5 Ways to Effectively Manage a Team of Telecommuters

Image of a telecommuter in her home office.

Managing a creative team isn’t always easy. And that’s especially true if your team is scattered across town – or different countries. If you manage telecommuters, or if you’re a manager who telecommutes, here are some tips to help build team spirit and provide leadership and support from afar.

Alternative work arrangements, like telecommuting, flextime and compressed workweeks, are no longer cool perks at select companies. They’re becoming “the norm,” according to research from The Creative Group. More than three-quarters of advertising and marketing executives surveyed said their company offers some kind of alternative work arrangement.

And creative professionals are taking advantage of these opportunities. Executives who said they can work remotely typically spend one day a week offsite, and employees who enjoy the same benefit telecommute an average of three days a week.

As telecommuting becomes more common, creative leaders need to be prepared to manage a geographically dispersed team. The following tips can help you close the distance and keep your remote workers connected.

1. Communicate expectations and goals

Managing a team of telecommuters can feel disorganized if you don’t first set standards. When agreeing to let employees telecommute, discuss what days they will work offsite, what technology they will use to communicate, and when you will have one-on-one and team check-in meetings. Clarify these expectations before they begin telecommuting. If you have multiple direct reports who telecommute, consider establishing a policy to keep everyone in the loop, like instituting one day a week or month that all team members must be onsite.

Likewise, if you’re a manager who works remotely, create standards for yourself so your team knows they can depend on you, too. Because direct reports can’t stop by your office to ask questions or get feedback, make it clear when and how they can reach you.

2. Promote work-life balance

Providing flexible schedule options, like telecommuting, is a great way to establish a culture of work-life balance at your company. The benefits of these options, like being able to work out of the home, avoid a long commute or live in a city with a better cost of living, gives employees greater control over their lives and increases happiness levels.

However, it’s easy to become a workaholic when telecommuting. Encourage remote employees to practice time management. Set your own start and stop times, and have telecommuters do the same. And make sure you respect their schedules by refraining from contacting them outside of office hours, when possible, or expecting a response while they’re offline.

New to telecommuting? Read how to make your remote working arrangement work for you.

3. Keep in daily contact, but avoid hovering

Don’t let your telecommuters feel like they’re on an island. Connect with them at least once a day via instant message or email – or better yet, pick up the phone for a quick call. Speaking with someone to discuss the details of a project or convey a message that may be misconstrued is often more efficient and effective than typing out words. Touching base with your employees also lets them know their work is valued and they are an essential part of the team.

However, be careful not to hover. An important ingredient to a successful telecommuting manager-employee relationship is trust. If you allow your employees to work from home, or if you’re the one who works remotely, you should be confident that they will work as though you were all in the office, logging similar hours, hitting deadlines and maintaining productivity. If you’re unnecessarily checking in five times a day to “see how things are going,” your employees may think they’re losing your trust, or simply be annoyed.

4. Make time for face-time

Resorting only to written communication while working remotely can get a little lonely. It’s hard to have a water cooler chat when you’re working in your home office. So make an effort to see your team as often as possible, especially if there’s a big celebration or office event.

Also encourage video chats for one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. Seeing them – even if virtually – helps you feel less disconnected and avoid miscommunication when giving feedback (since they can read facial expressions and body language). So before you dial a phone number, ask yourself if sending your telecommuting employee a video chat invitation might be the better option.

5. Build morale and strengthen the team

What’s the most effective way to build employee morale? Start by getting everyone in the same place. Consider planning an all-staff meeting once a quarter and encourage telecommuters to attend in person, if possible. You can also host brainstorms and plan a fun activity or dinner so your team can better get to know one another.

You can also close the distance and build morale by recognizing your employees’ hard work, which requires a bit of creativity when managing from a distance. Is your team tackling a big project and juggling multiple deadlines? While you can’t physically treat them to coffee and cupcakes, consider sending them each a $10 gift card and encourage them to take a break as a “thank you.” Little gestures can go a long way toward making a difference in your employees’ day.

As a manager, keeping your team connected across remote locations can boost efficiency, productivity and morale. Incorporate these tips into your management strategies, and your telecommuting employees won’t feel estranged from the office.

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