February 1, 2012*

Spotlight

Four Steps to Effectively Manage Off-Site Workers

As more organizations turn to vendor companies and contractors to streamline costs and productivity, holding face–to–face meetings or walking down the hall to check in with team members is not always an option.

Yet the need for guidance and management is no less—in fact, it is arguably even more important, especially with remote workers. Taking these steps will help ensure your distributed workforce stays motivated and productive.


1. Be inclusive.

Often contractors are brought in at the last minute or are handed specialized parts of a project without being integrated into the larger team. This can lead to confusion about project expectations and company policies, and feelings of isolation. To remedy this:

  • Clearly articulate big picture objectives so remote employees understand the importance of their work to the overall success of a project.
  • Educate your internal team on the names and roles of remote workers so that meetings and interactions feel cohesive and comfortable.
  • Include contractors in meetings via conference calls even if the discussion is not directly focused on their specific piece of the puzzle. This keeps them in the loop about overarching objectives and any changes in scope.

When workers feel supported and understand how their contribution feeds the success of a project, they will go the extra mile for you.
 

2. Establish open lines of communication.

Clear and frequent communication with your remote team establishes your authority while making you a respected and accessible resource. It also:

  • Gives workers a trusted, single point of contact for important information.
  • Helps them adapt more quickly to company policies and processes.
  • Ensures your remote team understands your expectations throughout the course of the project.
  • Makes it easy for you to informally check in on progress.
  • Ensures you clearly understand their needs and can be an important advocate for them with your internal team.

Set up a weekly group conference call, and then check in with individual workers several times throughout the week. If workers feel confident in your commitment to their success they will be more invested in their work.
 

3. Establish clear milestones.

Remote employees need to be able to work independently—and if they are good they will have established a solid work ethic before engaging with your company. That said, you can help them stay self–motivated and hit project milestones by clearly outlining goals and delivery dates, and establishing weekly check–ins where team members report on progress or submit work–to–date. This keeps things moving and promotes individual accountability.

You may also want them to submit written reports on their progress, but keep it to a minimum. Micro–management is counterproductive. You are paying them to do the work, not tell you about the work they are doing.
 

4. Address conflicts immediately.

Without daily interaction it can be easy to ignore issues or put off addressing them until a later time. But an out of sight out of mind attitude can be devastating to morale and the success of your project.
 
To set the stage for fewer conflicts and easy resolution:

  • Encourage remote workers to come to you with any challenges. Likely you can solve their issue immediately, but by being an accessible sounding board you’ll learn of potential problems early on and can resolve them before they have a significant impact.
  • Discourage group e-mail discussions about problems. Direct, constructive conversations between individuals affected by an issue will bring about a better, faster solution.
  • Know the right forum to address the problem. Sometimes a simple, direct e–mail or phone call can bring an easy resolution. If it’s an issue that affects the entire team, wait to address it in your weekly call.
  • If it’s a performance problem with a specific contractor, speak to them directly either by inviting the employee to an in–office meeting or setting up a phone call.


5. Invest in the right tools for connecting.

You can ease communication and collaboration with—and among—off-site workers by using cost-effective on-premise and cloud solutions based on the following Microsoft technologies.

To search Pinpoint for relevant applications and services, see the Related Links in this article.

The important thing is to help distributed workers know they are an integral part of your team. In helping remote workers feel less remote, you will have more insight into their day–to–day progress while building both trust and accountability. You may also establish some important professional relationships that can serve you in years to come.

*This article was originally published February 19, 2009.