This is a guest post by Kristine Hansen of Null Media.
While working from a satellite office, it’s easy for any telecommuter to feel like they’re on an island. But telecommuting offers tremendous business advantages, including cost reductions, environmental benefits, and access to a truly global workforce. So here are 4 tips for keeping your remote staffers motivated and on the same page, literally and figuratively.
- Jointly develop a growth plan. One drawback for telecommuting is that it doesn’t naturally allow time and space for feedback. Aside from annual reviews, employees who don’t regularly turn up at company headquarters may have no idea about how they are perceived by others. As a manager, you want all employees to feel invested in the company and their careers. Work together with each remote staffer on writing a growth plan that takes into consideration that employee’s job description, the areas where he would like to improve and grow, and what his long-term goal is – all of which can help to boost retention. By showing your telecommuters you are dedicated to fostering their growth within the company, they’re more likely to want to stick around.
- Ask for updates. The last thing you want to hear on the day a project is due is that it isn’t finished. To avoid this situation, request weekly progress reports leading up to the deadline. (In this case, email is okay, because the interaction is brief and informative. But you could also consider using an online project management tool.) If you sense that the employee is falling behind or losing focus, ask how you or the rest of the team can help — and talk through the steps leading up to the deadline.
- Use cloud storage. A quick and easy way to check remote employees’ progress on a project is to peruse the documents they’re working on. Store files in a collaborative space that’s convenient for everyone to access. By relying on cloud storage and other online applications, you’ll find this leaves more time to devote to other tasks.
- Pick up the phone. Despite the convenience and brevity of email correspondence, for certain tasks it can be too passive. There’s no face-to-face interaction and emotions and intentions are not easily understood. Start relying on the telephone more. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to deepen connections amongst a team – and to assess an employee’s input and output. While a conversation might take 15 minutes and incur a cost – versus the few minutes it could take to compose a free email – the long-term benefits of the exchange are much greater. Of course, email is a crucial tool if you’re working with someone on the other side of the globe, where the workday ends when yours begins, but try to use email only when the recipient is already intimately familiar with the project and, at this point, you are on the same page. Leave the details about a brand-new project for a phone call. Explaining a multi-faceted approach over email rarely results in mutual understanding.