Are you withholding feedback? Five tips to improve management from a distance

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The way that we work is changing, and employers’ management styles must adapt in turn. While some employers have embraced the move to flexible and distance working – adopting collaborative software such as Google Apps for business to enable distance workers to be equally as efficient as office-based staff – others remain sceptical of its benefits. In many cases, this is because managers continue to apply the management practices that they use for office-based staff on their distance workers. Instead, managers should acknowledge that home workers have different needs to in-house workers, and their management methods should shift slightly to accommodate these. While this may seem a hassle, in fact a number of small changes can be all it takes to improve the management of your distance workers. Here are Work Out Loud’s five top tips for managing distance workers.

From input to results
At its least effective, traditional management relies on the observation of input. That is, managers know work is being carried out if employees are in attendance at the office and are not procrastinating. Using this management template, managers would not expect home-based workers to perform at an acceptable standard, as they’ve no immediate visual evidence that the employees are actually carrying out the work. However, applying this approach to distance working is unlikely to be effective, and may instead disrupt the employees’ work. Instead of taking this approach, employers should instead focus on results. By having set targets, goals and work requirements to fulfil each day, remote employees will know what they need to complete and will undoubtedly strive to do so. Managers should be confident that their employees will complete this work, and instead of tracking their every input should instead look at their performance (and results) as the most important metric.

In the past, employers might have expected distance workers to spend the working day in their pyjamas watching daytime TV, but as distance working has become more prevalent, this stereotype is being quashed. Managers should trust and respect their remote employees. Instead of checking up on their progress every hour or so, distance workers should be trusted to complete the required work, and by using collaborative working tools such as Google Apps, they can make their work visible across the whole team. This instils a sense of empowerment and respect between both parties – one of the central tenets of working out loud.

Keeping in touch
While constantly nagging a distance worker is unlikely to do you any favours, it is still important to keep in touch with remote employees. Schedule weekly Skype or Google Hangouts meetings through Google Calendar and arrange for them to visit the office regularly whenever possible. This reduces the chance of an employee feeling isolated and will lead to improved engagement and loyalty from remote staff.

Monitor working hours and watch for overwork
Depending on your management style, you may wish to give distance workers some flexibility in their hours. However, it is important that both management staff and flexible workers agree on regular working patterns, making these visible to other members of the team. By providing employees with this and visible clear time bracket, you can help the employee introduce boundaries into distance working, discouraging them from being switched on at all hours of the day. Distance workers can very easily overwork themselves, as their home is also their office. This can lead to stress, burnout and ultimately poor results.

Give feedback and stay accessible
The distance between your office and homeworkers can make communication more difficult. It is therefore vital that any feedback is shared swiftly and clearly to prevent confusion and miscommunication. Giving feedback may be tricky if you aren’t speaking face-to-face, but with constant online communication the rapport between you and your distance workers should be solid enough to ensure that the feedback process is natural rather than awkward. It is also important that, as a manager, you remain accessible. Distance workers should be able to keep in touch with you throughout your office hours, and expect a fast reply to any queries they may have.

Google Apps for business is one of the tools that can enable you to follow the progress of your distance workers and communicate with them easily. If you’d like to transform your business’ management approach to distance working, contact Work Out Loud today.

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