Telecommuting policies save organizations thousands of dollars in overhead and facility costs annually while maintaining high standards of productivity and efficiency. An integral component to this winning equation is efficient management. Whether you have years of experience running a remote workforce or you are new to overseeing a geographically dispersed team, these top tips for managing a telecommuting team will help you get the most out of your staff:
Communicate your expectations upfront. If your expectations are not clear from the beginning, you will struggle with holding your team members accountable when deliverables aren’t met. Openly communicate performance goals and desired results early on so your team members know exactly what is expected of them and what will happen if they fail to produce.
Set deadlines. Proper time management is essential to effectively managing a telecommute team. Achieve this by setting deadlines for all assignments. If a project is particularly large or complex, make it more manageable by setting easily attainable or by setting smaller benchmark goals within the master plan.
Stay organized. Whether you use customer relationship management software, create a tracking spreadsheet, document everything in Word, or jot down notes in Evernote, it’s important to find an organizational system that makes sense to you. You will likely have to try a few different approaches before you find one that works, but once you do, ensure that you stick to it. Creating an organizational system is the easy part, keeping it updated is the hard part. Be diligent with your tracking system – it will help you maintain structure and ensure that tasks and telecommuters aren’t neglected.
Avoid a unilateral management approach. No two telecommuters are alike. While it is expected that you will have general guidelines for your entire team to follow, your management approach should not be a unilateral one. Within reason, tailor your management style to accommodate the personalities, learning styles, and work ethic of your team. Doing so will lead to greater productivity and job satisfaction for your team members.
Establish standard hours for communication. Similar to a professor setting office hours for students, as a telecommute manager you should establish standard office hours of so your employees and freelancers have access to you when needed.
Over-communicate. Communication breaks the rule of “less is more.” It’s better to over-communicate than to leave your team wanting for information. Nothing slows down progress faster than unclear or confusing directions.
Get to know your team. Virtual teams don’t have the option to chat around the water cooler or go out for lunch, so it is especially important to maintain friendly working relationships with your staff. Demonstrating that you are invested in the well-being of your employees makes them want to be invested in their jobs.
Be flexible. Telecommuting necessitates flexibility, and as a telecommute manager you should have it in spades. Being malleable to scheduling hiccups, sick days, and project revisions is a necessity. Just be mindful of team members who try to take advantage or your accommodations; if you detect abuse, firmly but gently address your concerns to get staff back on track.
Keep your tech in check. Technology is the lifeblood of a telecommute environment. Regularly update anti-virus programs, maintain a reliable high-speed Internet connection, and ensure that your cloud storage systems are in proper working order.
Continue training. Don’t be afraid to update your policies and adopt new procedures. Continual training with your virtual team will help you stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends and keep you and your team interested in your work.
Trust. Frustrating as it may be, you cannot monitor every activity of your telecommuting staff. It is absolutely essential that you recruit trustworthy employees and contractors whom you can trust to complete assignments and handle their own levels of responsibility.
How do you manage your telecommute team? Share your stories, suggestions, and strategies!
Kimberly Back is the Social Media Strategist and Senior Writer for Virtual Vocations (http://www.virtualvocations.com), an online job service that helps job-seekers find legitimate telecommute opportunities while also providing useful and educational resources.
Photo credit iStockphoto
Being in control of telecommuting workflow is quite a challenge. You have to feel confident about your employees, otherwise you’ll find yourself torn between neverending calls. Having a well-developred system of reports and logs can make managing telecommuters easier, but trust is the key factor and I’d put it on the top of this list.