How to Manage Remote Employees

Jobmax-blog-manage-remote-employeesIf it seems like more and more people are working from home lately, it’s because they are. The latest Global Workforce Analytics survey found an 80% increase in telecommuting since 2005. Researchers believe this is due to not only the wave of new technology making it possible, but also the benefits of telecommuting, including greater productivity, efficiency, and employee morale — three things any business owner would like to see more of.

Opening up your business to a remote workforce also allows you to recruit talent unavailable in your local area. And eliminating the need for large office space can significantly reduce your operating expenses. Clearly these are all compelling business justifications for going virtual, but the critical question is: Can you lead effectively from afar?

The answer is yes, as long as you have the right team, use the right tools, and implement the right systems.

Know the status of each project in real time

One of the biggest challenges of the transition to a remote workforce is figuring out how to make sure everyone’s doing their job. Without a good system in place to track tasks and projects, your workers will be floating out in the ether, and you might get blindsided by missed deadlines or confusion over who is responsible for certain projects.

Fortunately, cloud-based software options are available for managing and organizing projects — a wide variety of general purpose project management options, including Basecamp, Trello, and Wrike, as well as options geared toward more technical projects, like JIRA or Pivotal Tracker. These systems allow you to create tasks, recurring projects, shared calendars, and more for your remote employees. Not only do they enable you to keep track of your workforce’s productivity, but they keep your employees and contractors on track with reminders of upcoming tasks, projects, and deadlines.

Make time for face time

Some have said that 93% of communication is non-verbal, of which 55% is body language and 45% tone of voice. Therefore, if you’re communicating with an employee over the phone, you’re missing almost 55% of their message. When you’re communicating with an employee via email or text message, you’re missing 93%.

While the prevalence of email has forced people to improve their writing skills, no substitute exists for face-to-face interaction. Tools like Skype and Google Hangouts make it easy to get that interaction with individuals on a daily basis, and make it free or inexpensive to hold a virtual conference with your entire team.

Focus on goals more than trust

Lack of trust can poison any workplace, and employees who feel mistrusted will likely withdraw and become disengaged. While time-tracking tools are important, excessive focus on how telecommuting employees spend their time each day can signal mistrust. When communicating with employees, it’s best to focus instead on goals.

By outlining your expectations early on and adopting a management by objectives (MBO) approach, you can shift focus from how employees spend their time to results: Did they accomplish their goal? Goals should act as motivation for employees, and if they meet targets, you should offer recognition or performance-related bonuses.

Don’t skimp on company culture

Your company culture shouldn’t cease to exist just because your employees are working from couches instead of cubicles. However, the lack of face time and person-to-person communication can make it difficult for your remote workforce to feel like a team.

Even with weekly conference calls or video chats, it’s easy for members of your remote team to feel like they’re labouring alone on an island. Get creative and help them break out of the solitude with some fun team-building events that generate competition without requiring everyone to be in the same room. Think multi-player video games, informal hangouts, or a “name that desk” photo game.

Today’s workers want to telecommute, and you don’t need to be afraid to let them. With trust, communication, good tracking, growing camaraderie, and innovative organizational models, your remote workforce will rival any office-based team.

The Characteristics of a Good Leadership Team

team leadershipThe ultimate measure of a senior leadership team’s success is the organization’s results. And yet some companies, due to favourable market conditions, do quite well in spite of their dysfunctional leadership teams. Imagine what could happen if the team at the top could get its act together. Is your leadership team effective? Evaluate them on these nine attributes.

  1. A meaningful purpose: They have a clear and compelling reason to work together. Executive team members are each responsible for a specific company function. One could argue the CEO should be the glue that coordinates the activities, but everyone’s primary concern should be their area of responsibility. In high-performance teams, a commitment to the team’s purpose should be at least as important as the commitment to the purpose for the area each member leads.
  2. Shared goals: The team needs to focus on a set of outcomes that all members are committed to achieving and that require contribution by everyone. If it’s truly a team goal, everyone will feel equally responsible for its achievement. These are not necessarily the same as the company’s goals.
  3. The right mix: Team members have complementary skills, experiences, and styles necessary for fulfilling the necessary roles and responsibilities. People know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and aversions. They use this knowledge to create synergy. Members see the value of each person’s presence on the team. There’s a sense of equality among all the players.
  4. Strong interpersonal relationships: People can be themselves because they genuinely like each other and will do what they can to look out for and support their team-mates. Members trust each other and are trustworthy. The cohesiveness of the team is obvious to people outside the group.
  5. Helpful operating principles: These agreed upon ways of working together might include a shared set of values, processes for making decisions, ways of communicating within the team and to other employees, and tracking activities.
  6. Problem solving: The team recognizes when a problem exists, analyzes it, identifies alternatives, and works through conflicts. Once the decision is made, everyone commits to supporting it. Often this is best demonstrated by someone’s willingness to raise a thorny issue in the first place and in the members’ willingness to fully engage in finding a resolution to the problem.
  7. High levels of candour: People say what needs saying in a direct and respectful manner. Members are receptive to hearing tough messages without becoming defensive. Heated discussions are viewed not as a problem but rather as a positive activity as long as the discussion stays focused on issues or behaviours rather than on personalities.
  8. Mutual accountability: Members hold themselves and others to the commitments they have made. While the CEO often has the primary responsibility for holding employees accountable for keeping their promises, each person shares in this activity.
  9. Measuring the important: Effective teams track those things that are most important to their success— progress on key initiatives, performance results, or even behaviours expected of each other and take action when things are not meeting expectations. Carve out time at your next executive off-site meeting to discuss the effectiveness of the team and determine how to strengthen its performance.

