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How to Manage Telecommuters: Tips from Project Managers

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Managing a team of telecommuters is not always a simple matter for a project manager. When you’re working with a team that you may never see in person, you likely will have to change your management style in some way. These tips, from project managers used to working with telecommuters, can help:

  • Get the team to paraphrase assigned tasks: At TeamEXtension, Bienvenido David’s team is asked to paraphrase any assignments they receive. David says, “For complicated tasks, employees are asked to paraphrase tasks given. The manager reviews and sees if they are both in sync and if any extra input is required. This is more important for employees who are new to the job. Seasoned employees can read between the lines and have the experience required to understand any given task.”
  • Work on productivity: Siobhan Green’s company, Sonjara, recognizes that not all employees will be able to change their habits immediately to be productive. “Work with staff on understanding how they can maximize their productivity — in and out of an office. Some people just cannot work alone in their homes. They may have distractions such as children, spouses or a not appropriate enough space. Others need to have people around or work interactively with others to keep them passionate and working well. Perhaps working at the library or local coffee shop is what they need,” says Green.
  • Provide the IT expertise: Yehuda Cagen, the director of marketing for Xvand has been working with telecommuters for a long time and points out that their home computers may not be up to the job (especially if the computers in question don’t have the required level security). He says, “Another key point to consider is the quality of resources remote employees need to adequately perform their jobs. This includes a technological platform that allows remote employees to securely access data and collaborate with their counterparts at headquarters. I cannot stress the word “securely” enough.”
  • Know your team: Eric Goodenough works with web designers and developers from all over the world at Four Four Media, most of whom he’s never yet in person — yet he knows all about their lives. “Get to know your team. I take an interest in them, besides the projects we work on. I know about their lives, their families, what hobbies they have, etc. Last year one of my developers met up with us in Lake Tahoe and we hit the slopes together for a few days. This is the best way to build a reliable team and build trust between all members and myself,” says Goodenough.

The specific problems you’ll face in managing telecommuters may vary, but these tips may be able to help you head some problems off early.

What tips do you have for managing telecommuting team members? Share them below!

Photo courtesy Flickr user Tyler Ingram

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6 Responses to “How to Manage Telecommuters: Tips from Project Managers”

  1. Jason Stephenson

    As someone who project/process managed an off-shore team in India, from the US, for several years, I can confirm that the issues are similar, regardless of the location of your off-site workforce. The 3 words most important in ensuring the quality performance of the off-site team, are Communication, communication, communication. Regular and reliable communication builds a relationship, and helps to ensure that needs are both identified and acted upon. Technology is of course, more difficult to manage internationally, but the ability of an office-based IT department to access and manipulate off-site systems (with permission, of course)is incredible, and completely manageable.

    Regular communication also builds and maintains a corporate culture, helping to discourage rogue workers and the feeling of being completely disconnected form the corporate body. No matter the location of an off-site worker, they need to feel grounded, supported and encouraged, the same way that on-site staff do. So, pick up the phone, it makes a huge difference.

  2. Great points here. It’s all about knowing your team first. Not everyone can work from home effectively. Even coffee shops are distracting unless you’re used to them. Something that the remote employee misses out on is the company’s culture. Since they’re not around the office on a daily basis, they miss the little things that we all take for granted. Conference calls with remote employees should also be productive. Too many times, the calls are “status updates” where everyone reports out on their accomplishments and challenges. This could be achieved through email or one-on-one via phone.

    We bring our remote employees into the main office at least once a month, for a few days, so they have the opportunity to feel they are part of the overall team. Additionally, it’s a great way to increase morale and keep them informed. A casual dinner or lunch to reconnect also works well. Don’t make it all about work when they’re in the office. Instead, include them as part of the family!

  3. This is great advice, especially for employers who are considering telecommuting opportunities for employees. It only takes one bad experience managing telecommuters to ruin the perk for everyone, so the more managers prepare themselves and adjust their management techniques to fit a telecommuting team, the better the experience for everyone involved!

  4. Love #1 and #4. Miscommunication is your biggest demon for new remote employees so making sure they understand the tasks can alleviate a lot of headaches. And I’m always amazed by how many managers don’t get to know their remotes. You have to know your entire team, even the ones not on site.