Managing far-flung employees is always a challenge. (What are they doing, anyway?) Make it easier by hiring the right people first.
Chances are some of your employees work from home (or from wherever they like). You probably do too, at least some of the time. If you're running a start-up where resources are scarce, that's even more likely.
And even if all your employees work in established locations, the odds are most occasionally access data and mange tasks and projects outside the office on mobile devices.
Face it: No matter what your business, at least some of the time your employees are cloud workers.
Some of the qualities employees need to succeed in a traditional work environment are less important, while these traits are vital for cloud-based employees:
1. Proactively set and share goals.
It's easy for employees to get lost in the cloud. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) Managers still set goals, but collaboration and water-cooler "aha!" moments are much less likely. And it's easier for employees to slowly turn into not much more than to-do list "completers."
Great remote employees actively suggest new ideas, create their own projects, set and share personal goals, and recommend solutions.
Working from home is appealing to relatively introverted people, so make sure the employees you hire enjoy working on their own but also thrive on stepping forward.
Sure, it's a tough balance, but the best remote employees enjoy the benefits striking that balance provides.
2. Stay connected—almost obsessively.
Great team players are trustworthy—and available. Web and mobile connectivity makes it easier to connect with remote employees, yet also makes it harder and less certain. (Maybe he's on a call with a client? Maybe he's on Skype with another team member? Or maybe he's just ducking me?)
It's easy for remote employees to hide behind the technology... or lack thereof.
Whose responsibility is it to try to stay connected: the remote worker's or the home office? Either opinion is correct, but great employees assume the onus is on them; that way, no matter what, they stay connected.
Great remote employees let others know when they won't be available, and why... and how they can still be contacted in the event of an emergency. They see working remotely as a trade-off: They know they have more freedom, but they also recognize that with that freedom comes the responsibility of hyper-availability.
And they recognize that hyper-availability creates trust—with employees and with customers.
3. Focus on results, not time.
In some organizations it's enough to show up and put in your time; what you actually accomplish is almost secondary to being present. (We've all known people who have a positions but don't actually work.)
That's obviously not the case for employees working outside of headquarters. Results, not presence, are everything. Great remote employees focus on accomplishing objectives as quickly and efficiently as possible. Who cares if a task "should" take a week; if it can be completed in three days that opens up time to accomplish other tasks.
Great remote employees finish tasks ahead of time—and ask for more.
4. Constantly want to learn.
Remote employees often, but not always, have very specific duties, focus on a set list of tasks, or work on well-defined projects, if only because that makes managing them easier. They don't have access to some of the same formal or informal training and development opportunities.
So they push for development and learning opportunities. Constantly. Incessantly. To their boss, irritatingly.
And that's a good thing.
5. Push to become irreplaceable.
Say business is down and you're forced to let a few employees go. Who is easier to downsize: The employee in the office next to you or the employee on the other side of the country you never see ? (Come to think of it, he seems to get a lot done, but who knows how hard he's really working?)
In an ideal world every employee is evaluated solely on performance. In the real world other factors come into play, sometimes fairly, sometimes not.
Great remote employees understand that perception and bias can be a factor. But they don't just think, "That's not fair..."
Instead of complaining they work hard to prove how valuable they are. In fact, they enjoy proving how valuable they are.
Which, of course, benefits them... and your business.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden