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Virtually There: How to Manage Remote Workers

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People like their freedom. So no one will be shocked that more and more working professionals are seeking a taste of the remote lifestyle. In fact, according to our latest Talent Ignition Report, nearly half of all employees want to work at least part of the week from home (or at their significant other’s apartment, the café, or the beach). Which sounds fantastic. Except, of course, if you are stuck in an office, trying to manage a bunch of empty cubicles. Luckily for you, we’ve got some tips on how to bring your remote team closer to home—metaphorically of course!

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First, let’s get real

Like everything in life, there’s more than one side to this story. For every sweet-i’m-doing-laundry-on-a-call and omg-i’m-saving-so-much-on-gas-by-not-commuting and these-pjs-are-so-comfy, there is a was-that-attitude-in-his-slack?, an ugh-i-was-on-mute-this-whole-time, and a she’s-never-here! And as a manager, you’re expected to balance it all.

You’re probably coming up against these challenges:

  • Trusting each other Everything else likely ladders up to this. You want to know that you can count on your team and vice versa—and what everyone agrees indicates success, both for the team and all the individual players.
  • Different schedules When exactly does your team start and stop working and how many hours are they actually available?
  • So much planning Without face-to-face time, you can’t tap someone on the shoulder, have a conversation in the hall, or brainstorm while walking to get lunch—which leads to more calls and meetings on the books.
  • Misunderstandings Without face-to-face context, things can get lost in translation. Body language says a lot and without it, we might misinterpret what someone is really saying.
  • Responsibility as a hot potato Sometimes no one wants it. And it’s easier to pawn off when you don’t have to look people in the eye.
  • Less sticky team glue This one’s big. Keeping people motivated, interested, and feeling part of a community at work is always tricky, let alone when you aren’t in the same physical space.

Now, let’s look at real solutions

Remote workers aren’t going away any time soon. (Or maybe we should say they’re going away all the time, but you get our point). This trend is big. And you need concrete ways to handle it.

Get techy with it

Take advantage of tools that connect your team. Slack is perfect for quick convos, sharing files, and setting up projects by channel. The informality makes it accessible. Google Hangouts and Slack let you actually see your co-workers’ beautiful faces while debating project logistics and/or trading barbs. And collaborative project management solutions like Trello and Robohead keep you sane while you keep maestro-ing.

Kick it old school

Don’t overlook the old-fashioned way: talking to people with your voice. Listening to people. Set up check-ins with your team members so you hear firsthand what’s going on. And use the time to let them know how they’re doing. Don’t wait until a year-end or six-month review to give feedback. About 67% of creatives, marketing, development, and design folks say real-time feedback makes them more effective at their jobs. (At Vitamin T, we developed a whole feedback system, called Quality Check, that lets everyone know when the check-ins will happen, to make sure relationships and work stay on track.)

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Go with the (work)flow

Let your employees know how you expect to see things and when. Is it on the server? Dropbox? Should they send work to a dedicated address? Check in at the end of every day? Will you email a list of tasks? Do you have a daily standup with the whole team? Are there project leads? There are so many ways to run the ship, just make sure everyone knows how you expect them to stay afloat.

Cultivate that culture

Just because you’re not all in the office, doesn’t mean there’s no office culture. You need to nurture it, though. Hire people that fit. Create Slack channels like #watercooler, #eventsthisweek, or #random to keep people interacting. Set up regular, face-to-face meetups, anything from Fancy Coffee Fridays to an annual conference somewhere tropical (if you can afford it). In a nutshell, get to know each other as people, not just employees. The Young Entrepreneur Council came up with a bunch of great ideas for promoting remote culture.

Trust the process

As you can tell, probably the biggest keys to remote success are 1) being confident in your team (and that means everybody you manage), and 2) giving them the tools, communication, space, expectations, and whatever else you think they might need in order to get there. On the flip side, Gallup recently offered some thoughtful ways to get your team to trust you. And let’s face it, trust needs to work both ways!

If you’re someone who manages remote staff—or someone who works remotely—and have other suggestions, comment below! We’re all cyber ears.

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