Telecommuting is the future of many careers. As technology and the Internet expand, so do the online opportunities. You’ve likely found the pressure to offer more remote positions to your workers. Whether you are providing your local employees work-from-home options or you’re expanding your company for remote positions across the globe, you’ll find that managing remote teams or your virtual employees requires some specific management techniques.

Eight best practices for managing remote teams that can better improve your remote workforce management

1. Establish Relationships

It may seem that you hire remote workers merely to fill in gaps for workers. Virtual teams, whether freelance or hired, like to feel important to the whole team. They are not just nameless faces in the see of the Internet. It’s vital to make a connection with each of your workers to guarantee loyalty, productivity, and collaboration. It’s simple to engage employees on a more personal level:

  • Send out weekly newsletters with updates
  • Provide one-on-one time for any important meetings
  • Start work days with a greeting 
  • Ask about workers lives at home, and don’t mix them up (e.g., “How’d your mom’s surgery go?”)
  • Check in on progress and ask if there are any questions or issues

By bringing your virtual team members into a collaborating atmosphere, you’ll give them a sense of pride in their work and their virtual team members.

2. Keep Global Time Zones in Mind

Keep in mind that your workers may be from all across the globe. If this is the case, you’ll find that your workers in Colorado will not keep the same hours as those in Singapore. This can cause issues if you, as a supervisor, want to keep a set schedule. And this is one of the biggest challenges to managing a virtual project team. It’s better to keep your schedule open for any unexpected problems that may arise.

Consider keeping one day aside with hours that fit your most remote employee. That way, if any questions or problems might come up, that employee can reach you. If you cannot make those hours work, hire a contact liaison whose hours better match the most remote time zone. For instance, someone in London will be more likely to have overlapping hours with the Singapore workers.

 3. Focus on Goals

Employee monitoring can be difficult when you have employees working remotely. Are you concerned whether your worker is getting distracted by other things (social media comes to mind) when they should be working? Who hasn’t walked through the office and noticed one or two workers checking out a cat video on Facebook? You’ve likely heard two co-workers chatting about last night’s American Horror Story episode or upcoming holiday plans. It is not uncommon to find workers distracted from their tasks on a daily basis.

The first thing you must consider is whether the tasks you assigned to your virtual team members were completed in a respectable amount of time. You’ll find that remote workers complete 13% more work on average than their office counterparts. Higher productivity may be because of more downtime and flexibility in their work. Without someone breathing over their shoulder, remote teams are more likely to complete the projects given to them in a better time frame.

Still worried about how much work is getting done? Then consider:

  • Setting up a tracking system to keep tabs on telecommuters. Some programs take screenshots randomly to show which screens are open.
  • Asking for detailed daily reports. This can include a minute-by-minute description.
  • Completing weekly or monthly reviews to see if the worker is getting as much done as s/he should be.
  • Keeping timesheets. There are many excellent programs to keep track of your employees, such as Time Clock Wizard. These programs can show you who is working too little or too much. Remember, overworked employees can burn out more quickly.

4. Set Expectations

Moving right along from the last tip, you must set expectations for your workers. If virtual teams are unaware that you expect them to complete 15 spreadsheets each week, you may find that you only get a return of five. This would be a much lower number than expected, but it is not necessarily your virtual team’s fault. Did you tell them you expect 15 spreadsheets a week? You could find that they feel stagnant or unchallenged not knowing what is expected of them. When you’re all on the same page, goals can better be attained.

5. Provide Reliable Tools

  • Training videos
  • Access to files and folders
  • Access to work program
  • Communication outlets
  • Access to informational tips
  • Help desks

These are just a few of the essential tools used to continue your virtual management. Reliable, working tools and access to corporate information is vital for workers. If they cannot access the work page to download the project schematics, how can you expect them to complete the job on time? If there is no help desk, what happens when the system is down, or they have a question? How can the workers complete their tasks when they have no access to the files?

6. Have a Communication Strategy

It is not the first time you’ve heard this in this article, but you must have a communication strategy in place. Donald in payroll can walk into your office to ask you what the office memo meant, but Shirley across the country cannot. Can she call you? Yes, but will she always get through? Do you have a communication liaison to handle any issues that arise for remote teams? Will you use an e-mail and help desk notification system, which can take hours to communicate back and forth, or will you implement a chat dialogue?

Keep in mind that every communication strategy will have pros and cons. Any issues not immediately resolved may back up work for one or more workers. This can cause significant problems in productivity.

7. Provide Incentives

Remember that remote teams are the same as your office workers. Treat virtual members with the same respect and patience as any worker in your company. Also, remember that you can save about $1,250 per employee each year for remote workers. This is because of office and training costs that are often lower per employee. With all this in mind, you should provide incentives to keep remote workers as happy as your office workers.

Many contract positions like hiring out because they do not feel that they are actually “hiring” employees. This can cut down on taxes, benefits costs, and employer responsibilities. This can be a negative, however. A study showed that 40% of employees overlooked by management were actively disengaged in their work. This even included those who received negative feedback from supervisors. However, if you offer incentives to virtual workers, you create a positive work culture, you stand out from other employers, and your remote workers will remain engaged.

Consider offering:

  • Paid time off
  • Vacation time
  • Health insurance
  • Company swag
  • Gift cards
  • Promotions
  • Birthday cards
  • Subscription boxes

Even something as small as offering praise and feedback helps your remote teams to know they are appreciated. Something like a subscription box can give your virtual team members something to look forward to each month. Consider offering them a list of subscriptions to choose from, or provide a general one that might be appreciated by your workers as a whole. You can even consider gifting an experience through a company, such as Tinggly, where the gifts are unique for remote teams around the globe.

Don’t let remote workers feel left out either. Silicon Valley, the epicenter of startups and remote teams, have companies that provide free lunches, happy hours, and beer cart Fridays for their office workers but leave their “contract workers” out in the cold. Delivering a frosty beer 1,200 miles away may be a little out of the question, but a monthly Starbucks gift card to the top five most productive workers certainly isn’t.

8. Be Transparent

If you want to know how to manage your team, be open and honest with your workers to create a trusting work environment. Allowing your virtual employees to understand your goals and missions keeps you all on the same page and can help yours in overcoming virtual team challenges. If you want to promote transparency as part of your company’s mission, you must abide by the same rules. If you aren’t open, why should your employees be honest and transparent with you? Lead by example.

Try to make all aspects of your business open to the public as well. For instance, providing salaries, even if anonymous, allows workers to feel they are all treated fairly. This will show whether there is a gender pay gap and whether each virtual worker is given the same pay as another who has been with the company just as long. Finally, if you choose to use a tracking system, let your workers know. Employee tracking can often cause worker anxiety. They may feel as if they’re being watched at all times and judged. By being transparent with employee tracking, you are not spying on them, and they do not feel paranoid.

Remember, it is critical that you keep your virtual team on the same page as the rest of your workers. Having a company culture will promote company loyalty and low turnover. Finally, offering incentives and keeping an eye on how much your remote teams are working will prevent burn out and poor work turnover.

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