Approximately 20-25 percent of the US workforce works from home at some frequency, according to research from Global Workplace Analytics. Whether they’re telecommuting to the office or self-employed, freelancers and full-timers alike are enjoying laboring from the tranquil settings of coffee shops and their quiet living rooms in homes across the country.
There’s a common misconception that working from home is only for new moms and recent grads. But Global Workplace Analytics reports that in reality, the typical telecommuter is a 49-year-old college grad earning nearly $60,000 per year while working for a company with more than 100 employees.
So what does this rise in work-from-home employees mean for organizations, companies, and managers alike? As a supervisor, how can you manage remote employees effectively?
We have the answers to your questions and more! After connecting with both telecommuters themselves and a variety of managers who have overseen freelancers and home-based staffers, we compiled a helpful list of tips for managing employees from afar.
One of the best parts of modern day management is all the tools and programs technology makes possible for telecommuters. Some are even free! There are a multitude of apps, cloud-based platforms and websites that can connect employees and make managing remote employees a cinch.
“Slack is the main way we stay connected throughout the day,” says Erin Engstrom, outreach manager at Recruiterbox. “We also use several project management apps, including Asana, Trello, and Mingle. These help us to keep tasks organized according to team and priority, and help ensure nothing falls through the cracks.”
If you Google tools for telecommuters or freelancers, you’ll instantly be met with lists of helpful tools and pertinent suggestions. If you try a platform and it doesn’t work well, don’t be afraid to try something new. While there may be a learning curve for you and your employees, it will be worth it in the end.
Communication is key when it comes to telecommuting, and miscommunication can easily happen if you’re not staying connected on a regular basis. Email daily if you must, and sometimes, it’s not a bad idea to pick up the phone or turn on Skype and have an in-person conversation.
“Check in with them on a regular basis,” says Jesse Harrison, founder and CEO of Zeus Lawsuit Loans. “You don't want to give an employee a job and leave them alone for a month. What if they are doing it all wrong?”
“Communicating regularly with remote employees is critical for their success,” says Eric Wall, CEO of Equivity. “We use email, texting and IM for faster and to-the-point communications. Phone calls and video conferencing are used for topics that require lengthy explanations or to avoid any miscommunications.” Wall explains that it’s also helpful to support and foster questions and suggestions from employees as well.
As with all relationships — personal or workplace — communication is paramount for a healthy partnership.
Where and to whom should telecommuters submit their work? Is there a certain platform through which you want to receive documents? Do you require updates throughout the week? Just as new employees have to learn new techniques and systems during their first few weeks at a new job in an unfamiliar office, so do freelance workers and work-from-home employees.
Make sure you’re clear about your expectations, and communicate the typical process for employees — even if it seems like it would be very straightforward or obvious to you. You may not be able to gauge the ease of a system, especially if you’ve been using it for a long time. You want to strike a balance between micromanaging and giving too much freedom, and it’s always okay to check in with employees and see how they’re feeling about daily or weekly procedures.
It’s also important to stick to an agreed scheduled. “Be respectful of work/life balance,” says Emily Sidley, senior director of publicity at Three Girls Media, Inc. “Part of the appeal of telecommuting is setting your own schedule, so we try really hard to be respectful of employees’ schedules when they’re off the clock.”
Deadlines are a must when it comes to managing freelancers. While some groan at the word, others may feel energized and more organized once given a set project due date. Deadlines clear up any sort of miscommunication or unspoken expectation floating between you and your employee. Instead of relying on a rough idea of how long a project will take a freelancer, be specific about what you need.
“Assign deadlines to the responsibilities that you dole out, even if they do not actually exist,” says Andrew Schrage, founder and CEO of Money Crashers. “You might be able to taper off this strategy once you've gained a sense of trust that the worker can get their work done in a timely fashion.”
If the work you assign is cyclical, and your employee knows that something is due at the end of every month, for example, there’s no need to repeat that reminder after they’ve worked with you for a year. Be intentional about discussing due dates, and you both should be just fine!
Everyone wants to be known in some way or another, and everyone wants to know how they’re doing with the projects you’re assigning them. As a manager, it’s important to make an effort to get to know your employees, and it’s important to celebrate their successes and speak up about the places they’ve gone wrong.
“Be sure to congratulate them on jobs well done, but don't hesitate to offer up constructive and respectful criticism when they fall short,” says Schrage. “Remote workers want and need to know where they stand.” He goes on to explain that it’s important to get to know your freelancers or telecommuters on a personal level as well, as it will only increase productivity and involvement in business operations.
“We have a private Facebook group called our ‘Water Cooler’ where we can post anything we want such as pictures of our new puppies, highlights from our weekend, articles we saw online that we found funny/thought-provoking — anything employees would normally share while chit-chatting around a water cooler,” Sidley says.
With these tips for managing remote employees up your sleeve, your business will be blossoming in no time. Not only that, but you’ll be making lots of great connections with employees who enjoy working for you and want to stay put.
Curious what else you can do to become a better manager? Check out our article: How to Become a Better Manager: 6 Tips to Help You Lead.
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