5 Steps to Successfully Managing Remote Employees

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This article is taken from the Build Your Queue podcast below, Season 1 Episode 2 with Natalie Martin, Co-founder of Heed Public Relations.

 You have more work than you can handle, but you don’t necessarily need to hire someone full-time, or the role doesn’t require the hire to be in your office. How do you find talented remote employees, and manage them successfully so your whole business thrives?

You’ll need to figure out:

  • Where will you look for your remote workers?
  • How will you recruit them?
  • What skills help manage remote workers, and how should your schedule change?
  • How will you keep them on task?
  • How will you reward your remote workers and make them feel like a part of your team?

We’ll answer these questions and more below. Keep reading, or you can listen to the full audio in the player above.

1. Where do you find remote workers?

Finding the right person who can both stay on task and learn your company’s workflow, all while being outside of your office, may seem intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be.

Start by talking with people you’ve previously worked with. They may have connections who they know are interested in doing contract or freelance work, or they may be interested themselves.

That’s why it’s important to be intentional about building those professional relationships in the first place.

Related: [Podcast] 4 Steps to Creating Your Own Professional Community

But if you’re new to an area, or still working on developing professional relationships, you can also try posting your open position on job hunting sites specifically dedicated to remote workers, like:

You’ll want to focus on applicants who:

    • Have multiple, strong referrals from businesses they’ve remotely worked for before (so you know they’ve successfully worked outside of an office before)
    • Have experience in the role or industry you’re working in
    • Are looking for the same amount of work that you can reasonably offer them (which we’ll talk about more next)

2. How do you recruit remote workers?

You’ve found a freelancer or contractor you like, but how do you approach them about working with you?

It's really like any other hire. You sit down. You talk through what you as an employer need, what they as an employee need. You set expectations. And if everyone's happy, you move forward.

It all comes down to being transparent on both sides. You need to see if they can thrive working remotely, and they need to see if you have enough sustainable work for them.

The bane of any freelancer is not having any work, so make it clear that you have enough for them, and deliver on what you say you will.

That means you’ll need to be clear on:

      • What times of the year your business is most and least busy
      • What work you’re considering to offer the applicant in the future if they do well
      • Changes in workflow and projects your company is going through

You’ll also both want to acknowledge that there will be a ramp up period when you onboard them. Map out how much work you initially plan to give them the first few weeks, and be prepared to adjust from there as you learn:

1. How much time it typically takes for them to complete a task

2. What other work you may need to pass along to them

3. What the feedback loop between the two of you is like

The more transparent you are about these things, the more likely freelancers and contractors will want to work with you. Establishing clear communication and expectations from the start signals your ability to successfully manage remote workers (which we’ll jump into next).

3. What skills do you need to manage your remote workers?

Remote success falls on the manager, which is why you want to give enough detail on tasks so your remote workers can succeed. But you also don’t want to spend an excessive amount of time assigning projects (when you could be doing other things).

The reality is project management is your new job when you choose to work with remote folk.

So, to reach that balance, you need to A) give concise directions, and B) anticipate the things the remote worker may need, to reduce their need to ask questions you could have already answered for them. 17% of remote workers have problems collaborating and communicating with their team when their managers can't do these basic things.

PC: Lighthouse

But how do you do that when you’re still learning what your new freelancer or employee needs from you to achieve your goals?

The key is understanding your own work schedule first, by figuring out where you have time to manage your remote workers alongside your deadlines.

Time block your calendar to see what needs to be done for that month. Be sure to also leave spaces in your calendar, so there’s breathing room to address any additional tasks or issues that may naturally pop up.

For instance, you don’t want your deadlines stacked directly on top of eachother, in case there’s a last minute need from a client.

Setting aside time to map out your work schedule each week is just as important as your other tasks, if you want your remote worker to succeed. Otherwise they will not be able to effectively tackle work. So help them identify:

      • What other major events are going on that could affect handoffs
      • Who’s doing which part of a task
      • What has to be finished and when
      • Which tasks need priority over others
      • How much breathing room you’ll need for potential last-minute tasks

Successfully managing remote workers all comes down to your own ability to plan ahead and leave room for the unexpected—because their workflow is ultimately affected by yours.

