Tips for Managing Remote Employees

Some of the best employees in the world haven’t been seen in the office for months. Would that worry you?

They aren’t missing persons; they’re members of the growing remote workforce. And if none of your accounting and finance staff telecommute yet, it’s only a matter of time before they ask about the idea. Mobile and internet technologies make managing remote employees viable, while cloud computing solutions for financial data processing and storage allow accounting and finance specialists to access everything they need from home or other locations.

Managing remote employees is much easier if you’re well prepared. Think through the scenario and come up with a remote-working policy for your company. These tips will help in your planning.

Understanding employees’ and job candidates’ motivation

Some of your employees and future hires will be particularly keen to work remotely. Each person's reasons are different, but the common themes include:

  • Flexibility — the option to work remotely from time to time is appealing even to people who generally prefer working in-house.
  • No travel — saving travel costs and time each day makes remote working more than worthwhile for employees who face a long commute.
  • More travel — as remote working means employees can get the job done from anywhere with an Internet connection, phone and suitable equipment, the remote workforce can, within reason, travel whenever it likes.
  • Habit — if top accounting and finance professionals you’re trying to recruit are used to working from home, you may have to offer a telecommuting option to attract their interest.

Knowing how a remote workforce benefits the company

There are some definite benefits to employing remote staff. You can…

  • Employ specialized finance and accounting staff outside your usual region. 
  • Stay operational 24 hours a day with remote staff in different time zones.
  • Keep your workforce more productive.
  • Retain more of your team long term.
  • Lower your team's rate of unscheduled absences.
  • Avoid spreading colds and flu around the office.
  • Establish yourself as a progressive company committed to helping employees achieve work-life balance.

Managing remote employees

To make telecommuting work for your team, you need to determine roles for which remote working makes sense full time, part time or never. Define each position comprehensively and be clear about the responsibilities and expectations your remote employees must meet.

Communication, collaboration, security and other aspects of managing remote employees are all made easier — or made possible in the first place — by technology. Video conferencing is particularly useful, as it delivers almost as much impact as a face-to-face conversation; video chats and instant communication tools also help keep your employees sane by providing a stronger sense of social interaction.

Just because someone is working remotely doesn’t mean they don’t need well-developed soft skills. These employees must not only know how to interact productively and diplomatically in person, but also online. Also be clear about which security measures you expect remote workers to take whenever they collaborate online, to prevent hacking and phishing issues.

Employees who aren’t present in person still need to be present in spirit, so when you’re managing remote employees, be sure to keep them engaged and informed. Make appointments for regular talks with your remote team members, both in group settings and one-to-one, to keep everyone motivated and on the same page. If your remote workforce lives close enough to visit the office, invite them to come in at least once per month for larger meetings with the in-house team to encourage a sense of community and shared values.

Never leave employees out of the loop merely because they’re out of the office, especially since some of your future leaders may be among your remote workforce. For best results, balance remote workers' autonomy with plenty of interaction and accountability.

Have you worked on a team with remote workers, or been a telecommuter yourself? Feel free to discuss the ups and downs of telecommuting in the comments.