3 Tried-and-True Tips for Managing a Remote Workforce

December 6, 2016

4:30 pm

While there’s no need for many companies to be based in the same location any longer, good management skills are still important.

After ending a 10-year career in the trading pits in Chicago, I set out to start an online stock and options market education business. I didn’t have much experience in managing remote employees, but since launching my company, I have managed over 100 remote independent contractors and team members.

Learning to effectively manage these people wasn’t easy and I made some mistakes along the way. Despite these early troubles, I believe that when managed well, a workforce that is scattered around the globe is ideal over one that operates from a single location. First, a remote workforce gives you access to the best talent, no matter where they are in the world. Second, it allows your business to have a broader reach. My team members, for example, can take meetings all over the country.

It had always been a dream of mine to work from anywhere I wanted. In the past, travel to and from my office had been difficult and took a lot of time out my already packed days. Though I loved being on the trading floor, I always wanted to enjoy the freedoms of being unplugged. Now, four years later, I live and work from San Diego, California, and have employees and contractors in New York City, Chicago, Tokyo and Frankfurt.

Here are three things that I learned about how to manage a remote workforce that I wouldn’t be able to do without today.

1: Make Everyone Feel Like They Are Part of the Team

One of the problems with having a remote workforce is motivating employees to be passionate about their work. It can be difficult for someone who feels disconnected from the rest of the team to get excited about a project. That’s why it’s essential to stress a sense of community and foster a team atmosphere. Every one of my remote employees is on our daily staff call, and I always let them know what new projects we are working on, even if they are not necessarily part of them. This gets them more invested in other aspects of the business and helps them feel connected to larger business goals.

It can be easy to forget these niceties when most of your correspondence with people is online. If you want to run an effective remote team, you have to take interest in your employees just like you would if you were seeing them face-to-face every day. Go out of your way to ask how things are going, and treat them with the same friendliness that you would if they were sitting at the desk next to you.

2: Communicate Constantly

I can work from anywhere that has an internet connection, but that means staying connected with my team is even more important. It wasn’t easy at first to coordinate between five different time zones, but technology has made it easier. In addition to our daily staff call, we have weekly calls for different parts of the team to talk about projects they are working on. A task management system lets everyone see where tasks stand at all times. We use software like SalesforceIQ to stay up to date on possible partnerships and to help avoid overlapping efforts and wasted time.

Communicate with your remote team just like you would if you were all in the same room. If you can be obsessive about keeping in touch with everyone, then your team will run just like it would if you were all in the same place.

3: Create a Well-Documented Vetting Process

If I can’t look over a new hire’s shoulder on a daily basis, it is difficult to know their true abilities. I learned this the hard way — a mistake that proved to be expensive. I had contracted a developer to work on a few small projects. He lived and worked in a different part of the country, but I was still able to meet him in person before bringing him on board. As we progressed through the project, the scope of it began to get bigger and bigger. While this person claimed to have the skills to deliver, deadlines continued to pass by with no end in sight. If he was in my office, things never would have made it to that point and we would have realized much sooner that he wasn’t a good fit.

When hiring remotely, go beyond standard background checks and try to meet in person. Someone who looks great on paper, has good references and otherwise looks like an ideal employee might not have the right personality type to work effectively in a remote environment. Another thing that I have done is to hire people on a 30-day “tryout” period.

There is a lot of debate over the efficacy of having a decentralized workforce: individuals don’t feel engaged and the products they work on suffer as a result; communication is difficult; you can’t track what your employees are doing. All of these are valid concerns, and that’s why anyone considering running a remote team needs to have a plan for how to address these. The perks are worth it. They allow me, as a business owner, to build the best and most cost-efficient team possible, and manage it from anywhere in the world that has internet. With a little due diligence, you can enjoy the same freedom.

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