You also need to know your work schedule, so you can accommodate remote workers.

You have to train yourself to recognize when things can be handed off to your remote team. That’s why time blocking your schedule can also help you learn which tasks can be assigned to remote workers so you have room for other important projects.

It’s easy to get so in the weeds of your day that you never learn what else could be accomplished if you handed off work to someone else. You may also be a highly productive person who likes being able to do everything yourself (so it feels weird giving work away). 

But remember that the entire point of remote workers is giving you time to address other projects, and you can only know which projects those will be if you know your schedule.

4. How do you keep remote workers on task, while still giving them freedom?

Micro management is a lose-lose situation. It's draining for you, and demoralizing for your employee. What can you do to avoid micro-managing, but ensure everything still gets done properly?

Hint: It all starts with hiring and setting clear expectations from the start.

PC: CakeHR

You are your freelancer’s or contractor’s client. So, in the same way that you depend on clients to support your business, your remote worker depends on the work you give them to support their flexible lifestyle—and neither of you wants to jeopardize those things.

Trust breeds trust. If you value your workers, they will return that to you. Because at the end of the day, they have their own needs and desires they have to support (like having more time with their families or not wanting to go into an office).

The more rules you give, the less flexibility the remote employee has—and that’s not why either of you wanted to work together in the first place.

So, instead of focusing on regulating your remote employee, just be direct about your expectations and goals. Remember, to be clear is to be kind—because when your remote worker knows exactly what you need, the less confusion and frustration there’ll be on both sides.

You create the framework for them to do the work and keep you updated along the way. Then let 'em at it!

Digital collaboration tools, like Trello, can make it easy to assign work in a clear and concise way your remote workers can keep track of. Trello allows you to make individual “cards” for each task you assign, and then all the directions and communication regarding that particular task go into the card.

That means everything related to that task is in one place, and you know exactly where to find your freelancer’s questions or updates related to it.

5. How do you reward and encourage your remote workers?

You want your remote workers to feel like they’re a part of your business, even when they’re miles away from your main office. But how do you keep them in the loop on everything positive going on at your company and the clients you work with?

The key is to celebrate small victories across your entire staff. Communication platforms, like Slack, can be great places to share reviews, new business, and good feedback from happy clients with your entire company. You can even create channels specifically dedicated to “Small Victories” or “News” to categorize your positive messages.

You’ll also want to give direct feedback to your remote employee as much as possible, so they know what they’re doing well on an individual level. That means giving them positive reinforcement when you acknowledge things like:

      • They solved a problem with a client on their own
      • They got something in early to you
      • They drew in a valuable lead

Remember that a remote worker is no different from any of your in-office workers. So, they’ll also appreciate typical things like birthday shoutouts and Christmas presents, in addition to regular feedback on how they’re doing. The goal is to treat them like you would any other worker.

You’ll also want to create opportunities to meet with them in person, outside of just work. You can do this by offering to buy them a drink or grabbing lunch when you’re in their area, or organizing company events where they can hang out with your other staff, like Christmas parties or quarterly outings.

Your Remote Employees Will Have Struggles Like Any Other Worker

If your remote worker ever gets stuck on a task, or you need something from them that they’re struggling to finish, your knee jerk response may be to give up and take over the project for them.

And while there are situations where you may need to do that on a deadline, you’ll still want to try and push forward with that remote worker together—just like you would with any employee in your office.

Identify the problem they’re having, offer a solution, pause to see if it works, then if it doesn’t take a stab at something else. Never give up on communicating with them to fix the problem.

There’s also a balance between spending time fixing something and moving on to the next task. So, if your remote employee is stuck on something that you don’t need immediately, ask them to tackle the next thing and come back later with a fresh perspective.