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Open Thread: Managing Remote Workers Effectively

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One of the key topics that we’ll be discussing at our Net:Work conference is how to manage workers remotely. As the workforce becomes much more mobile and distributed, with people working on projects on an ad-hoc basis, it’s a problem that more businesses will need to tackle, with many tricky issues to resolve. When managers are no longer dealing with their staff face-to-face on a daily basis, the nuances of in-person communication are lost. Then there’s the trust issue: how do managers they know that their staff are working? If people who haven’t worked together before are being brought together to work on projects in ad-hoc “work swarms,” how do managers get their teams to gel together? And how do companies ensure their employees’ needs are being met and that they’re happy? These issues can partly be resolved by the use of technology, but they’ll also likely require a shift in management style, and even a change in the way that some companies are organized.

I’ll be discussing this topic in depth at Net:Work with Gary Swart (CEO of oDesk) and Maynard Webb (chairman and CEO of LiveOps) in a panel called Managing Remote Workers: What We Still Need to Get Done; I’m really looking forward to hearing their expert insights. But as many of our readers either work remotely or manage remote teams, I wanted to get your opinions and ideas, too: How can we make the managing of remote workers more effective?

Join us at Net:Work in San Francisco on Dec. 9. Register here!

Photo by Flickr user mccun934, licensed under CC 2.0

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5 Responses to “Open Thread: Managing Remote Workers Effectively”

  1. This is one event I am eagerly waiting for. Most people believe that key to managing teams is all about communication technology + rule book for do’s and dont’s + modeling behavior. That was the case 5 years back. Today we want to make the 3 pieces work seamlessly to achieve the company’s goals. Reduce friction, transaction costs (dollars and otherwise), and improve/increase productivity.
    Disclosure – I am employed with Sococo’s Team Space is an online communications service with an intuitive user interface designed for distributed teams who need to communicate more effectively.

  2. I like to sum it all up with camaraderie, communication and consistency.

    Everyone needs to feel like the they’re part of the team pushing towards the same goal

    Each teammate need to be able to clearly communicate progress and issues to co-workers in both an active and passive manner.

    Tools and procedures need to be in place to keep things smooth and consistant so team mates can answer each others questions or find the information they need when they needed it.

    • “Everyone needs to feel like the they’re part of the team pushing towards the same goal” — agree wholeheartedly. But the problem is that getting to that state is tricky, even for co-located teams, let alone those with team members working remotely.

  3. As I laid out in a recent article about managing dispersed teams, one thing that’s especially important for managers of remote teams is to model the kind of transparency they hope to see from their workers. The remote work day is fundamentally different from the office work day – it’s typically longer, but also more fluid. You need your employees to be comfortable being honest about their current status if you hope to get timely updates on project status and roadblocks. With work-from-home and mobile workers, that status might well be “walking the dog”, “cleaning up after the toddler”, or “waiting in line for a latte”. The best way to cultivate a team that feels free to be forthcoming with status updates is to be transparent yourself – if they see you talking about “checking facebook”, they know they don’t have to forge a sanitized narrative of their own remote working day.

    • That’s a good point, Avdi, and I think it goes back to the trust issue, too. Management need to understand that remote work is not the same as working in an office, and that being at a desk 9-to-5 is not the same as productivity. Transparent, clear, honest communication goes a long way, but fostering a culture to support that is difficult.