Are Your Remote Workers Actually Working?

Tools such as email and instant messaging allow employees to bridge physical distances and work from remote locations, but managing virtual teams can present hurdles for employers.

One of the most common challenges is ensuring that remote employees do not take advantage of the lack of daily oversight, according to Yael Zofi, CEO of AIM-Strategies, a human capital consulting firm. 

Managers often complain that it can be hard to tell exactly when or how hard remote employees are working. Signs that employees are abusing the situation may include a time lag in response to emails and phone calls or deadlines constantly being pushed back, Zofi told Bloomberg Law on April 20. 

Build Trust, Set Expectations

The key to successfully managing remote teams is to build trust and accountability, and do so quickly, as virtual teams may work on short-term assignments and move on to new projects, Zofi said. She offers the following tips to help foster a sense of trust and ensure that remote employees are meeting their objectives:

  • Be accountable. Leaders model the behavior they want to see in others, so managers should hold themselves accountable for their own deliverables. Once others see that you are committed to your own accountability, they will trust you.
  • Get comfortable with moderate vulnerability. To get trust, one must first give trust, so assume positive intent of your virtual staff and give them the benefit of the doubt
  • Establish short-term goals. Keep the timeline for deliverables as brief as possible in the early phases of the project in order to make it easier to identify problems. In fact, some employers find that short timelines work best throughout the entire life cycle of the project.
  • Bring issues to light as early as possible. Conflicts are inevitable, and when even simple miscommunications don’t get acknowledged and fixed, trust gets eroded. Managers must actively engage team members early, and follow up to ensure appropriate resolution.
  • Develop availability standards. Managers should establish standards for how often employees should check their voice mail, email, and other inter-office communications, and how quickly they should respond to each mode. Establishing these standards will go a long way toward helping to build team trust.
  • When in doubt, use the phone. Managers who receive a puzzling or troubling email from an employee usually are better off responding to the individual by phone. "If you feel irritated, take a deep breath and then dial the number. A short call can save hours of wasted time writing emails about issues that would be better conveyed in a telephone conversation," Zofi said.
  • Be clear about expectations. Establish for the team a clear performance plan, including escalation measures, and follow through when someone becomes unresponsive or unproductive.

Members of the human resources department should work hand-in-hand with managers to help ensure that remote teams have the appropriate tools and support they need to be effective. This includes devising processes and procedures that uniquely address the challenges that arise when workers are no longer in close proximity to each other.

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