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Managing remote workers

Business | Feb. 1, 2021 | By:

Ways for both managers and employees to reap the benefits of remote work.

by Lin Grensing-Pophal

In 2020 the world suddenly changed for all of us. Impacted by COVID-19, companies around the country and around the world found themselves forced to consider an option that many had formally eschewed—remote work.

While remote work, aka telecommuting, has been technologically possible for a number of years, and companies like AT&T and others have long had remote workers on their payroll, many organizations are new to the world of remote work and remote employee management.

They said it couldn’t be done

Prior to the pandemic and despite the available technology, there was widespread resistance to the idea of remote work. In fact, back in 2013, Yahoo’s new CEO, Marissa Mayer, ordered all employees back into the office. The move received widespread media attention and her reasoning was arguably valid—she felt in-person interactions would lead to more creativity and innovation, which she felt was lost with employees working independently from their homes. Mayer’s tenure was short, and the company did eventually go back to a hybrid of on-site and remote work, although that move didn’t receive nearly as much media attention. 

Today the news is far different, with a number of companies announcing they will stay remote for the foreseeable future—maybe forever. 

Objections and misconceptions 

One of the most common objections to remote work is that managers won’t have the ability to effectively monitor employee performance and so productivity will suffer. Neither, of course, is true. Consider, for instance, that managers don’t have “line of sight” over their employees in many traditional organizations—banks with multiple branches, multinational organizations, etc. And, since the pandemic began, there has been widespread media reports of increased productivity and efficiency by remote workers who no longer face the distractions and interruptions of the traditional workplace.

What concerns largely boil down to revolve around issues of “How will I know they’re really working?” That’s a valid question, but one that also applies to traditional work settings. Regardless of where employees are working from, managers should establish clear criteria and outcomes for how they will evaluate employees’ contributions. Those contributions shouldn’t be judged based on hours worked, but on output produced.

Yes, there are certain jobs that must continue to be performed in person: manufacturing jobs, construction jobs, many health-care jobs, cashier jobs, etc. But in a wide array of other settings, as employers and managers have discovered during the pandemic, it is not necessary for employees to be on-site to be productive. What is necessary, though, is that managers and employees work together effectively to make the situation successful and a win-win proposition for the company and the employee. 

Making remote work relationships work

There are so many benefits for both employers and employees of remote work arrangements that it pays to focus on making a commitment to make these relationships work. Employers benefit from the ability to attract talent from a broader talent pool, to improve the attractiveness of their company to employees who increasingly value flexibility, and to save on facility, energy and other costs. Reports are also indicating that employees can be more productive when working remotely, a big benefit for employers. Employees benefit from more flexibility and work/life balance, reduced commute times and related costs, and a distraction-free environment that for many leads to greater productivity and job satisfaction. 

So what does it take to make these relationships work? Here are some
best practices for both managers and employees:

Managers should:

  • Set clear and measurable expectations and desired outcomes
  • Communicate clearly to employees about how their productivity will
    be measured
  • Commit to ongoing, and regular, communication with employees—establish regular times when they will connect with employees and when employees should connect with others
  • Cultivate trust and transparency
  • Keep employees in the loop and connected with team members
    who may still be on-site
  • Notify employees immediately of any changes in expectations
  • Provide clear and specific feedback—both positive and constructive—
    on an ongoing basis

Employees should:

  • Collaborate with managers in setting expectations and determining how productivity will be measured
  • Keep managers informed of progress and any barriers to accomplishing objectives
  • Stay in contact with colleagues—both those who are also remote and those who are on-site
  • Establish clear boundaries for others who may also be working or learning from home
  • Create clear boundaries between work and personal time—one issue that often emerges for those working from home is that they have a tendency to work too much!

In the 21st century, the ability to work remotely is not hampered by technology. The challenges to making work-from-home situations successful are management-related. By establishing a clear focus on outcomes and keeping channels of communication open, employers and employees can both reap the many benefits of remote work. 

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer and author whose interest in telecommuting stems back to the 1980s. Since 2008, she has run the
content marketing firm Strategic Communications LLC, where she and the interns and contractors she works with all work remotely. She can be
reached at
lin@lingrensingpophal.com or www.lingrensing-pophal.com.


SIDEBAR: Buy the book

Lin Grensing-Pophal is the author of Managing Remote Staff: Capitalize on Work-from-Home Productivity (Self-Counsel Press, 2020). The book offers managers in businesses of any size practical advice, strategies and case studies for managing employees who are out of sight, but not out of mind. The book is available at online and local bookstores.

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