4 Pointers for Managing Telecommuters

Jan 13, 2014 - Joe Matar

Telecommuting can present challenges if you’re not familiar with managing remote teams. You may have to adjust the way you communicate with your employees, and your overall management style, to accommodate teams separated by distance.

Telecommuting opens up the door to working with talent from all over the world. You may find yourself working with others from different countries, time zones and cultural backgrounds. You may even find yourself managing remotely while your team shares an office space somewhere else.

If you're a telecommuting manager, follow these tips on how you can be present in the workforce no matter how far the distance:

1. Find ways to communicate effectively

Since in-person communication is an impossible task to accomplish while telecommuting, change your approach to communicating with your team members. If it’s your first time in a telecommuting management role, it may take a bit of experimentation to find what works best for you and your employees.

If you constantly send email to communicate, you can lose the personal touch that comes with a phone call or face-to-face conversation. While email and instant messaging are great tools, they can be overused.

Set up a Skype account for yourself and each employee to be used during working hours. Instead of sending email, have your employees call you through Skype using voice or video conferencing. You may find it reduces the time it takes to communicate when you don't have to constantly type out emails for small requests or questions.

Hold a group video conference at least once a week to ensure everyone’s on the same page, on task and held accountable for their work. You'll find it's easier to get to know your employees when you can put a face to the name.

2. Establish ground rules

Before you even begin telecommuting, set ground rules both you and your employees must follow. These ground rules should include the work schedule for your employees, the work they'll be doing and how often you want them to report on their progress.

Be as detailed as possible when setting up ground rules so expectations are clear right from the beginning. (Click here to Tweet this thought.) It can be frustrating for employees if there’s no structure or the rules are constantly changing.

Don't be afraid to ask for feedback from your employees. If something isn't working, it's better to address it as soon as possible so the situation can be corrected. If your team isn't happy, you'll see a decrease in productivity and morale, and possibly an increase in turnover.

If your employees are also new to telecommuting, it may be helpful to give them pointers for staying productive and engaged.

3. Use technology to your advantage

To help keep everyone on task and accountable for their work, use project management software to track and monitor the progress of your projects. Software like Basecamp, AtTask and Wrike can help you manage projects when you're not there to monitor each employee's progress in person.

Use project management software to assign tasks, to keep a paper trail of conversations related to the work and as a central location to store documents and files your employees need to access.

Cloud-based project management software is a good choice for remote teams, as it allows team members to access content whenever they have an Internet connection. Ensure your team knows you'll be monitoring their progress so there are no surprises along the way.

If you're managing a team of freelance contractors remotely, you can use tools like oDesk and Elance to keep track of the hours billed and monitor productivity by tracking keystrokes and screenshots.

4. Reward your employees

Don't forget that as a manager, it's still your responsibility to motivate and reward your employees for a job well done, even when telecommuting. If your company doesn't already have one, it may be a good time to set up an employee recognition program.

Use the program as a way to motivate your employees to go above and beyond and to acknowledge their hard work. You should see an increase in productivity and efficiency when your employees have something to work toward, especially when working in a remote position.

Working from home can be a challenge for anyone. If you can find ways to communicate effectively, use the right combination of technology, and motivate and reward your employees, telecommuting in a management position can be a great opportunity.

Brian Flax is a freelance writer based out of the Washington, D.C. area. He has worked with a variety of clients, including Reputation.com. Brian holds a master's in education technology and a bachelor's in entertainment business.