How To Increase The Productivity of Temporary Workers

You have determined that a specific project or work in one of your departments could benefit by hiring a temporary rather than permanent  employee. Follow this advice to increase efficiency and productivity.

Determine needs

First meet with managers and others who will be working directly with the temporary worker (temp) to determined required skills, duties, and responsibilities. Knowing these will help the agency you select to find the best person for you.

Work with an agency

When possible, contact agencies that specialize in your type of business to get the right person for the position.

Work with the agency to determine salary ranges. Because temps will be facing new environments and unusual challenges, experience is always desirable. This usually comes at a price, but is almost always worth it.

Orient the employee

Before the temp arrives, prepare an orientation guide to help get them up and running. include all the little things your regular employees have become used to, such such as working hours, check-in and check-out procedures, break and lunch  schedules, safety regulations, names of managers and co-workers, and the names and contact information for direct supervisors, Take advantage of orientation brochures provided by the agency that assigned the temp: These often offer insightful suggestions for bringing temps up to speed quickly.

Do not leave the new worker alone the first morning, lest they become disoriented in their new environment. Assign a co-worker, preferably a long-time employee “mentor”, to give the temp someone to ask questions of and look to for input.

If your temp is required to operate equipment or to undertake specialized duties, make sure that a regular employee will be available right away to train or help them. Remember to plan and co-ordinate the schedules of all employees improved.

Set up lines of communication so the temp can get answers to questions quickly. Just because a temp doesn’t ask questions, don’t  assume they are completely on top of the job. Have managers or supervisors contact temps frequently to monitor progress and to make sure the temp is not being overwhelmed. Temps often feel that much more is expected of them because of the short term of their employment to demand that a temp become completely competent in a week when a full-time employee takes several months.

Look at permanent possibilities

If permanent employment may be available to a temp, inform the agency at the start of your relationship. Some temps will be eager for the opportunity, while others will know that they can’t take advantage of such an offer. Talk with the temp when they arrive and set up parameters so they know exactly what they need to accomplish to be considered.

Bringing temps on board can be a great solution to your business for short-term projects, seasonal up-ticks in business, or a variety  of other reasons. You never know: that temporary employee might turn into your next superstar!

Tips for Conducting Employee Evaluations

Employee evaluations are among the most difficult staff management aspects of any supervisor’s job. Even if you’re a seasoned professional accustomed to conducting regular performance reviews, judging your employees’ performance and communicating your findings to them can be stressful – especially with anxious employees. And if you’re new to the job or the company, being the “newbie” who delivers feedback can pose an extra challenge.

It’s important to recognize employee evaluations for what they are: opportunities to have a dialog about progress and performance in a one-on-one setting. They’re valuable tools that allow supervisors to acknowledge improvements in an employee’s performance, as well as his individual contributions to a company’s success. When necessary, it’s also the time to discuss areas where an employee could improve and offer suggestions to do so. An employee gains insights into his supervisor’s perception of his performance and receives acknowledgement for his achievements. This is his chance to discuss strengths and weaknesses, and to see how his progress fits into his overall professional goals.

The Evaluation Procedure

Though frequency and methods vary from company to company, evaluation procedures generally consist of three steps:

  1. gathering and recording performance data
  2. evaluating that data
  3. communicating findings to the employee

As a supervisor, you possess the key to making evaluations a success: superior communication skills. It’s your responsibility to lead the conversation and ensure its tone is optimistic, objective and open in order to foster a cooperative atmosphere that allows both parties’ points to be expressed effectively.

Evaluation Tips

Some companies provide supervisors with strict guidelines on performance evaluation; others allow managers to implement those techniques they deem most fit.

Whatever the situation, you can streamline your procedure and make it more effective.

