devote some time to finding out what your remote employees require, be it a replacement flash drive or the best way to get in touch with a new member of the tech support team.

3. Flexible Schedules

Remote employees have different challenges than in-house workers. They have to maintain their own work stations and take greater responsibility for their schedules. Many have to deal with the added pressure of caring for small children, keeping their home in order, or even adding value to their professional profile by pursuing their MBA degree. Especially in the cases of independent contractors and telecommuters in different time zones, keeping to your own in-house hours can be difficult, if not impossible. Don’t pressure these remote workers to be available at times that aren’t reasonable for them. Instead, trust in their abilities to self-manage their time by setting deadlines for concrete deliverables to be developed whenever the employee feels most productive.

4. Build Expertise

Nobody knows the needs and specifics of being a remote employee better than an experienced remote employee. If your organization continues to trend toward more remote workers and contractors, foster leadership skills in the members of your team who have spent a fair amount of time working from home. This not only encourages retention of productive workers, it also ensures that any new remote employees you take on in the future will have a proven liaison to the folks back in the brick-and-mortar.

5. Rewards and Accountability

Without the social reinforcement of an office environment, remote employees will need other means to motivate peak productivity. Make quarterly performance reviews a habit and keep your inbox open for feedback and concerns. In addition to setting goals, offer incentives for improved quality, speed and thoroughness of work. This will make your presence as a manager known, if in a slightly more abstract way.

How well your remote employees function in your organization will depend greatly on how well you understand the unique needs and challenges of a telecommuting team member. Be understanding, respectful and firm to have the best, most productive remote employees and contractors possible.

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