In previous posts I talked about the need for real relationships and for eye-to-eye contact when managing remote employees.  The final key recommendation is to work with them.  By that I mean, work directly together with them on a task or project as a team.  Let me start by sharing a related story.

I experienced a company reorganization early in my career in which I came to report to a new VP.  He had been successful in another area of the company, and had inherited my department as part of his newly expanded responsibilities (and promotion).  As part of his first week in this role, he took the time to visit each of the shifts on my 24 hr operation.  He spent an hour or more learning each of our main tasks, studiously sitting with our part-time college student workers and taking notes on a yellow notepad.  I’ll admit, as a manager I felt a little concerned that he was gathering criticism to “fix” us, but the doomsday meeting I feared never came.  He was just learning about the work, about our department, and about us.

Since that experience I have had opportunities to mirror that behavior.  Yes, there have been cases when it is time to get under the hood and fix problems with products, processes and people, but more often it is about learning.  Understanding the task and more importantly, the person doing the task, is a core part of Key #3 to successfully managing remote workers.  

Think about all of the things that happen when you work with someone on the same task, and at the same time, with open lines of communication.  Here are a few results that come to mind.

-You learn what challenges they face.  Do they have the tools they need?  Are time estimates realistic?  Do legitimate interruptions affect their performance of this task?

-You learn what their limitations are.  Do they know how to do the task?  Do they know how to do it efficiently?  Did you give them a complete expectation to meet?  Did you assume they had a resource that they don’t actually have?

-You see them as a person with needs and desires as valid as your own.  Are they motivated by the incentives you provide (or don’t provide)?  What are their reasons for working for YOU?  Does this task or role fit their personality?  Their strengths?  Their career goals?

-You become to them more of a person with valid needs and desires. They might see you hesitate with a decision, struggle to hit a quota, or celebrate excellent performance.  All of these emotions make you more human, and increase their engagement with you as a leader.

So how do you work with someone who is not in the same room with you?  There are several key requirements to creating the right co-working experience effectively, which I will review in the next installment.