With telecommuting and working remotely becoming a common scenario in the modern business world, more and more employees are finding themselves reporting to a manager who is not physically in the same office space as they are. In addition, companies with offices in different cities may also result in an employee in Boston reporting to a boss who is working out of Los Angeles. Such a set-up presents a host of significant challenges for people who want to be effective off-site managers.
Here are some points to remember when you’re managing employees from outside of the office:
- Get some face time. Don’t remain just a voice on the other end of the phone. Be sure to schedule regular face-to-face meetings with your employees in which you discuss the team’s progress and their goals for the coming period. It’s important for your employees to see your face every now and again, as even daily communication via phone, e-mail, and videoconference cannot replace a live meeting. If you work from home, come in for a regular weekly or monthly meeting; if you work from afar, be sure to schedule quarterly or biannual business trips to the office where your staff is housed.
- Keep the feedback door open. Frequently, without the oversight of management, an employee will continue working in a wrong direction on a project. He or she may feel like an orphan, while corporate office employees make the big decisions and fail to keep the “worker bees” in the loop. Such a disconnected structure can result in mistakes, wasted work time, and frustration on both ends. Head these potential issues off at the pass by developing an atmosphere in which employees feel comfortable initiating contact with their off-site supervisor in order to ask questions or proactively highlight potential problems they see down the road. It is also helpful to distribute a clearly outlined reporting structure to all employees.
- Stay timely. Be conscious of any time differences between far-flung offices and make sure your employees understand to factor time differences into their workdays. If, for example, you ask them for a report by the end of the day, specify whose end of day you mean — is it yours on the East Coast at 5 p.m.? If so, workers on the West Coast had better make sure they schedule their day correctly in order to hit that 2 p.m. deadline.
- Communicate creatively. Interact and communicate with your people in a variety of ways: newsletters, shared pictures, conferences, get-togethers, and celebrations. This will nourish a positive atmosphere of camaraderie, cooperation, and collaboration. Just because you don’t see your employees everyday, doesn’t mean you can’t still develop a strong professional bond with them.
Sometimes, when working unsupervised, employees can feel an increased sense of autonomy and empowerment, which can result in them being more motivated and productive. There’s no need to feel uneasy just because you’re not there to watch over your workers’ every move. The most effective managers tend to supervise their employees not by chaining them to their desks, but by getting them to accept fair work goals and then evaluating actual results against those goals. The only real test for productivity is to measure output. Are you satisfied with the quality and quantity of your team’s work? Was the work completed on time? If the answers are “yes” and your employees are happy, then you truly are an effective off-site manager.