Managing Remote Employees
After four years with Outlook Marketing Services Inc, Jeff Rappaport, in January 2001,emailed his entire staff at Northbrook, 111, announcing Suzette sexton’s promotion. It would have been too long a walk for Suzette, no wonder she opted to work from home. She was not at all disturbed as none of her colleague at the twenty-man business stopped by her office to congratulate her, rather the commendations came in great quantities in form of emails-she was embarrassed.
Rappaport said “all her hard work was recognized and rewarded”.This in-turn affected him positively. He has been able to overcome the one of the most troublesome work any employer is likely to encounter in the workforce of today-he manage remote employees by simply keeping them excited and engaged with developing a firm. This is a sure task every leader must face for as long as the quest for success remains.
The choice of working from home with computer and internet access has become a welcome lifestyle for employees. Increasingly small business owners accommodate this method of work for they tend to benefit a lot when their employees work from the comfort of their homes. The author of Managing Telework:” Strategies for managing the virtual workforce” Jack. M. Nilles (John Wiley and sons, 1998), said ‘productivity increases for most companies with remote workers’. Again, he said ‘the higher the salary, the more the productivity gain’
Their some inner barriers in work –from-home relationship between the two parties- the employer and the employees. These business owners themselves are often the biggest barriers to a productive relationship. A telecommunicating and virtual office consultant, Gil Gordon, in Monmouth Junction, N.J, once said that ‘the hardest thing is learning to manage with your brain instead of your eyeballs’. The most important thing for employees to do is to have aims and meet them, not just work alone.
The founder of the twelve employee, Rye Brook, N.Y based Acappella software, David Bromberg, oversees his three programmers who works from home by measuring /checking their ability to complete jobs. Most experienced managers of remote workers have succeeded in making a change and thereby improved the pattern to imitate the existing ones.
An online time clock added by Mike Birdsall and his wife Maureen to run their company ; Birdsall InteractiveInc,has helped them to checkmate the on time the sixteen employees of Oakland,California,web design firm if they are working from home. What he actually does is – punch in his hour just as if he is in his office.
Lack of corresponding ways of measuring productivity in the office makes the employers frequent discovery on productivity for their remote employees futile. On the other hand smaller companies with the remote workers are often more productive for they seems more focused –managers frequently rely on wise looking ideas in giving out and measuring work progress. These are clues that are not evident as one works from the comfort of his or her home.
The president of Manufacturing Consultant DKM Inc, Murat Sehidoglu, for instance, assigns projects regularly to his seventeen employees. Most of these employees seldom visit the office in Los Angeles. Sehidoglu admits that lack of face time makes him experience a continual difficulty in making such assignments. He does not even know if the employees understand the job whether they are really willing to continue in it.
The ability to assign task to an employee and checkmate him or her progress, is what Gordon calls ‘Hallway Management’. Another way is by asking questions based on the field of job assigned to the employee involved as you come across him/ them at any spot throughout the day. This rather becomes difficult to do when the employee works from home. Employees and manager can be kept coordinated by electronic mailing system.
Technology and smart management has tremendously helped in overcoming communication difficulties. To keep tabs on her seven workers scattered throughout the country Louise Guryan, The principal of Media Connection LLC in Seattle, uses the electronic mailing system (email). Sometimes she will deliberately plan an email, which every employee had to copy as they work with one another and at the same time maintaining the customers relation through direct-mail projects.
By using regular conference calls Rappaport was able to stay in –touch with her remote employees. This is one vital role the telephone plays in managing remote employees. ‘We have weekly teleconference with everybody and while a project is going on, there are almost daily teleconferences between the people involved’ she says.
Remote workers are often difficult to get on phone, not even a prompt email response. Managers new to work-at-home sometimes may have a wrong impression at this and may just conclude, they have gone out for pleasure, whereas these remote workers may be doing something else or even trying to get a project done. So he certainly does not need any distractions!
For an employee to be available during a particular hour, there must be a discussion in advance of agreeing to their working from the comfort of their homes, says Nilles.
Top employees need not payphone bills for Birdsall always foot it. He believes he can always reach them during business hours for as long as their phones are on. This is discretion and management strategy. It is also worthy of note that nothing discourages clients like when they cannot reach someone. For this reason, Guryan established a single toll-free number that easily connects client with her employees.
By screening and forwarding incoming business calls, firms can easily reach an employee’s home. Therefore, balance is required to get in touch with a work-from-home employee. A New York consultant, Caryn Furst, who manage remote workers by training businesses said ‘you have to stay out of people’s way. I don’t respond to every messages going back and forth’. By email a fast progress observation might come in handy. For this Gordon said that for every circumstance, the right form of communication should be selected. On the other hand, dialoging the difficulties with a client might fail.
