Entrepreneurs

Managing Remote Employees: Miles Apart, Yet A Cohesive Group

By Marjorie Adams, president/CEO of Fourlane, the top financial technology consulting firm in the United States.

The pandemic has scattered teams that used to spend workdays in one office. Video calls, email, online chat and other e-communications now replace face-to-face meetings or deskside chats. This new work experience has created an equally new potential for problems with workflow and expectations, even as a growing number of companies claim they may never maintain offices the same way they did before Covid-19.

How can you make sure your teams are working as they should? How can their productivity be measured? How can employees feel confident that you know they are working and getting their job done? You can’t manage by walking around — and you can’t hold regular in-person meetings, at least not for the foreseeable future.

My company has worked remotely since we opened our doors more than 11 years ago. We’ve worked through just about every remote management issue that many other companies are just now beginning to deal with, and while that alone doesn’t make us unique, one tenet our staff understands is the commitment they must make to our business to ensure we keep our doors open.

The issue isn’t trusting remote employees to do their work. The issue is empowering staff with the tools, technology and management they need to validate their work and trust in themselves.

What We’ve Known

Whatever your own tried-and-true methods are that work, they are most likely tailored to your own needs but remain universal when it comes to managing remote employees. Here are our best practices.

Set weekly goals. Setting weekly goals helps employees know what they’ve accomplished, where they’ve exceeded and how they need to step up. Establish metrics they can live by and make sure those results are readily accessible. For example, our service team has its retainer usage report on their dashboard, while our client development reps have a set quantity of conversion scope packages to do weekly.

Make meetings short and informative. While video-meeting platforms have taken over as the way we do business, there are many ways to effectively conduct these meetings.

At my company, we have an all-company meeting on Mondays, where we typically allow up to 30 minutes but end in 15. All meetings are on camera, and we actually make it OK to have kids in the background — something many companies and workers say is awkward about tele-meetings while at home. In fact, I intentionally had some interruptions during one of our first all-company meetings so others could feel that such distractions would be OK.

Rely on managers to manage. In our company, we have partners who are responsible for their own teams — and the way they manage varies. Some do daily 10-minute virtual team huddles, while others meet every other day. One thing that makes these touch-base meetings work whenever they’re held is the consistency of each agenda. First, we review metrics and quarterly goals, and then we leave time for open questions from team members.

We also conduct skip-level meetings, or as I call them, “emerging leaders” meetings, where we discuss what’s working or not working, barriers to getting the job done and what staff spend time on unnecessarily. We try to use the gestalt method of sharing experiences instead of using “you should.”

Allocate your costs. New work arrangements mean new allocations and cash flow. Don’t expect to save money on rent and other costs that were prevalent before Covid-19. Instead, allocate that expense to costs for your work-at-home team: home-cleaning services, internet, hardware and paper-saving systems, for example.

Technology Toolbox

It goes without saying that the way your teams use technology to make their lives easier — and get more done in less time — is just as important as getting the job done.

Tech solutions are available for everything from order, project and task management to support tickets, internal communication, surveys, financials, contact tracking and more.

Our hardware includes laptops and headsets. We want high-speed processing, so our consulting team members get a new laptop about every two years, and we try to make that hardware the best. Our desk phones are older than some but fit our needs well.

If our staff asks for technology, we provide it — but we ask for feedback on why this new device works well for our company and how it has improved efficiency.

Some Management Challenges Are The Same

Remote management, of course, doesn’t always work perfectly. While we’ve always been remote, I like to think our new normal during the pandemic of running teams is a lot like in-person management.

At one point, we started having too many rules or policies that tried to explain every step in our process. We had to eliminate that and allow for more free thinking. In the past, we’ve been too reactionary: With a small problem, for example, we sometimes looked for a fix for the future instead of realizing the problem was a one-off situation. You can’t put a solution on every problem.

A company process is one thing, but I also expect employees to use common sense and flexibility. My biggest struggle as a company leader is that I tell people ideas that sometimes put them — not the company — first. For example, our compensation model for services allows our implementation consultants to set their own rates based on ability and confidence.

Remember that whether you continue working remotely or eventually return to the office, your people are your most important asset. Encourage family time. Value their accomplishments. Give them what they need to succeed.

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Forbes – Entrepreneurs

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