Managing staff who work remotely is a key part of today's work environment

Techniques and tips on how to manage staff at a distance using different types of technology.

Working at a distance or remotely is becoming commonplace in our current job market. With companies being forced to downsize to avoid major layoffs while retaining their current talent standards, many businesses are being forced to change the way they operate. Some companies allow staff to work remotely, either by working from home or by job sharing. These trending work environments are proving to be very cost effective for companies because of the money saved on travel dollars. Michigan State University Extension has provided the following tips for supervisors to efficiently and professionally supervise from a distance.

  • Do not make assumptions that employees in the field are less productive than employees that are on site. Let their success be the indicator of productivity.
  • Establish a rapport with your employees. Take time to meet with your staff and get to know each one of them on an individual basis. Doing this face to face for the first few times can be beneficial. If it is a struggle to meet with your employee in person, you can make a telephone call or try using Hangouts (feature for android users) or Facetime (feature for iPhone users), which allows each party to talk over video. If you have multiple generations working on your team, take extra care to learn what they value and then be strategic in bridging the generation gap between your team. For example, baby boomers operate differently and have a very different set of values compared to Generation X and Millenials.
  • Once a rapport has been established with each employee, make sure to set up virtual meetings to acquaint your staff with one another. These informal meetings can be based on fun icebreakers, mutual interest or phone contests that are easy to win and have real tangible gifts attached to them. This is also effective in reducing absenteeism at virtual staff meetings. If your company doesn’t already have a specific service that it uses to meet virtually, resources such as Zoom, Free Conference call and Skype are reliable and useful. This virtual meeting will give your employees a chance to interact with technology that may be new to them and ask questions about the technology in an informal setting. This will also let you identify any connectivity issues with internet. Remember that being able to see faces is important because many cues could be missed and lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. Lastly, virtual meetings can also help colleagues become familiar with each other and bring about a sense of team camaraderie and identity. Organizing a small group project can also be a way for employees to bond and learn how to work together.
  • If none of those options are possible, using a Conference call is very practical and economical. Conference calls allow you to record the call and even create multiple chat rooms so that you can have small breakout session while the group at large still presses on with the general business meeting.
  • Set protocols. At this point, the supervisor should reiterate what is expected of the employee and when. Don’t forget to let your team know what they can expect from you in return. They should be informed on how to reach you in an emergency, how report an injury at work, who to call when they are sick, etc.

  • Communicate frequently. It is vital that an agenda be sent out at least a week in advanced prior to a meeting. This brings everyone up to speed on the topics at hand and informs them about the objectives of the meeting and what they will need to participate.

  • Explain the importance of cell phones, electronic calendars, email, instant messaging, Meerkat and Periscope, Snapchat, and text messaging for effective communication. Pick only a few that will work really well for you and your staff.

  • Express your expectations. This is when you establish deadlines. Make program expectations clear and concise. Follow this up with an email to staff to reiterate what was discussed and to verify that they have a clear understanding of your expectations of them.

  • Visit different work sites. Go out to areas that staff may be working in and watch them in action. This lets staff know that you value them and are supportive of them and the work that they do.

  • Exchange cell phone numbers.This acts as an open door policy that let’s staff know that you are accessible, even at a distance.

Remember, being a supervisor at a distance requires accessibility, flexibility, communication, interpersonal skills, and organizational skills to help you manage remotely.

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