Managing people can be difficult. Managing remote workers can seem even more difficult -- the distance and “out-of-sight” nature of these workers provides unique challenges to a business owner or manager. But remote workers can be a huge asset to your business that you should be taking advantage of.
I worked a remote job for almost four months in 2018-2019 before waking up one morning and finding that I had lost access to my work email and Slack account. I had been unceremoniously fired, with no notice. I’m going to tell you the story of this remote job, what my manager did wrong, and what they should’ve done instead.
(My remote job was for a company that developed an app to help people navigate a specific legal situation across the United States. I was tasked with researching the specifics of this legal situation in-depth for each US state, both online and by calling lawyers, and then assembling the information into copy for the website.)
How To Manage (And Not Manage) Your Remote Employee
Give them the tools.
Remote workers need tools to succeed. Whether it's project management software or access to your business’ files, you should give them everything that you would give an in-office worker. In this, my manager did the right thing. I was given a stipend to make Skype calls and be able to call lawyers to conduct my research. I was also given a work email and access to Slack, where the writing coordinator and the other writer could communicate with me.
Create an environment of inclusion.
Making remote workers feel like part of the team increases their satisfaction and productivity. Much like with a relationship, distance can be tough on remote workers, so finding ways to appreciate them and make them feel like a true part of the team goes a long way to earning their loyalty.
After only a couple weeks of working with this company, I was given a Christmas bonus, which was a pleasant surprise and made me feel that I was part of a real team, not just a throwaway worker. I felt like my work mattered, and that my manager appreciated me. So far, so good.
This is where my relationship with my manager started to crumble, though I didn’t realize it yet. My manager told me, in these exact words, that there was “no deadline.” He didn’t give me due dates, deadlines, a timeline, or goals. He didn’t specify how many lawyers I should be calling per week, or how many words I should write a month. I was a responsible worker, but I wasn’t a mind reader. For almost three months, I worked with no deadline in sight. At one point I even shared my progress with my coordinator, but it didn’t matter.
One day, I woke up to an email saying I hadn’t been completing my work at the rate that he’d expected from me, and that he was letting me go.
Set expectations for your remote workers from the beginning. Give them deadlines and goals, and make sure they understand them. They need them, and you need them.
(And if you didn’t set expectations, maybe give them another chance before firing them.)
My manager and I could also have avoided our expectation issue if we had communicated better. Although it was his responsibility to communicate clearly from the beginning, I also could have asked more questions and requested deadlines.
One way to encourage communication with your remote workers is to hold regular check-ins. If you open up a channel of communication with them, they will feel more able to ask questions, and you will also be able to express your concerns.
Trust your team.
One of the worst things about getting fired from that position was the way it was done. The email out of the blue was shocking and painful. Trying to log onto my Slack and work email and being unable to access them made me feel like I was being shut out, instead of respectfully transitioned out. I was given no chance to explain, no second chance, no warning. I felt that they didn’t trust me or respect me.
Trusting your remote workers is essential to building a long-term relationship with them. If you treat them as disposable, they will feel it, and they will not do their best work. Once you’ve given them the tools, the expectations, and the conditions to do what you’ve asked them to do, you have to trust them. If you don’t trust them from the beginning -- don’t hire them.
Managing remote workers doesn’t have to be such a struggle. My time as a remote worker with S-FX has been completely different from my time with this other company, and it doesn’t take much: the right tools, a solid foundation, and you’re on your way. Learn to treat your remote workers right, and you will gain all the benefits they can give to you.