Guest blog by Chris Anania, Technology Infrastructure Leader and Remote Manager
As a remote worker for seven years and a manager of remote workers for the last two years, I thought I would shed some light on the topic of working remotely. First let’s take a look at the characteristics of remote workers and managers . . . and why, admittedly, remote work is not for everyone.
As a remote worker myself, I find I am able to work more productively from home than if I were working in a maze of open concept office cubicles (an introvert’s nightmare). I actually get more done at home because I am able to focus better on my work and because I tend to work longer hours since I have no commute.
However, in recent years a feeling of isolation—that I understand many remote workers experience—has worn me down, mainly through lack of engagement from my team resulting from some turnover and shifts in strategic direction. While I sense these feelings would have been similar in or out of the office, I think they’ve definitely been amplified because I am remote.
Not Everyone’s Cup of Tea
Not everyone is cut out to be a remote worker, nor does every job make sense for remote work. Some may have a desire to work remotely for flexibility and work/life balance, but they do not have the discipline. In my experience, unless you have strengths in the following six areas, remote working will most certainly not work for you or your company.
- Self-Motivation: When you work remotely, you need to have the internal drive to well . . . work. You need to start new tasks and complete them without procrastinating. Not everyone can do that.
- Communication: As a remote worker, you need exceptional communication skills so you can communicate effectively and frequently in multiple ways (phone, email, video conference, text, and the occasional face-to-face meeting). During conference calls, you need to participate and be heard. Asking at least one question per meeting goes a long way.
- Networking: You need to maintain your visibility without being there by touching base with people in the office on a regular basis. Maintaining a constant connection is essential to building relationships. If you do this well, you will find that you know more about the company direction and what is going on in the office than many of the people in the office who work side-by-side.
- Organization: You need to be able to manage your time efficiently and balance the number of hours you work. Like the smartphone phenomenon, telecommuting bleeds into one’s personal time. This needs to be managed. Compartmentalization is a critical skill to have.
- Socialization: You need to establish a social outlet even if you are content being an introvert. That might be volunteering, a book club, sporting activities, or just regular dinners with friends. Remote work is isolating, and will catch up with you over the years. If you are 100% remote you still should be traveling to the office on a regular basis to increase your visibility.
- Respect: This goes without saying, but you need to treat everyone with the same amount of respect that you want in return. This in turn makes you more visible as a remote worker.
Engaging remote employees is the primary role of their direct manager. Being a successful manager of remote employees has a lot to do with the persona involved, training, and the tools at his or her disposal. Tools such as Slack, Office 365, Atlassian, Asana, and Trello are great for managers and their remote employees. The key is to coach remote employees on all the critical attributes that make a remote employee successful in the first place, as discussed above.
- Self-Motivation: Encourage your remote employees to take initiative. If they think a process needs improvement, allow them to enhance it. Give them room to shine, direct by suggestion, but always be crystal clear on the expected results, timelines, and accountabilities.
- Communication: Be sure to check in with your remote employees regularly to discuss progress on their work. Be clear and never assume. Schedule one-on-one meetings preferably via video conference. Ensure you are consistent with these meetings even if there is little to discuss. Showing up makes all the difference in how remote employees feel valued, and gives them an important connection to the company. In between meetings, use instant messenger tools such as Slack to ping your remote workers regularly. Create opportunities for them to speak up during conference calls. Ensure they have timely access to information, updates, and news.
- Networking: Encourage your remote employees to set up regular touch points with peers and internal customers. Budget for regular travel back to headquarters. Budget for them to attend conferences. People have different opinions on the value of conferences, but if nothing else, they are a great platform for networking with vendors and other companies to generate ideas.
- Organization: Monitor how your remote employees manage their time and workload and make adjustments. Offer time management training. Ensure they are not burning themselves out; ensure they take their vacation days.
- Socialization: Working remotely can be isolating, and feeling “lonely” can often creep up on your remote employees. Although difficult, you can create a culture for your team based on how you interact and your relationships. Do this well, and you will be able to align everyone on the team and create a sense of loyalty. Corporate social media attempts to help here, but I have yet to see it deployed successfully in the work place. Regular travel back to headquarters can help, as can scheduling occasional web chats outside of work.
- Respect: There is a tendency to take people on the other end of the phone for granted, especially outsourced help. Ensure everyone is treated as a team member and they know their value. Provide positive feedback, rewards, and recognize frequently.
Managers should look for people with strengths in these areas during the hiring process. They should also have a well-defined onboarding process to get them the access they need to be up and running with the team quickly. This is very important not only to your success as a manager of remote workers, but to the success of the individuals on your team.
For More Information
If you have questions about remote working or managing, and how it might apply to your teams or your company, contact Chris Anania through InMail via his Linkedin profile.