The Way We Work
February 20, 2012 by Jenna Weiner

Thanks to the Work 3.0 revolution, online work is here to stay. While it brings many benefits, having remote team members also requires some shifts in behavior and processes in order to be successful.

Fortunately, we have written extensively about this topic here on the oDesk blog over the years. Some of the posts are a year or two old, but they are still extremely relevant — if not more so — as online work has continued to grow exponentially.

So whether you have one remote team member or an entire department, there are some essential strategies for successfully managing them. Here are our favorites.

1. Communication, communication, communication!

They often go unnoticed, but there are certain aspects of face-to-face interaction that prove tremendously helpful in successful communication. Hand gestures, eye contact, attire and facial expressions all subtly influence how a message is received. All these things are missing in remote work — unless you make use of video chats — so you have to make an extra effort to be crystal clear in your communication.

In this blog post, oDesk experts Mike Barnett (Director of Customer Service) and Ron Aquino (Senior Manager of Marketplace Trust & Safety and Risk Operations) give a number of recommendations for managing remote teams, and many of them focus on the importance of communication. Whether it is having an open-door policy to encourage frequent check-ins, or making sure you promote “a culture of asking questions,” it is clear that frequent and open communication is key.

2. Recognize your remote team members’ value

As with the lack of nonverbal cues, it can also be a challenge to maintain a culture of inclusiveness and appreciation when some — or all — team members are virtual. When you are in the same office, you can smile at someone when you pass them in the hallway, wish them a good morning and good evening, and easily thank them for their work or their contribution. With remote team members, it is easy to put on blinders and focus on the work in a transactional way.

In this blog post, oDesk’s Erica Benton (Director of Social Media) discusses how to maintain a healthy company culture within your remote team. Tips include making sure you invite remote team members to meetings, including them in company celebrations, and exchanging pleasantries such as “good morning!” when you start a conversation with them. (Remember, your morning may be their evening!) And don't forget about positive reinforcement — this article from Entrepreneur magazine discusses how praise and recognition can actually improve work performance.

In addition, consider adding incentives to the mix, says this post from oDesk blog writer Alex Hornbake. The post also notes that remote workers present a real source of value that in-house team members do not typically bring — an outside perspective. Use that fresh view to your advantage by including team members in meetings and really listening to their feedback.

3. Set up your team for success

When you add an in-house employee, a good amount of care is taken to prepare for their arrival and to set them up to succeed in their new role. The same thing goes for remote team members — they are most successful when they have an introduction to all the resources they will need, as well as a clear definition of what is expected of them and how their performance will be evaluated.

This blog post by Erica Benton outlines the best way to ramp up a new remote team member, while another post of hers goes into more detail about how to put together a “new hire care package” so your new team member can be as successful as possible.

Do you have any great tips to add to the list? How do you make sure your online work relationships are successful? Let us know in the comments section below!


Jenna Weiner

Content Marketer

Jenna Weiner is the former content marketing manager at oDesk and was the editor-in-chief of the oDesk blog. With a background in business and technology writing, she specializes in content marketing and strategy, public relations, and branding. Before joining oDesk, Jenna was a writer and editor for Monitor Group’s marketing department (now Monitor Deloitte) and was the Business & Technology Section Editor for Brafton Inc.… read more