Managing remote employees successfully

Why do most companies cringe when an employee asks to work from home?

In spite of the benefits to the environment, productivity and reducing corporate costs, only one in five Americans work from home. (Forbes Article) That number does include self-employed folks, so while numbers are rising we still have a long way to go before companies actually cash in on this trend. I think you and I know why.

Your experience with employees working from home

If you have ever worked from home or tried to manage people working remotely you have experienced the challenges first hand:

  • Inability to reach an employee or boss when you need them
  • Unable to track productivity or get someone to give you assignments
  • Employees missing meetings or deadlines or both or bosses forgetting to include employees on key meetings
  • Without seeing the employee in a seat at an office, how do you know they are there at all? If you cannot walk into your bosses office to get his/her attention how can you get your assignments?

I would challenge you that this is due to poor management and not unproductive or irresponsible employees.

Loving that bottom in a seat?

It doesn’t matter if you see an employee in their seat. Visibility does not justify a salary. Seeing Bob at the water cooler does not mean Bob deserves the money you pay him. When you prepare to give Bob his evaluation, how do you quantify his performance?

If you are like most bosses, you are not making notes all year about what Bob does. You just have a “sixth sense” for what Bob did this year, don’t you? Wrong. I’ve managed people for over 20 years and early on that is exactly what I thought. I mean, I knew who was productive and who wasn’t – right?

The hardest part about managing people is actually managing them. We get so consumed with meetings, conference calls and discussing our plans we forget to actually help an employee reach the objectives we have assigned them. We toss work into the cubicle arena and expect it to be regurgitated in perfect form on time and within budget, but we are comfortable doing so because we see people working (or so we believe)? How unfair is that?

What does it mean to really, truly manage someone?

Your sixth sense can be very valuable, but do not rely on it when you are evaluating Bob’s performance.

Really managing someone involves a lot of work. Tons more work than most managers want to do (I know, I am guilty of not managing correctly myself.)

Let me give you three specific ways I have learned to better manage an employee:

  • Make notes on things Bob does well and Bob needs to work on – every week. Try to find Bob doing things well!
  • Meet with Bob once a week or once a month at the longest to talk about his plans and your expectations
  • Set clear and measurable objectives for Bob daily (yes, I said daily) and follow up

I know – that is asking a lot of a manager. That is why few people do it well. It is a lot of work!

How to translate these action items to work with remote employees

Take a look at these specific action items (above). Does Bob have to be in cubicle farm now for you to be confident he is working?

Absolutely not!

Now you have clear and measurable ways to ensure Bob is earning his salary and you are giving constructive feedback (thereby improving Bob’s performance and, frankly, his happiness).


Where do you start today? Start with a confession. Tell Bob you have failed him. It is true and you know it. You have not measured up to your own salary if you have not been doing these things with Bob.

Once you have confessed, explain to Bob you want to be a better boss and give him the list of things you are going to do:

  • You will make notes of all the great things Bob accomplishes
  • You will meet with Bob once a week (or if necessary once a month) to talk about his plans and how you can help him meet those goals
  • You will give Bob clear directions for daily responsibilities so he is not lost in a mire of trying to determine what in the world you want

Do you think Bob will appreciate this? Do you think Bob will be happier in his work? Do you think Bob will be more productive?

The big question is: Do you think you can trust Bob to work from home with these action items in place?

I think you and I both know the answer to that question, don’t we?


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