How to Manage and Motivate Telecommuting Workers

Marilyn Tam

16 March 2020
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Globally, over 70 percent of professionals work remotely at least one day a week according to a study by the International Workplace Group. In the U.S., 40 percent of all workers toil away from the organization’s sites some of the time on a regular basis, an increase of 173 percent since 2005 according to Global Workplace Analytics. The current COVID-19 (better known as the coronavirus) contagion concerns have significantly increased this statistic. How do you keep your widespread team collaborating, motivated and productive? Having managed business in 120 countries at the same time, I’ve learned much about how to lead, collaborate, and coordinate with a diverse and remote team.

The tools and skills needed to lead a combined local and remote team productively and happily are easily and economically accessible now. The technological tools have significantly improved since I first started managing workers in different locations and time zones, but the most important factor is still the same—you as the leader.

Ultimately, people work for their manager and then secondly for the organization. If you establish clear goals, treat people equitably, ethically and have a meaningful product/service, your team will more likely be effective, motivated and loyal. Below are seven tools that have proven to be useful in managing a mixed local and remote team.

  1. Establish clear goals. Share the project, division and company’s goals in clear and consistent ways. The entire team needs to know what the targets are. They should have an understanding of why the goals are important and how they relate to the organization’s mission and purpose. Equally consequential is sharing how they and their work fit in the goals and mission.
  2. Maintain regular virtual face-to-face communication. There is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Schedule electronic individual and team meetings where the participants can see and interact with each other. The members have to feel they are part of a team. Virtual face-to-face meetings provide the nonverbal cues that more fully express what words alone often leave out. The bonus of visual meetings is they minimize the multitasking and reduced attention that may occur in a nonvisual event.
  3. Develop mentors/mentorship relationships. A powerful way to strengthen cross connections, knowledge and accountability is to develop a mentorship program for workers. Everyone can benefit from a mentoring program. The mentees learn, are inspired by people who have gone before them and feel seen. Mentors also learn from teaching/mentoring; they are rewarded by being able to share their experience and wisdom and gain insight into the perspective of the newer entrants into the business.
  4. Share information and files. A crucial aspect of any organization, especially one in which some members are not able to gather relevant information in person, is to communicate well. Maintain an online system of sharing of files, updates, news and any tweaks in strategy. There are many private and public virtual networks that a company can use to ensure that every member has access to the information they need to accomplish their tasks well and feel engaged.
  5. Respect each other’s time. When time zones and different schedules are involved, it is easy to forget that some team members may have other commitments when you are working, like sleeping. Plan meetings and call times to minimize disruptions. Send out a clear agenda in advance and request each member comes prepared so that the meetings are productive and time-effective.
  6. Copy relevant parties only. Virtual teams grow easily with a number of people being copied on matters that may not concern them. Include parties involved in the specific project and leave off people who are not working on the aspects being discussed. Otherwise the mass of electronic communication reduces the effectiveness of the messages and buries people in unneeded emails.
  7. Show them you care. Everyone wants to feel they have a purpose and are valued. How you communicate, listen and follow through with your team sets the stage for how they feel about their work, the team, the company, themselves and, of course, you as their manager/leader. Have regular touch-base sessions with each team member; acknowledge their accomplishments, coach them on how they may improve, and share your higher perspective about the project(s) and organization. Pay attention. Be real, honest and human. When people work remotely, they need human connection and one-to-one communication to feel involved and to know how they are performing.

Working remotely is a rapidly growing trend. As a leader it’s your privilege and responsibility to guide and manage your team so that they are performing to their potential, and to feel fully engaged so that you and your team members are happily aligned and creating the best functioning organization for today and for the future. Happy telecommuting!

Marilyn Tam

A speaker, best-selling author, consultant, board-certified executive and corporate coach, CEO of Marilyn Tam & Co., and the founder and executive director of Us Foundation. She formerly served as CEO of Aveda Corp., president of Reebok Apparel and Retail Group, and vice president of Nike Inc.

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