Out of sight, but not out of mind

Strate­gies needed when deal­ing with off-site em­ploy­ees

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - BAR­BARA BOWES

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.

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