Lab Manager

Five Keys to Get the Most Out of Your Remote Staff

Managing employees that you can't see

By Jan Makela

Over 43 percent of the United States workforce is comprised of remote workers—and the ability to work remotely is a powerful recruiting and retention tool for many companies. In addition to those obvious benefits, the organization also enjoys lower costs by saving on office-related expenses, and a boost in productivity as employees are no longer on long commutes. People will consider part-time work if they are afforded the flexibility of not having to come into the office, and as not every role in a company requires a full time employee, it can prove a perfect arrangement for the employer and employee.

But to get the most out of your work-from-home employees, you need to have some firm guidelines in place. Here are five keys to implementing a work-from-home system and methods to best manage your remote employees.

  1. Set Clear Expectations

Many managers worry that remote employees won’t work hard without supervision, but studies consistently show that remote employees are more productive than their office-based counterparts. When there are productivity problems, it’s most often due to unclear expectations, not slacking off. With the following strategies, you can ensure that your expectations are crystal clear.

Properly define what success looks like in the operational context of your organization. Have a frank conversation and discuss the definition of “success” for a particular project. Be sure that you and your employee have a shared vision. Set firm goals and identify the required outcome, and establish a timeline for specific milestones. You should regularly check-in with your remote staff, monitor progress, and ensure that they are moving toward their goal in a timely fashion. If you’ve given clear direction on the required outcomes, you don’t have to make a personal judgement about whether someone is working hard. By investing time in the planning stage, it will pay off in productivity.

  1. Relationships Matter

People are social creatures and need interaction to stay engaged. Building a good relationship with your remote employees ensures that they don’t feel isolated from the team. It also sets the foundation for good management. In a shared environment, relationship-building happens around the water cooler, in hallways, and before and after meetings. Without physical proximity, new avenues for relationship-building need to be used with remote workers.

Use instant messaging for the types of interactions you have in the hallways with office-based staff. Ask how their day is going, send a link to a helpful article or share a joke. You’re not going to just run into your remote employees, so connections require deliberate effort. Set reminders in your calendar to make sure informal check-ins don’t get overlooked. Encourage a couple of minutes of personal chit-chat at the beginning of calls. Ask about their weekend, family or hobbies. Follow up on their comments from previous calls.

  1. Be Available

Remote employees can’t stop by your desk when they need a quick answer, so it’s important that you set aside time to be available to them. Respond to messages promptly so you don’t hinder their productivity. If you can’t fully address a question right away, let them know you’re working on it. Share your calendar. Sharing your calendar allows your remote staff to see when they have the best chance of catching you between meetings. Schedule regular check in times. Your remote staff can save their non-urgent questions for your regular meeting rather than sending multiple emails or instant messages.

Another avenue is video calls, which can build rapport by allowing colleagues to visually connect. It’s more personal than a voice on the phone or text in an email. Video calls offer another advantage…callers are more engaged and less likely to be distracted by emails or social media. Many video calling programs have polling options. Add a personal touch by starting each meeting with a question. What method of communication do you prefer (email, IM, phone, video call)? What are your weekend plans? It’s also helpful to add a non-business touch, which will jump-start a personal connection—which has distinct business value. We learn a lot about each other visually. Create a shared picture folder. Invite team members to post an image of family or activities they have been involved in.

  1. Communication

Communication takes extra effort when working remotely. To be effective, you must communicate clearly, often, and well. When talking with someone in person, there are many subtle cues that add to the message. Facial expressions, gestures, body language, and tone of voice all help to interpret the speaker’s meaning. Those cues are often missing when communicating remotely. Be direct. Clearly state what you need and when you need it. This reduces the need for follow up messages to clarify the request. Be warm and personable, but not overly familiar. Without non-verbal cues, jokes and casual comments can be easily misinterpreted. Share your progress. When you’re not in the same office, your colleagues don’t know what you’re working on. Let them know how projects are progressing. Share your barriers. Likewise, let your colleagues know what barriers you’re encountering and what help you need to address those barriers.

  1. Connection to the Organization

You may find that remote employees lack the buy-in and engagement of those people was not as high as people who experienced some exposure to the home office. If your employee completely works from home, consider including them in home office training events and allow them to meet people that they may interact with but never see. You may find that relationships improve and turnover of remote works decreases. Finding ways for your people to connect is the secret sauce to having successful employees that do not come to the office.

Both the employer and the employee—part or full time—can benefit from working remotely. For the employee the advantages may be obvious but employers also benefit from less overhead, increased cash flow and access to a larger talent pool. When implementing a work-from-home arrangement, it’s imperative to follow the five guidelines to best position your employee—and the company—for success.   

About the Author

Jan Makela is an executive coach, highly-sought after speaker, and best-selling author of Cracking the Code to Success and Be the Manager People Won’t Leave, for which he received the 2017 Quilly Award. Jan has a long and successful history of working with companies to ensure quality hiring and training practices. His specialty revolves around strength-based leadership development, with a particular focus on working with senior and mid-level executives, business owners, and professionals. For more information on Jan Makela, please visit

Categories: Management Tips