Somebody working from home cannot be easily made angry. Though quarrels sometimes arises but one need to learn how to detect it from a distance.
It is well agreed that an employee cannot do the work of an employer for he know virtually nothing about it. Take for instance an employee calling Bromberg to talk to an intending client about a project- He could not communicate well with the client. In communication with remote workers of today, it is either by phone or email for they are faster than the posted mail. Managers may find opposition if their emails are copied between two parties thereby making a rubbish of the messages. This may cause a lot of unrest if one is not sensitive enough.
Quarrels may arise between the remote workers and the office employees. the in-office employees should be addressed properly –letting them know why things are the way they are or it may arouse a high level of resentment. There should be a sensation to the fear among remote employees being sidelined.
To this end Rappaport fights the problem and makes sure that his entire employees understood that teleworker are part and parcel of the company. Building on success while working with remote employees requires special training. Again, for this teleworkers not to get stranded later on, a comprehensive policy handbook should be given from inception by the company. By simply detailing what an employee should do, the avenue for confrontation will not occur.
Rappaport did it and it worked for him. He ensured that by the 7th of each month, expenses reports are ready. Every employer should endeavor to train their remote workers whenever any new technology is added to the company’s system. An example of such modern technology is the instant messaging (IM). The office friendliness that remote employees may lack could be increased by the use of IM, if properly introduced. Instant messaging provides an outlet for his programmers, says Bromberg. He also added that ‘it’s a source for our humor’.
Even though remote workers chose to work from home sometimes they may feel isolated. to this recognition, Guryan encourages teleworkers to join organizations and socialize. Employers like Furst and Rappaport deemed it necessary for clients to organize lunches and recreations after off-meetings so that office and remote workers can harmonize with one another-building a team spirit. Looking at the case of this employer called Sehidoglu, it was from the survey he had with the remote staff that gave him the eye-opener that he has not been communicating the vision of the company to his staff properly. He thus opted to spending a part of every eyeball-to-eyeball meeting to relate an up to date running of the business to his remote staff.
According to Rappaport; ‘There should never be any surprises’. This is a description that best suit a successful relationship with remote employees.
As a remote employee one may hardly be recognized since one is not visibly seen in the office .Sometimes the dirty and difficult job may even be done by that unknown worker. Wise business owners had developed a way in getting these remote workers excited as they in turn work for the company’s growth. With the presence of computer and internet access, most employees have taken a new lifestyle working from home.
Some companies benefits if their employee’s works from the comfort of their homes, especially the small business owner’s .They believe that productivity increases wit the remote workers.
What mostly attracts them is the salary. According to Nilles ‘the higher the salary, the more the productivity gain. In this challenge of managing remote employees, it can easily be seen that business owners are themselves the obstacle to a productive remote working relationship. Most of them believe in the presence of the workers around them and the activities in the company instead of results.
It is how well not how far! Some of them use devices in checkmating the activities with and without the company’s premises- how their employees are faring, whether they are doing their job or not. Anyway, keeping an eye on an employee is not the only reasons managers like having them around. They may also need their idea as in the progress of work. These ideas are missing when an employee works from the comfort of his or her home.
Sometimes employers could be very confused not seeing their employees around them what they often do is-assign projects to them.
The introduction of email technology can help any smart management overcome these difficulties .It helps in keeping the employer and employees connected. Telephone is another device that has helped a lot in connecting people. With this device a teleconference may be held between the people involved in a project so as to stay in touch –employer and the remote employees.
To get a remote worker a discussion prior to the date and hour of schedule should be settled. No wonder most of the managers new to remote work will complain that remote workers are difficult people-you hardly get them when you need them. In fact, balance is needed to communicate with a remote worker. In communicating with a remote employee, one should not rely on only one method.
Every employee should endeavor to train their remote staff as regards any new technology introduced in the company’s system. An example is the Instant Messaging (IM). With proper introduction of this IM, an employer may create a friendly relation that remote workers may lack. ‘It is a source for humor’ says Bromberg.
Every employer should try to carry their staff along, be it in-office or remote staff.
These are excerpt from the article written by Sandlund C.
Retrieved March 22,2007,From Google search database.
Managing Telework; ‘Strategies for Managing the virtual workforce’ by Jack M. Nilles (John Wiley & Sons; $34.95; 1998).
‘An Organizational guide to telecommuting’ by George. M.Puskurich (American Society for Training & Development: $29.95; 1998).
Website & Organisations.
International Telework Association & council (http://www.telcoa.org/)-member organization in telework.
These are excerpt from the article written by Chris Sandlund.
Schedule online (http://www.scheduleonline.com/) is an online scheduling tool that can help coordinate meeting & event between in-office & remote staff.