Out of sight, but not out of mind
Strategies needed when dealing with off-site employees
WHILE we often say vacations should be a time when we are “out of sight and out of mind,” the same is not true for employees dispersed to work at various off-site locations, working remotely from a home office and/or working mainly from a vehicle. Yet, the syndrome of dispersed workers or those with alternative work schedules is one of the most challenging workplace issues for supervisors and managers as well as employees themselves.
From the management point of view, the issue is just how do you keep track of where everyone is, what these employees are working on and what is being accomplished? Such is the dilemma of the new age manager.
Dispersed employees on the other hand, also experience their own challenges. In fact, it can be downright lonely working in isolation from a manager and other colleagues. We often hear complaints from employees about not feeling part of a team and missing out on the fun activities and communication that occurs in a vibrant workplace. For some reason, an email notice isn’t quite the same as face-to-face communication when birthday or birth announcements are made.
We know employees and supervisors alike experience challenges when trying to develop the type of “long distance” rapport that facilitates good working relationships and email messages are often misinterpreted. We also often hear about a lack of leadership direction and a lack of follow up resulting in dispersed employees feeling they are, indeed, “out of sight and out of mind.”
At the same time, not every employee is suited to working alone in a dispersed off-site location. Those who struggle often do not have the personal discipline to stay focused and to achieve goals and objectives independently. As a result, timelines are missed and projects get waylaid.
Yet, with the growth of the internet, social media and new communication tools, managers have the opportunity and tools available to combine a variety of communication strategies for staying in touch with and overseeing the work of dispersed employees. However, planning for communication shouldn’t be left until employees are assigned to an off-site location. Managers must set the stage for effectively managing the entire workforce right from the beginning.
So, where can the manager start? The following guidelines will help to assure an effective workforce strategy for managing an off-site workforce. Set the stage: Review the nature of the jobs being considered for off-site work and be sure your employees can effectively complete the assigned tasks when working in this manner. Next, ensure off-site employees will have all the resources needed for their job and that all policies and procedures related to this work arrangement are in place. This includes workspace, information technology access, other equipment and tools and access to technology assistance when required. Next, ensure you have the right organizational structure to support an off-site worker operational framework. Hire the right people: Individuals who work best on their own are very goal-oriented achievers who work well within general guidelines and can structure their own work day. They demonstrate independence and autonomy and will speak up when they need help. Utilize communication and work-style assessments to determine and confirm their ability to work in isolation and be sure to check references of former employers who offered the same work scenario. Assign the right manager: Not everyone is suited to managing off-site workers as it certainly requires a completely different operating philosophy. In this situation, trust is even more important and must be worked on right from the start. Managers who are right for the job are good communicators with a knack for building teams, who can quickly build trust and show enthusiasm and support for their management responsibilities. Set specific goals: Work with employees to set specific goals, objectives, timelines and the means to check in at various milestones. Communicate your expectations. Arrange for frequent reporting in a manner that still gives the employee the sense of independence rather than a perception of micromanaging.
Working from home employees can feel like they are not part of the team and missing out on the fun activities in the workplace.