How to Manage Remote Workers

Managing remote workers for the first time? Here are tips and tools for communicating with employees and contractors working from their homes.

The current need for employees to work from home to contain the Coronavirus means that business “as usual” is far from usual right now, and it may be a long time until things return to anything that resembles “normal.” 

Now, instead of businesses requiring workers to be physically present, many businesses are either asking employees who can work from home to do so, or they are being forced by state or local authorities to have all workers do their jobs remotely.

Some businesses, of course, had started allowing some of its employees to work remotely part-time long before the virus ever appeared. Others have been hiring remote workers and using freelancers as a cost-cutting measure. At-home workers, after all, don’t require desks, phones, and floor space in commercial space. Working with freelancers, when possible, also offers small businesses some additional benefits and cost savings.

But if your business doesn’t already have a remote work plan set up, managing remote workers may seem daunting. Fortunately, there are a number of tools and strategies that make it relatively easy for small businesses to manage remote workers.  Here are some practical tools and tactics to use to manage your employees remotely.

How to Manage Projects Remotely Through E-mail

E-mail is fairly ubiquitous. It’s been around long enough that everyone understands it—even the most fearful technophobe. And it’s easy to use. The advantages are legion.

For starters, e-mail allows you and your remote workers a way to focus on your workload without distractions. You can schedule your e-mail time apart from your work time and still manage to get everything accomplished that needs to be accomplished. That’s true of managers and employees, as well as freelancers who may work with you on a per-project basis.

Here are a few suggestions on how to get the best from your employees and freelancers if you find yourself managing them through e-mail:

  • Let remote workers know the times throughout the day that you check your e-mail. That way, they know to send important messages prior to those times or synchronize them to arrive when action is required.
  • Keep your e-mail messages short. If you have a lot of business to discuss, don’t put it all in one e-mail. Instead, send a list of things you need to discuss and highlight the ones that can be handled by e-mail. Request a short phone call for the rest.
  • Make contact daily. It doesn’t need to be much. One way to do this is to simply request—either first thing in the morning or at the end of the day—an update on the project.
  • Alternatively, if you think it will help, send your employee or freelancer a list of resources that can help them with what they are working on.
  • Don’t be the manager who annoyingly sends multiple e-mails in one day with no real substance. E-mail if you have to. Otherwise, let your remote workers alone to do their work.
  • If you haven’t heard from your remote worker in a reasonable period of time—say, two or three days—send a quick “checking in” e-mail and ask for an update.

The important thing is to keep it low-key. Handle important business by phone and keep the e-mail space reserved for project-oriented details.

SEE ALSO: Flexible Work Advantages

How to Manage Projects Remotely Through Social Media

Try your best to use e-mail when communicating with remote workers. If you need to utilize social media for business, do it in such a way that you don’t annoy or embarrass your workers. Also, keep in mind the restrictions of the media. Twitter, even when direct messaging, will only allow you 140 characters.

The best way to manage remote workers through social media—especially if you are managing more than one—is to set up a group for project communication. You can still private message individual workers if you need to. Facebook and Google both allow you to start private groups for discussing projects related to your business. Unless the business you are discussing would be interesting to your customers, or the public, try to keep business-related messages off the public airways. Some exceptions to this rule might be:

  • If you are seeking public input on the project
  • You are doing so for entertainment or branding purposes
  • The matter affects a certain demographic and you want to draw that demographic into the conversation

Freelancers and employees might help you promote your projects if you use social media to send them kudos and give them credit where due. Keep this golden rule in mind: Criticize in private, praise in public.

Other Tools for Managing Workers and Projects Remotely

Project management tools like Trello and MeisterTask let you manage the various aspects of projects remotely and move tasks through your workflow and to different team members easily. Of course, there is a bit of a learning curve in managing your projects this way and it may take a bit of effort to get buy-in from everyone on your team. However, using such a tool makes it much easier to keep up with all the moving parts of complicated, multistep projects and is well worth the effort of learning to use it.

Microsoft Teams is another way for your team members to collaborate, chat, share files and more, The app ranges in price from free to $12.50 per month per user depending on which features you need.

For times when you need face-to-face communication, there are many great video conferencing options available. Zoom is easy to set up and easy to use and allows up to 100 people to participate. Many of your employees may already be familiar with Skype and probably have it installed on their Windows computers. It’s free for up to 10 participants. Another good option is Appear.in, which is also free for up to 10 participants.

If you need a quick way to communicate with workers but don’t necessarily need full-on video conferencing, walkie talkie apps like Voxer let you send and receive voice messages, and it’s free unless you need the more advanced features like group messaging. And of course, there’s always Facebook Messenger or plain old text messaging. 

Why Virtual Employee Relationships Are Beneficial

As long as the job gets done, does it matter who does it or how they get it done? Many companies are realizing that the pool of their potential candidates can be broadened by looking beyond geographical boundaries. This can often save money by reducing office space, overhead, pay and benefits, and expenditures related to office furniture and supplies since homebound employees may provide their own.  Here are just a few of the ways businesses operate remotely:

  • Hiring managers now conduct interviews via Skype or videoconferencing
  • Meetings are often held by Web conference or Google Hangouts
  • Project details are hammered out in chat rooms or through e-mail
  • Documents are shared through Google Docs or other cloud-based delivery systems
  • Even accounting processes may be monitored online and
  • Finally, companies often pay their employees and freelancers through online payment systems like PayPal

But there are other benefits, as well. Studies show that workers who work remotely from home are happier, more productive, and less likely to quit their jobs.

SEE ALSO: Tips for Outsourcing to Freelancers

While the study above concerned itself with call center employees, there may be reasons to believe other types of workers (employees or freelancers) could perform better at home. Writers and proofreaders, for instance, may be less distracted than if they worked in a busy office. Nevertheless, if you allow your employees to telecommute, or you work with freelancers a lot, then you’ll have to find ways to manage their projects from a distance, and that means communicating often through digital interfaces.

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