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Integrating Remote Employees Well
by David C. Baker

Do you want remote employees to get more done? Keep them out of needless e-mail loops, don’t require their presence at so many meetings, and discuss how much social media is appropriate while they are “at work.” You might also articulate how and when status reports will be submitted.

In summary, employ good communication and build trust. The tools are secondary; emotional and engagement gaps are deadly.

EMPLOYEES MUST CHANGE
The way that employees think about work must change, too. Encourage them to shower and get dressed as if they are going to work. That helps them get in a different frame of mind, and it also makes a better impression over video.

They should take breaks, certainly, but be brutally honest about what distracts them (social media, eating, TV, etc.). Somehow find the right amount of distraction (an open window, music, etc.), but regardless of that, they should be working in an isolated part of their home where noise will not intrude.

When everyone is giving a report, start with the remote folks to give them more presence in the call. Don’t allow them to be discounted; they should be engaged, have a point of view and be a thought leader to the rest of the company.

Make sure that remote workers follow the same information processes, avoiding an oral culture, especially when it may be difficult to reach them; set goals, direction and priorities and make them easily known. Figure out a way to instantly and constantly let others know if they are available, by phone, e-mail or instant messaging.

SETTING UP AN EMPLOYEE TO SUCCEED
Insist that employees hired as telecommuters at the outset go through three days of on-site orientation, mixing it up with as many people as possible. (It may help to hook them up with a “buddy” for that time.) The most critical element is to ensure that they absorb the culture. Preferably, and especially if you have many remote employees, there can be a special arrangement with a long-stay hotel so that telecommuters can stay and work in the main office the first two weeks of their employment, and then a week at a time twice per year. If there isn’t enough face time, there will not be the undercurrent of trust and teamwork.

While at the mother ship, they should wander the halls, meet different people over meals, engage in conversations and make themselves very apparent and heard. Also, make sure they are introduced to the IT department, who will be supporting them remotely.

Start every day with a conference call. Establish specific goals for each day, and then reporting structures to ensure that they are met.

Some days should be set aside to do lots of little things and to gather what they’ll need to get the really big things done, and then some days should be set aside to do nothing but the big things. Limit disruptions of their time on those days.

Keep current with the tools that might help you (e.g., The Next Web). Make the right tools available, like a virtual chat room and GoToMeeting, and have an Internet-based workflow data center like Basecamp or CopperProject.

Remote employees should have a separate phone line (even if it’s a mobile) with a professional sounding e-mail message so that direct client calls are handled appropriately.

Institute good backup procedures with a remote service in the cloud, and establish the ability to access company-owned computers from the home office.

Consider a standup desk that can change heights just to give them more variety.

Help them with time-management tools, like the entire GTD (getting things done) movement or the Pomodoro technique.

Finally, remind your remote employees that they won’t have a commute during which to unwind. Instead suggest doing an errand or taking a quick walk around the block after they are done for the day.

GETTING FACE TO FACE OCCASIONALLY
When remote employees visit the home office, find ways to combine it with already-planned social times with the entire employee group.

As noted above, remote employees should spend a week at a time at the home office at least twice per year. You might even visit employees on their turf once in awhile when you are doing business in that area.

When they do come to the home office, have a special office where visiting remote employees can work, preferably nearby lots of other employee traffic so that they can chat and get to know people.

PREPARING THE COMPANY TO SUCCEED
Whatever shape your remote-work arrangement takes, make it a part of the employee interview to set appropriate expectations.

If you have remote employees, invest extra time in interpersonal skill development as an entire team. That might include personality profile work (the best is DiSC PPSS).

And whenever you do let an existing employee begin working remotely, start with a one-month trial period to see how it works for both parties. After they get established, swap team members around from time to time to keep the company culture centered. CA
http://image.commarts.com/Images1/4/8/3/38482_54_0_MTYyNTQ2OTg1NzUxMTg1NTg.jpgDavid C. Baker
David C. Baker (david@recourses.com), author of Managing (Right) for the First Time, is a leading management consultant for the creative services field. Through ReCourses, Inc., he has guided hundreds of firms through management issues, difficult transitions and growth.