Having a remote workforce can be a huge benefit to organizations, reducing office space expenses and environmental footprints. Companies can reap the benefits of talented individuals all over the globe who are able to do work that excites and engages them and do it in a place they want to live.
[More from Mashable: December Job Hunt Tips]
As attractive as this working arrangement sounds, it takes a lot of planning and preparation to implement. Businesses must thoroughly discuss the terms of working remotely before launching such an initiative including work schedules, home offices, secure computer networks and job responsibilities. One thing is for certain: Being able to communicate effectively and efficiently with remote employees is the key to success.
Here are several examples of companies realizing success with their remote work teams and their methods for achieving that success.
[More from Mashable: Should Your Job Title Be More Creative?]
1. Create Common Goals
In order for employees to feel like part of the organization, they have to feel that they are a part of the company’s goals. Morgan Norman, founder and CEO of social performance management company WorkSimple, says that probably the hardest task for a virtual workforce is making sure everyone is always on the same page. “Whether it’s about new features to the software, a change in the company’s overall direction or just a menial everyday task, keeping everyone appraised and in the loop can become a challenge when everyone is in different places and in different time zones.”
WorkSimple uses its performance management platform for its own workforce. Norman admits that when an employee doesn't understand an aspect of the company's direction, he will eventually discover the answer via the WorkSimple platform. “The consequence of this [discovery] is employees can make more decisions on their own, can take more initiative on their own," Norman explains. "For us internally, it’s inspiring to see ideas and direction come from every employee; this sparks new goals and new projects that help push the envelope of our vision.”
2. Set Individual Goals and Expectations
Once an employee understands the goals of the company and how he fita into those goals, it’s essential to establish individual expectations of performance. Linda Pophal, a communications and management consultant with Strategic Communications LLC, says clearly conveying goals and expectations is critical to the success of a remote team. “The way to manage any employee effectively, I believe, is to clearly establish goals and objectives, provide the right tools and resources required to do the job (including communication resources like policies, procedures, etc.), and communicating regularly for updates on progress, to share new information and just to maintain the relationships.”
Pophal explains that you can accomplish this using some of the same methods you would manage any workforce: “Setting up regular processes can help. This might include regular phone/Internet conferences, required reports on a regular basis or the use of project management tools that allow everyone to track and report on activities.”
Pophal points out that the way a manager perceives a remote worker can affect the team overall. “One of the barriers to effective remote working arrangements is this odd 'mental block' many managers seem to have that not being able to 'see' their employees is somehow different or more challenging than other management scenarios. In truth, this type of relationship exists in many traditional organizational structures.”
3. Develop Trust and Accountability
Daily communication between employees and managers is a critical aspect of success. While remote workers are self-managing, they still require a frequent and consistent connection with supervisors and team members. Allison O’Kelly, CEO of virtual professional staffing firm Mom Corps, focuses on building an environment of trust and accountability as the foundation for communications.
O’Kelly says that MomCorps maintains its culture through a "Results-Only Work Environment," or ROWE, which allows employees to work flexibly as long as they meet key objectives. “Often when companies hear about ROWE, they worry about losing control," O'Kelly explains. "Rather, it is a shift in focus from controlling when, where and how people work to hold people accountable for results.”
Providing training to managers and supervisors is another important ingredient to managing remote workers. O’Kelly explains, “Virtual managers likely need training on how to expand their communication skills to include how to keep employees motivated as a team, giving positive and negative feedback over the phone, making sure schedules stay on track without micromanaging and making employees feel appreciated for the work they do.”
Creating a culture of trust has brought rewards to both employees and MomCorps, and O’Kelly says she recognizes employee performance. “I award them professionally with freedom and autonomy," she says. "I am not tied to the details of how and when they work if they are high performers for Mom Corps.”
4. Overcome Isolation
Dan Silmore, vice president of marketing for online training platform Mindflash.com, says the key to managing remote employees is communication, and a lack of it can result in feelings of isolation. “While most of our team thrives and truly enjoys the remote environment, it is something that needs to be continually monitored. Is the employee staying motivated? Are they happy? Have they been particularly quiet on Yammer or Skype lately?”
Since it’s not as simple as walking over to an individual’s desk for a conversation, Silmore says he keeps his communication channels wide open. “Additionally, we let employees know they can travel to our Palo Alto headquarters, even outside of sprint cycles," Silmore says. "That’s important and offers a lot of reassurance to some of our most remote workers.”
Tracy McCarthy, senior vice president of human resources at talent management software company SilkRoad technology, adds that laying down a solid schedule and policy for communication keeps collaboration flowing. “First, we have regular virtual team meetings, either conference calls, go-to meetings or use Skype or similar technology for video conferencing. Then, we ensure that each member of the team understands their role and others' roles so that there is no question about who is doing what and who is a resource.”
5. Plan Regular Communications
Lolo Siderman, founder and CEO of design and marketing agency Gypsywing Media, shared that when dealing with remote employees, communications should be planned and structured to bring a level of consistency and clarity. “Any failure to clearly and thoroughly communicate can lead to a huge number of wasted hours, inaccurate results and ultimately unhappy clients -- which all add up to money lost for the business.”
Another consideration in planning communications is the use of written documentation. “When we send a list of changes to one of our web developers, she will go through the list one-by-one and provide a written update on the status of each item before sending back," says Siderman explains, . It is almost guaranteed that a number of changes would be missed, or misinterpreted, if left to verbal communication only.”
Jillian Snavley, vice president and senior recruiting manager at PNC Financial Services Group, agrees that a direct approach is required when managing employees remotely: “Managers should set expectations and be more intentional with remote employees. And remote employees need to be just as candid.”
Successful organizations communicate well, regardless of where their employees are located. Being able to work through challenges – no matter what kind – is core to having a thriving remote work team.
Series Supported by Elance
The Digital Careers Series is supported by Elance, where businesses hire and manage in the cloud for immediate access to the talent they need, when they need it. Elance offers the flexibility to staff up or down, and it’s faster and less expensive than traditional staffing and outsourcing. Check out Startup Cloud to learn more.
This story originally published on Mashable here.