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Technology Tip
Dave Pelland has extensive experience covering the business use of technology, networking and communications tools by companies of all sizes. Dave's editorial and corporate experience includes more than 10 years editing an electronic technology and communications industry newsletter for a global professional services firm.

Managing Remote Workers or Teams

Managing Remote Workers or Teams

As small business owners compete for talent, remote workers can provide an effective source of workers that offer a number of potential advantages as well as cost savings.

Remote workers can expand your available talent pool beyond your region or even time zone, allowing you to attract and retain qualified candidates while reducing the need to provide in-house working spaces.

Despite the benefits, however, there are some unique aspects to managing remote workers that need to be considered before you add telecommuters to your team. Remote workers, for instance, may feel less of a connection than on-premises team members. In addition, it can be more difficult to supervise remote workers.

But despite those challenges, remote workers can be a valuable part of your small business team, as long as you align their role with the company’s needs and understand the potential challenges of relying on distributed workers.

Communication, for instance, is a key element in working with remote workers effectively. Email will, understandably, be the most common way you interact with a remote team member. But email isn’t always the best choice, especially if you need a quick response or want to mimic the kind of informal interaction that’s common when everyone’s in the same location.

Chat tools such as Slack can mimic casual conversations while also offering instant communication and file-sharing capabilities. You can organize team or project-specific “channels” on Slack to help group conversations and teams more effectively.

Video conferencing is another powerful way to communicate with remote workers because being able to see someone’s face provides a closer connection than a voice call can. This connection can help the remote worker feel less distant, which promotes more effective interaction with the rest of the team.

Choose the Right Workers

An important step in using remote workers effectively is hiring the right type of employee for remote arrangements. An effective telecommuting employee will have to be a disciplined self-starter who is capable of working without a lot of direction. In addition, you should look for someone who is a strong communicator, because the remote worker will have to explain where projects stand, describe any issues or obstacles that arise, and to collaborate with workers in different locations.

Define the Work

It’s also vitally important to set expectations clearly about what specific assignments entail, including project details and milestones toward completion. Because you’re less likely to have informal “how’s it going” conversation with remote workers, you have to review project plans more carefully to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

To help keep work organized and projects on track, you can choose from a variety of cloud-based collaboration tools designed to help teams organize their work. Tools such as Trello, Asana and others allow companies to assign tasks to specific team members, track progress, share files and communicate. These tools can increase productivity and efficiency by keeping everyone informed about where projects and tasks stand while ensuring team members are working on the same version or project files and documents.

It can also be helpful to establish defined working hours, including a period in which the in-house and remote team members are “on the clock” at the same time. This can be a good time to schedule video conferences and project updates.

With careful planning and clear expectations, remote workers can be a valuable addition to your small business team.

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