Working from home? Now is the time to embrace a remote workforce. With high numbers of remote workers, motivating and managing such teams requires that organisations and managers find ways to create and maintain a company culture based on more than bean bag chairs, ping pong, and beer Fridays. If your current company culture and business success are dependent on having everyone in the same place at the same time, times have changed. While there are challenges, the benefits and flexibility of having a distributed workforce are worth the time and effort invested – if remote teams are well-managed, motivated, and engaged.

Here are 3 top tips to successfully manage, hire and motivate remote employees.

  1. Hire remotely
  2. Regularly scheduled communication
  3. Measure success

1 getting started: hiring remotely. 

With many workers now working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak, there are things you can do to make remote employees feel less isolated such as encouraging short breaks outdoors, or group hangout calls, but a good candidate for remote work is someone who doesn’t mind working independently most of the time.

 While your remote employees must be able to work independently, they also need to be great collaborators. It takes a lot more effort to collaborate with teammates when they aren’t sitting right next to you. Employees who are highly emotionally intelligent are more likely to create positive, collaborative relationships with other team members. In addition, these people are most likely better at self-reflection and self-monitoring.

If you are hiring staff who may need to remotely work for a couple of months, ensure you have a solid job description that includes the tasks and expectations for the position. Include the soft skills a person will need to be successful and raise the need for a physical environment conducive to working away from the office, including:

  • A quiet workspace free from distraction, especially if the work is phone related
  • The necessary equipment such as high-speed internet and a fast computer
  • A family or living situation which allows for productive work time

Help your remote employees overcome the challenges of isolation by establishing scheduled communication and a collaborative online workspace.

2 human-to-human: communication is key.

Your remote workers still need to feel connected. They need to feel that they are part of the conversation and that their input is valued. Help your remote employees overcome some of the challenges of isolation and disengagement by establishing regularly scheduled communication and/or a collaborative online workspace.

Video conference: Getting face to face doesn’t require being in the same office, but it does require some face time. Be sure to schedule and attend regular video meetings with your remote employees and have a method for collecting and answering their questions and suggestions. Get the team together weekly to collaborate online and share challenges and successes. Encourage people to ask questions either in these scheduled meetings, or anytime outside of formal meetings.

Build a community: Encourage workers to engage in internal messaging to each other through an IM application, such as Google hangouts, Zoom, Skype, or similar applications. They should be working as part of a team and communicating with each other as much as they are communicating with you.

Publicly recognised contributions: In a Harvard Business Review article, CEO of Rainmakers, Michael Ferguson notes the importance of top executives knowing the names of the individuals responsible for good work, so they can drop the employees a note congratulating and thanking them. He references a Gallup survey that states that 28% of employees said that manager recognition is most memorable, and 24% said recognition from a high-level leader or CEO is best. When you plan to deliver recognition, make sure it’s public. Keeping remote employees in the spotlight helps other employees to understand their contributions and make them part of the larger team. 

3 making it work: expectations and measuring success.

Even as the number of people working remotely has increased significantly in recent weeks, some organisations may still have some employees working in office. Productivity doesn’t depend on a worker being within eyesight, but it does depend on visibility of progress and transparency of work completion. The office environment is also often not conducive to productivity with various office distractions. 

Depending on the distance between the employee’s home and the office, hours every day are dedicated to commuting. Those same hours are typically used productively by people who don’t need to leave their homes to go to work, essentially leading to more work being completed.

Getting the most out of employees in the long run begins with setting expectations up front. While you’ll need to establish a relationship of trust, don’t rely on the employee to set their own deadlines and deliverables without input from you. As you would with any employee, set regular meetings to discuss progress on projects. Be sure to have processes in place to measure success. Depending on the role, measurement metrics may include:

  • Meeting deadlines on deliverables
  • Call metrics
  • Virtual data entry clock
  • Daily time sheet to reflect time spent on specific tasks
  • Weekly progress report

In addition to formalised reporting and measurement methods, establish some informal methods of checking on employee engagement. If you have an internal IM system and an employee isn’t responding to messages in a timely manner, it may be time to talk to that individual about time on task. Be sure to set up a work schedule with each member of your team so that you will know when to expect to connect with them, especially if the work is flexible and not necessarily based on a typical 9-5 work day.

A remote workforce hired with the right expectations, motivated by trust, accountability, transparent expectations, and clear communications can offer many benefits to both your company and to talented employees. Which is better, a remote workforce or one that’s inhouse? The real answer is neither. No matter where your employees do their jobs, today’s workers are looking for job experiences that are fulfilling and for companies that align with their values and goals. Good management, trust, and transparency are the things that will make any employer/employee relationship more productive and long-lasting. Easy to say, hard to do.