Managing Virtually for Ultimate Productivity

I sit here writing this article as a 17 lb dog barks at me because I am not paying enough attention to him, the pile of laundry is screaming out to me to be folded, and my kid’s books and toys are littering the kitchen table. Talk about a productivity buzzkill.

Working outside of a traditional office environment is not for everyone, but with the right tools and resources, organizations and managers can set their employees up for success.

Across the globe, for-profits and nonprofits alike increasingly adopt flexible work solutions to attract the best talent in their field. Organizational benefits from hiring remote employees include employee satisfaction with improved work-life balance, as well as physical office space savings.

Managing these new virtual office spaces takes many forms—finding people who do not live within 50 miles of your organization’s physical office space, hiring great talent who desire the option to work from home, or even opening remote office locations that need to be managed by a head office in a different city, state, or area.

Whatever the setup, below are some tips to effectively manage these remote setups.

Keep Lines of Communication Open
As a manager, your staff needs ongoing access to you, especially if they cannot just walk into your office to ask you a question. Let the staff know that your virtual door is always open, and share how to best “walk through” that virtual door (e.g., email, phone, text). Then, make sure you respond promptly if they reach out to you.

Establish a Communications Charter
Working remotely requires more conscientious communication, yet people have different communication styles and preferences. Ask all staff to fill out a “communication style worksheet” that includes information about their working hours, the best form of communication for them when something is urgent, and what others can expect from them about responding to requests. Then share these worksheets across the organization. Doing so will go a long way to help people understand how best to work with each other.

Set Clear Goals and Metrics
Getting everyone on the same page and working towards the same goals are critical to success in any organization. When managing remote employees, clarifying these shared goals early becomes even more important. When working remotely, making mid-course corrections to the plans is more challenging than when co-located.

Hire the Right People
Working remotely does not work for every job or for every person. When determining whether or not the position can be a remote one, take into account the day-to-day activities and responsibilities of the position. For example, a senior level customer service position at a community center would not be a good position to have working remotely. If the job requires personal interaction and availability, you may consider making sure that individual is physically located in the office. Similarly, when hiring, take into account whether someone’s personality and preference fit a remote position. Ask questions that will lead you to determine if this is a person who can work autonomously. An example would be asking a candidate about ways they track goals and how they stay on track. Also find out why they want to work in a remote environment and how they plan to be successful within a nontraditional office setup.

Hold Regular Individual and Team Meeting
Remote employees frequently express concerns about missing out on the “water cooler talk.” There is a great deal to be said about those casual, side conversations that happen in the hallway, when walking to a meeting or just in front of the microwave. In a remote environment, make these conversations more intentional. Schedule extra time at the beginning or end of a phone conversation for more casual engagement. Managers need to be aware of what information is being missed by the people not physically in the office space.

Pick Up the Phone
Reaching out by phone can nip all issues in the bud before they get blown out of proportion. My rules for reaching out by phone include:

  • If you are on the 3rd email back and forth on a topic, pick up the phone
  • If you are unsure if someone understood the project and timeline, pick up the phone
  • If you are waiting for a response to something (and it has been a reasonable amount of time), pick up the phone

Working remotely may involve a culture shift for many organizations. Managers and employees alike have to be intentional about what they are doing and how they are doing it in order to make it work. There will be bumps and it will take time, but if done right, you can create an environment that allows organizations to hire great people they may not have been able to otherwise and also allows employees the flexibility to be even more productive and to succeed in ways not available to them in a traditional work environment.

Photo credit: thelittleone417

Heather Martin
Heather has extensive marketing and operations experience in both for-profit and non-profit companies and organizations. She has diverse experience with management, HR and leadership. Heather has helped InterfaithFamily transform from a 2 person organization to a 20+ person organization with staff in 8 different cities. She has spoken about managing virtual employees at multiple HR, technology and non-profit conferences including the Nonprofit Technology Network's 2016 annual conference. She holds a Masters of Science in Industrial Administration (MBA) from Carnegie Mellon's Graduate School of Industrial Administration and a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from McGill University. You can find her on twitter @hjsmartin.