  • Decide on an evaluation system. Depending on your field, employees’ performance measurements may vary from sales numbers and production output to customer satisfaction ratings and client retention. Determine the most telling aspects of performance assessment for the situation and decide how, and how often, to gather data. For example, if you’re a sales manager, you can keep daily records of each employee’s sales and review them each quarter.
  • Let your employee know she’s being evaluated. Always inform the employee that she’s being evaluated. Explain to her what aspects of his performance are under review; how you will gather data; and how often you will evaluate.
  • Keep records diligently. Most companies have tracking systems to record certain aspects of performance such as sales or project completion. However, you can also note numerous small and large things on a daily basis. Did a certain employee provide a solution to a problem that had the rest of the team stumped? Did he go out of his way to finish a monthly report on time? Did she work effectively with another colleague to develop a more streamlined workflow? Keep a weekly or monthly file on each employee with notes on both positive and negative observations.
  • Ensure the evaluation is an accurate reflection of the entire term. When you track an employee’s performance and review your files on a regular basis, you’ll be in a better position to present a comprehensive review with accurate feedback during actual evaluation meetings. Don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on the last week or month before the meeting.
  • Don’t let personality get in the way. Whether you get along with the employee or not, you should never let personality differences get in the way of an objective assessment. You should review only behaviors, actions and performance. Whether you appreciate the employee’s sense of humor or shyness is irrelevant. Maintain a professional attitude and present your findings in an objective manner from the company’s point of view. If you observe yourself or the employee becoming frustrated, upset or angry, reiterate the objectives of the review, suggest a short break and resume the meeting when both parties are calmer.
  • Keep the tone constructive. Negative feedback is never easy to deliver or receive, so deliver yours in the most positive manner possible. Refrain from comparing the employee’s performance to that of a colleague; instead, use company goals as a benchmark.
  • Leave room for dialog. A performance review isn’t a one-way street. Allow the employee to his voice concerns and observations, as well as his short- and long-term objectives. In addition, ensure there’s room for the employee to add to your review if necessary. For example, if you’ve omitted to note actions or achievements the employee valued highly, make sure he has room to communicate them. When both parties understand what achievements the other values and what the respective goals are, it becomes easier to determine an effective workflow.

A smart supervisor knows how to get the best out of her people at all times. With a strategic approach to employee evaluations, you create a win-win for your company’s objectives and your employees’ careers.

Cooperative Communication

Cooperative communication, in the world of business, is generally defined as the skill and ability of employees to “get along” at the workplace; the techniques of sharing information in a non-threatening and polite manner are the basis of cooperative communication, and when properly implemented, cooperative communication enhances the workplace experience and typically inspires better performance.

It is natural that, during the complexity and repetitive nature of typical workdays, person-to-person conflicts will arise. The pressure to perform, both individually and as team members, can generate high-level negativity and conflict in many employees. Cooperative communication often acts as an effective “pressure release valve”.

Studies have shown that when cooperative communication is lacking, feelings of hostility, operational problems, and poor individual performance are among the unhappy results. This begs the question: Why isn’t cooperative communication practiced by all companies to avoid the problems created by its lack of implementation?

Unfortunately, there is a general lack of cooperative communication for a simple, but often undiscovered reason: Most people have never been taught the skill. Few schools and higher education institutions have cooperative communication on their course menu. Unless employees learned the skill at home from their parents, most have little appreciation for or the ability to use this important commodity. Unfortunately, this skill is often lacking in otherwise high performing managers, too.

The simple act of cooperative communication can have a profound effect on management effectiveness in a variety of ways. For example, good cooperative communication will often:

  • Eliminate employee-to-employee friction. As workplace pressures escalate, so does the natural human conflicts that occur. Cooperative communication usually eliminates much of this vocal friction and helps teams work together more successfully.
  • Eliminate the attitude of “winning an argument” and introduce a philosophy of problem solving. Instead of a personal competition environment, staff normally adopts a winning attitude towards the team or department in which they function.
  • Eliminate professional personality and procedure conflicts. Instead of an attitude of “Do it my way. It’s the best way,” cooperative communication fosters an attitude of “Let’s work together to do it the best way”. This one attribute can help management immensely.
  • Eliminate conflict and wasted time at strategic and training meetings. Both staff and management often complain about the number of meetings they are required to attend. Yet, for all the jokes and complaints, management knows that most meetings are necessary. Cooperative communication in the meeting place saves time, helps the moderator stay on topic, and generates better results.
  • Eliminate many client and customer complaints about poor treatment by staff. Nothing can do more harm to a company’s branding and image efforts than a customer or client base that feels mistreated by staff. A habit of cooperative communication often eliminates much of the customer dissatisfaction (real or perceived) that afflicts many companies.

Cooperative communication is a simple concept that can deliver wonderful positive results to management. Managers should understand that because of lack of training at all levels of education many employees don’t understand how to use cooperative communication.

Depending on the size and/or structure of a company, the Human Resource (HR) Department, team leaders, or department managers can implement the training and support necessary to expose employees to the ways to use cooperative communication. This is a win-win situation for both staff and management, as employees will enjoy a more positive workplace experience by eliminating much of the natural conflict that occurs.