- I've been quoted in many periodicals (WSJ, CIO, Broadband, Dallas Morning News, Austin Business Journal, and many others) and books, over a dozen online sites, and written many columns and pieces, so I know the importance to write on point and respond to someone on deadline.
- I’ve led several firms as an Interim Executive (COO/CIO or COO or CIO...), as well as my consulting firm for decades, while constantly negotiating with staff, partners, and of course customers. Our ability to work with our remote staff of around 20 and engage with our customers remotely, as well as with their remote staffs provide a rich background of experience and successful process improvement to embrace remote workers.
1. How do you efficiently hire remote workers that best fit your business?
While there are many ways to hire remote workers, our firm and clients feel two work best…
1: Referral from your or other long-term remote workers. They know best who will be a good fit for the organization’s culture and the type of person they will work best with. We offer a non-trivial bonus as an incentive for those referrals who join and stay for 6 months.
2: Place open positions on LinkedIn and similar sites for professionals or topical interest sites and Craigslist and similar sites for non-professional workers. We make it clear their permanent hiring or continued contract relationship is contingent on their performance for 90 days (check local labor laws of course!), before they are hired full-time or on a piece or quota basis. Interviews should be via Skype, Google Hangout, WebEx, or whatever video conference / screen share program your organization uses. We want to hear and see the individual, as well as use screen sharing to display aspects of the organization that would be hard to visualize without these tools. We then schedule a 2 hour session where they collaborate with at least 2 of our staff, working on a real deliverable to see how they interact and what value they bring to the process. Obviously checking references and running background checks, even if the worker will never set foot in the organization’s physical locations, is critical.
2. How do you manage remote workers?
The most important part of managing remote workers is making sure your communication styles mesh or that you adapt to their preferred communication style. You need to ensure they feel part of a team in terms of overall goals. This shows them we value their talent and work, so they don’t feel as though they are just punching a clock. We manage our remote workers, who span several continents, using a variety of collaborative technology, traditional management practices, and a good dose of common sense. For technology, we generally use Asana to manage our projects (or operational areas), tasks, subtasks, and discussions surrounding those. We use Google Drive and Documents to simultaneously co-edit documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. We ask all our staff to never keep documents on any type of local storage, Google Drive can store any and all types of files. We use Google Hangouts and Chat (Instant Messenger or IM) and Google Calendar. For marketing and sales, we recently started using FieldBook, a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM) App running on Google Chrome, that also allows concurrent editing so that if any staff member communicates with a customer or prospect, we all have that history.
3. How do you motivate remote workers?
We motivate remote workers by having them vote on which charities the firm supports, when and how to hold company-wide and group-wide meetings, and by focusing our attention to them when they speak and write. We also offer discretionary bonuses so our staff members are rewarded when the organization succeeds. We provide them with as much responsibility and decision-making authority as possible. We allow them to organize their own work whenever possible. We show recognition for their successes in at least a group-wide communication. We ask for feedback on processes and our interactions with them.
4. How do you measure the productivity of remote workers?
The same way you manage the productivity of non-remote workers. For most work we look at their deliverables: quality and quantity. As a project management consulting and training firm, our staff is used to breaking down their work into small deliverables that can be reviewed early and often. This is an Agile technique that says every week (or iteration), everyone has to demonstrate (for executables) or review their documents line by line. For salespeople, it is easy to track calls, emails, meetings, networking events, etc. and of course sales. For marketing and other more vague types of work, we look at how often and deeply their work has to be revised. We also gage how much high-quality work they can complete in a period of time. We also weed out the individuals that require constant communication and feedback. We thrive with self-starters and people who can work productively on their own for periods of time.
5. How did you build company culture when your staff is all over the map?
We diligently try to communicate the goals and types of behaviors that are indicators of high-performers. We post and communicate referrals and testimonials, LinkedIn Endorsements and Recommendations, along with other positive social-media mentions. We try to involve as many people in our goal and decision-making processes as possible, within our time and financial constraints.
6. How do you build engagement with remote workers?
We have an expected set of behaviors, such as periodically checking Asana throughout each day and using their comment and discussion features to assign tasks back and forth in collaboration. We also expect to have joint-editing sessions on documents such as course descriptions, course materials, consulting deliverables, and more, where all involved parties are adding and giving input in areas they can add value to. We also encourage appropriate use of IM to ping one another with a quick question or to set up a more formal session to avoid emailing back and forth, which wastes an enormous amount of time.
7. What were the biggest challenges you've faced managing a remote team and how did you work around them?
Time zones and differing productive working times. Hiring was hard, but we seem to have mastered that with the help of our staff and some other associates. Collaboration was hard until we moved the firm to Google and related technologies. Time zones, especially halfway around the world, make it hard to hit everyone’s productive work times. People can be on a session at 4am or 10pm, but they are not very productive at those times. People really do not want to be working that far outside of their regular work hours. Hiring people for off-shift work only partially mitigates that. All of these challenges forced us to consider using the collaborative tools and change our business processes to work using them. Many are time-independent such as Asana, Fieldbook, Calendar, and LinkedIn and some are real-time like Skype, Hangout, and WebEx.
Here is a quick story about a bad remote worker situation… A client of ours had remote workers in South Asia. One of them, a lead for a maintenance and testing group, was slotted without his permission, to mandatory calls in the middle of the night his time. After a couple of frustrating calls where people could not hear him, as he was almost whispering, and much static, his manager called him and probed. It turns out his commute to his office, where no one is allowed in so late, was over an hour. He was taking the calls on his cell phone, in his home, which he shared with 7 other people, under a table with a blanket over the table to try to not disturb the people sleeping 4 feet away. Outside was too loud and possibly dangerous at that time of night. He felt just scheduling a call without really consulting him, assuming his 24-hour availability, was not only disrespectful, but was harming his home life to the point he was strongly considering resigning. The manager quickly cancelled his participation in the call. We advised them to simply record the call, a simple matter using a button the their screen, and emailing him the URL to listen to when he got to work, solved the matter. Since then, we routinely record our calls and WebEx and similar sessions so others may refer to them. We delete them two weeks later as they quickly become stale.
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Sorry if this is a duplicate submission, the site did not respond either way... Darrel Raynor