Remote workers are an integral part of many startups and tech companies seeking to start lean. For employees, many even consider 100% remote work – the freedom of working where and when they like – to be a dream come true. For employers, aside from the cost savings of not having to provide office space and technology for your remote workers, building a partially or wholly remote company can also attract a more motivated workforce.
But there are certain warnings and pitfalls that come with the territory. First, an employee needs to be more hands-off, ideally enjoying having the freedom and time to complete tasks on their own. They need to be self-disciplined enough to set aside time and space for work, and self-aware enough to have discovered their own productive working habits.
That’s all on the employee’s end – what about for the employer? Remote company owners, take note: the quality of their remote work and satisfaction with their employer are profoundly affected by the structures and practices that their remote company implements.
People are inherently social beings, and it’s natural for them to want to feel at least some camaraderie with the group they work with. In an office, the visual contact, meetings, informal gatherings, and shared space naturally create the sensation of working together as a team.
From a practical standpoint, these check-ins also help clarify expectations of what work needs to get done, what the day’s priorities are, and whether an employee is progressing in the right direction. With remote workers, all those little office check-ins, conversations, and meetings that often happen organically need to be implemented with tech and automated wherever possible.
A must is some sort of project management or shared task system like Asana, Trello, Producteev,or any other comparable tool on the market. Shared task management systems are an essential part of coordinating work with remote teams. By updating task owners and participants automatically, everyone stays in the loop.
Try one or two and find what works best with your style of work and your company. Then make sure to be available to your team on one or two other systems of communication – email, Skype, IM, or even a shared video chat room. You need to make communication as recurrent as possible to avoid misunderstandings and make people feel part of a whole.
Tracking employee work doesn’t just make sense for you as an employer – it also makes a lot of sense for your remote employees. By tracking their progress towards goals – and not just the completion of their goals – you’ll give them something to show for their efforts that the lack of face time in an office can’t provide.
First, consider investing in a time tracking tool that integrates with your chosen task management software. Hubstaff is a great tool because it tracks employee productivity by keystroke and screenshot, and integrates with PayPal to make paying for hours billed very simple. Then implement Hubstaff and set up KPIs for each of your team members.
Next, once a month or once a quarter, talk to your remote employees about their Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, and assess their overall progress towards them in combination with their productivity metrics. They’ll feel better about their own value to your company by knowing that you’ve noticed their hard work, and if there’s a problem, it’ll give you the opportunity to notice it early and talk about it together.
Trust is like magic for businesses. If you’ve hired a remote worker who’s self motivated, set up transparent company goals in an online task management system complemented by time tracking tools, and then leave people alone, in the long run your team will be more efficient. Turnover will be lower and job satisfaction higher because your workers will feel empowered by your trust..
Especially for company owners new to working with remote employees, there’s a perception that remote workers won’t work as hard as someone in the office. In fact, the opposite is true – while your remote worker might prefer to wake up at noon, studies show that they tend to work longer hours and more intensely to compensate for not being physically present. Especially for people who work at home 100% of the time, it’s extremely difficult to set a boundary between work and their private life.
Technology encourages us to be hyperconnected to everyone, everywhere – but smart company owners know that a healthy work/life balance is necessary for overall job satisfaction and long-term retention. Don’t contact your remote workers outside of normal working hours. Be aware of any timezone differences – if you’re repeatedly trying to connect via Facetime with your remote developer at 6am in their timezone, you’ll either end up with a dissatisfied employee who leaves after a few months so that they can have a regular sleep schedule, or one who stays solely because they need the money and not because they’re actually engaged in the work.
Pay very close attention to warning signs of disengaged, unmotivated remote workers. When a remote worker misses deadlines, leaves emails or other requests for communication unanswered, or frequently has to re-do work, then that’s a signal that something has gone awry in his or her relationship with work and with their management.
If you’ve got any performance tracking tools, examine them and see if you can gain more insight into the situation first. Then have a frank conversation with your employee. Do they have all the tools they need to get the job done? Is the work not engaging enough? Are they getting burned out? Raising these questions in a supportive manner and implementing changes based on their responses can save you lost time and money in the long run.
And of course, if there’s a fundamental mismatch between the employee’s working style and your needs as an employer, it could also mean it’s time for you two to go your separate ways – it’s better for you both to be free to find a better fit.
Dave Nevogt is the cofounder of Hubstaff, a 100% remote company headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana.