The Way We Work
May 17, 2010 by Alex Hornbake

Managing remote team members has its own unique set of challenges. For managers used to having their team on site, the switch to managing remote workers can be tough. Many small businesses have a sense of community that can be hard to replicate over the internet, and when personal interactions and nonverbal communication cues are lost, workers may not feel the same connection to their work.

The following tips are a good starting point for not only utilizing your team to its fullest, but also empowering your remote team and giving them a sense of ownership and responsibility in your company’s success:

positiveStay Positive

There is significant psychological research that suggests our brains are wired to be more heavily effected by negative emotions and interactions. The “magic ratio” — discussed in more depth here at the Gallup Management Journal — is generally considered to be 5:1. That is, five positive interactions are required to balance out every one negative interaction. It can be easy to come down hard on an anonymous remote worker with whom you don’t have a more personal connection, but doing so will require an uphill battle to repair the damage.

Utilize Incentives

Remote workers, just like employees at your home base, need to be properly incentivized. The freedom of freelance work is an incentive of its own, but don’t forget that you need your remote workers. Incentives can go beyond a fair wage. Verbal recognition (“Great job,” “Thank you for … ,” etc.), small tokens of appreciation (a company tote bag, cap, jacket, etc.), real growth potential, and simple positivity can all go a long way towards making a remote worker feel invested in your corporate culture. Read more at IncentiveMag.com’s Top 10 Ways to Recognize Remote Workers.

communicationCommunicate Quickly and Transparently

Giving your remote workers access to information can speed up a project, avoid unnecessary questions, and possibly avoid costly mistakes. Make sure you’re sharing everything that your team needs to know, and that you’re providing the answers they need in a timely fashion.

Appreciate the Outside Perspective

Remote workers have a distant perspective, both physically and sometimes culturally as well. This outside perspective can be invaluable. By getting a remote worker’s perspective on your project, you can avoid myopia — nearsightedness — and make your workers feel that their opinions are valued. Make sure you provide clear goals and take their ideas in to consideration, as well as the best ways to achieve them. This dialogue, even if it doesn’t directly produce groundbreaking ideas, will go a long way toward creating a deeper understanding of the company goals and a foundational sense of trust.

team_puzzleUse Collaborative Tools

If you can establish this sense of remote community, then collaborative tools like oDesk Team Room, or dedicated project management tools like BaseCamp become all the more valuable. They can do wonders in the information-sharing department, and facilitate some of the tips mentioned above. For more insight regarding building your team’s collaborative foundation, check out BNet’s post regarding Why Your Team Doesn’t Use Those Collaboration Tools.

Got more tips on how to work with remote team members? Share them in the comments below.

For more tips on avoiding some common project pitfalls, see last month’s post entitled–5 Ways to Sabotage Your Project.

Alex Hornbake

Freelance Tech Writer

Alex Hornbake is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. He joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, and brings more than a decade of technical expertise to his clients. Alex shares his point of view to help you make informed decisions for your personal and business technology choices.