Management Information

You're Hired, Now Go Home: Managing Workers at a Distance

Telecommuting or virtual work opens up a wider net of potential employees for businesses - the disabled, the stay-at-home parent, the student, the retired, the flextime person, etc. However, it also creates unique challenges in hiring, supporting and managing this new group of workers. Here are six tips on managing workers at a distance.

Select the right employees.
These will be people who can both structure and motivate themselves. If past performance doesn't indicate these important traits, use assessments that can help determine if thre is a fit betwen the person and the job.

Spell out expectations.
In extending a job offer, make sure you have communicated everything that you expect the employee to provide and specifically what the company will provide. What about supplies, hardware, software, cell phone, second phone line, fax machine, and so forth? Clarify all the details in the offer package.

Get them off to a good start.
Go beyond the job description. Be explicit about duties, goals and due dates. Within the first couple of weeks, if possible, find time to meet with the person - even if it's at a coffee shop for an hour.

Don't forget introductions.
Have a luncheon, dinner or teleconference to celebrate the teleworkers arrival. Get a digital camera and take the person's picture. Add a short bio and route it on email to the other employees. Create an employee Website (secure access recommended) and let employees update their personal information on their own with news and announcements.

Set up structures to support self-sufficiency.
Give teleworkers guidelines for setting up their home offices including recommended equipment and space allocation. Train them in your internal communications systems (email, voice-mail, intranet, extranet). They must know when and how to use these tools.

Keep in touch.
Tele-workers need to have a daily sense of connectedness to colleagues, the company, and the larger purpose. A quick email or instant message can be enough to say, "How are you doing?" or "I'm glad you're with us." Don't forget having them at weekly staff meetings either in person, or by audio or web conferencing.

Managing at a distance, it's really no different from managing in the office. Good managers set expectations, monitor progress, give feedback, and do all the other basic managerial tasks for employees no matter where they work.

A side benefit for managers of telecommuters is that they often find they have more time for their own work now that they are spending less time in direct supervision of office staff. This is a big advantage in today's lean, flat organizations.

Marcia Zidle, the 'people smarts' coach, works with business leaders to quickly solve their people management headaches so they can concentrate on their #1 job ­ to grow and increase profits. She offers free help through Leadership Briefing, a weekly e-newsletter with practical tips on leadership style, employee motivation, recruitment and retention and relationship management. Subscribe by going to and get the bonus report "61 Leadership Time Savers and Life Savers". Marcia is the author of the What Really Works Handbooks ­ resources for managers on the front line and the Power-by-the-Hour programs ­ fast, convenient, real life, affordable courses for leadership and staff development. She is available for media interviews, conference presentations and panel discussions on the hottest issues affecting the workplace today. Contact Marcia at 800-971-7619.

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