The number of employees in the United States who work at least part of the time out of the office continues to increase.  Gallup reported the number has risen to 43 percent. If that wasn't enough, according to Deloitte 75 percent of millennials express a desire for more opportunities for remote work, a trend likely only to increase in the future.

Remote work can lower office overhead costs, increase access to a wider range of talent and potentially improve productivity. Of course, achieving these benefits requires sound management skills and an effective leader.  

Learning how to properly lead remote workers is one of the most important tasks facing forward-thinking business leaders today. Like in-office employees, these staff members need to be led and held accountable for their work.

Here's how you can accomplish this in a respectful way that keeps everyone on track:

1. Establish expectations early on.

When hiring a remote worker, you must clearly explain the standards of the team and your expectations regarding project deadlines, communication practices, and company values, mission, and vision.

As Macy Bayern of TechRepublic explains, "Unspoken rules can create confusion. To set employees up for success, they need to understand what their expectations are -- whether they are working in or out of the office. Without remote work policies, a disconnect can form between employees and their supervisors, which is unproductive and unhelpful."

2. Streamline your communication practices.

Impromptu meetings and hallway conversations may not be as easy to facilitate when your team works remotely, but consistent communication will be key to keeping everyone accountable.

Remote teams should be willing to use a wide variety of communication methods to keep in touch so that everyone is on the same page -- but for the best results, you should try to find one tool to manage all your communications.

As Stefan Chekanov, co-founder and CEO of Brosix notes, "A secure, private instant-messaging network provides a wide range of features for different types of remote communication, unlike regular email. The closed nature of these networks means that communication stays securely within a team, whether employees are physically in the office or working from home."

Continues Chekanov, "This kind of communication is more efficient and secure than email, which allows for faster resolution of important, everyday issues. Improving efficiency will also enhance engagement and accountability for everyone involved in a project, including those working remotely."

3. Schedule meetings appropriately.

Though scheduling regular meetings should play a key role in your accountability plan, there are a few extra things to consider when working with a remote team. If your team is spread across several time zones (or even several continents), a 9 a.m. meeting for you could be at an inconvenient time for members of your remote staff.

Yes, some flexibility (and after-hours availability) will likely be required for remote team members, but you should try to ensure that these accountability meetings don't create significant disruptions to non-working hours. This will ensure that your meetings are a quality experience, rather than a dreaded burden.

4. Utilize project management tools.

Project management tools like Asana or Basecamp can make all the difference when managing a remote team by providing a central hub where you can track progress on each of your projects.

Tasks can be broken down into individual assignments, while team members are given the ability to upload files or post messages related to their task. Many project management tools can even send automated emails whenever an update is made to a project.

Another key element of these project management tools is that they give everyone a clear picture of how work is progressing. By assigning deadlines and responsibilities to each team member, everyone will stay on the same page and be held accountable for the completion of their work.

5. Get them together at least twice a year.  

A flexible schedule and being able to work in the environment of choice are usually one of the top motivators for remote work. While this is fine by itself, people still need to be connected and unified with others to create long-term success and momentum. 

Spending the money to have the entire remote team come together at least twice a year will have huge benefits.  Not only will it allow team members to truly build bonds with each other but it creates a true sense of belonging, which is difficult to replicate online.  

Though managing and leading remote team members certainly offer a unique set of challenges, it can also be incredibly beneficial for your company. When you respectfully ensure that your remote staff is giving their best effort, you'll achieve better results and keep the best employees with you for years to come.

Published on: Dec 21, 2018