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The Green Sheet Online Edition

September 08, 2014 • Issue 14:09:01

Managing from a distance

By Vicki M. Daughdrill
Small Business Resources LLC

As recently as the 1970s, a company's workers typically went to work in the same office. Owners and employees worked face to face. How times have changed! In 1972, a NASA worker began working from home on a communication system, and telecommuting was born.

Many telecommuters work from home; others, sometimes called "nomad workers," use mobile devices to work from coffee shops or other locations. According to a Reuters poll, approximately "one in five workers around the globe, particularly employees in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, telecommute frequently, and nearly 10 percent work from home every day."

Why telecommuting is popular

Telecommuting is popular because it is a win/win situation for business owners and workers. Telecommuting provides:

  • Greater flexibility: You can choose a worker with the most experience or expertise regardless of geographic location.
  • Increased market penetration: You can deliver your product or service without maintaining a physical presence or location.
  • Reduced capital expenditures and overhead: You do not need to provide a professional office space. The cost of communicating via phone, fax or overnight services is significantly less than providing a physical office.
  • Improved lifestyle choices: Lifestyle decisions are contributing to the growth in remote-location workers. Many want to work fewer hours, travel less or vacation more. Telecommuting allows all of these while continuing to provide a good standard of living and professional fulfillment.

How to manage from a distance

Managing employees and contract workers is challenging. Managing from a distance is extraordinarily difficult and requires that you fully utilize all your leadership, communication and management expertise. Following are three tips:

  1. Hire wisely: When hiring an employee or contractor who will be based in a remote location, it is even more imperative to hire wisely.
    • Check all references. Ask references pointed questions about the prospect's ability to work independently. Request examples of how the prospect met goals and communicated in a timely manner.
    • Conduct a thorough interview. Ask for specifics on how workers adapt to working outside of a structured environment.
    • Become personally acquainted with your workers so they feel they are part of the organization.
  2. Set clear, specific expectations: Detailing what the worker is expected to accomplish is critical to motivation and satisfactory performance. State, preferably in writing:
    • What tasks the distance worker is to perform and the tools and resources you will provide.
    • Established goals or quotas, and procedures if these are unmet.
    • How you want the tasks completed, goals accomplished and how you will measure outcomes.
    • The method for transmission of documents, completed orders, etc. (overnight mail, fax, or scan and email).
    • Actions in keeping with your company's goals, standards and ethics.
    • A reporting system requiring status reports, either through email or by phone, on a regular basis.
    • Methods for providing feedback from the worker to the supervisor and vice versa.
  3. Communicate frequently:
    • Conduct regular meetings with your entire team as well as each individual worker via telephone, Skype, Facetime, or other method to focus on performance, goals and training.
    • Schedule regular reports, daily or weekly, on contacts and results.
    • Create a method for submitting employee timesheets, vacation requests, etc. A company website with an internal portal offers security for sensitive information and real-time transfer of documentation.
    • Plan face-to-face visits periodically. Bring all workers into a central location at least once annually. Visit each remote location as frequently as feasible to see how distance workers are managing. These visits should be scheduled and random.
Mary Kay Ash said, "It doesn't make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps." As you manage your team from a distance, remember to select the best people, help remote workers feel part of the team, be patient while all adapt to not working face-to-face, and stay focused on your company's goals and standards. end of article

Vicki M. Daughdrill is the Managing Member of Small Business Resources LLC, a management consulting company. E-mail her at vickid@netdoor.com or call her at 601-310-3594.

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