How to Manage Remote Staff

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For as long as I can remember there’s been talk of businesses migrating their staff to work from home (or remotely). 


Turn on the TV and some business consultant would be talking about it. Read the newspaper and a journalist would have an opinion piece about how it was the new way forward. Listen to CEOs in team meetings claiming that remote work would empower staff. 


While this talk was exciting, it never really happened en masse. 


Sure, there was more opportunity to work from home but a fully mobilised remote operation never really got there. 


Then, COVID hit like a fast moving train and corporates, companies and small businesses had to act. Government restrictions meant staff either worked remotely or not at all. 


Suddenly, business owners got jittery at the realisation (despite it being predicted for years) that they would have to change direction and enable remote work. 


For the last few months we’ve been acclimatising to these new circumstances and things seem to have settled into a pattern. But the big takeaway from this experience is how to manage remote staff members. 


In fact, I hear this from my clients all the time. 


“Tristan, I trust my staff to do the right thing, but how can I manage them when I’m not there?” 


There’s no bible for large scale remote work but there are some tactics small businesses owners can use to ensure they get the best out of their remote staff and your business continues to satisfy its customers. 

Project management tools 


There’s no shortage of online programs or apps that a business can use to manage workflow. What you choose needs to be the best option for your situation. 


Evolve to Grow has several digital marketing agency clients and being the creative type, they often favour programs like Trello or Monday.com. 


But I’ve found Notion to be the most effective and efficient project management tools for us. 

Notion

Notion allows you to build out a database of everything that needs to be completed by you and your team and view it from concept to delivery. Ideally, every customer would have it’s own board and every task its own card. 


Going further, each staff member can be set up with a profile and assigned tasks within Notion. This means they will get email notifications of things like:


  • Due dates and deadlines.  
  • Changes or updates to work they are responsible for. 
  • Comments, questions and queries from internal staff and customers directly. 


Here’s an example of a Evolve to Grow Notion board. 



Once you get a good handle on how to use a program like Notion, you won’t look back. It has the ability to create staff KPIs (more on this later), daily, weekly and monthly tasks, quarterly plans and so on. 


I recently heard about a business that was charging their customers $100,000 per year and still operating with excel spreadsheets, word docs and emails. That’s a lot of programs requiring mostly manual input of data. It’s also a recipe for disaster when information is changed and not accurately tracked. 

Slack 


How many communication apps do you have? No doubt, plenty. 


Email. Mobile call or text message. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Whatsapp. Facetime. Snapchat. Carrier pigeon. Tinder. 


There’s no shortage of ways people can be contacted and most messagers you get are more of a distraction than a benefit. Yet, when an important message does need to be communicated to a remote worker, how do you cut through on a device where many people are sending messengers to the same person? 


Slack is a business communication tool and used by team members to quickly get in touch with staff members. This is a great option to keep all work combined in the one system, while keeping messaging of a personal nature out. 


When I get a Slack message, I know it’s work related and from one of my staff members who needs information or guidance. 


Slack is a very nimble app and can be personalised with it’s own unique tone (to separate from other apps) and allows for notifications to be turned off easily for when you’re in important meetings (it will even mention this to the person who sends the message). 



It’s impossible to stop remote staff from viewing and responding to social media messagers. But by using an app 100% dedicated to work, you can ensure your remote teams will know when you need them (and they need you). 

How to guarantee remote staff understand instructions 

Project management tools enable more efficiency, but if the message is misunderstood from the start by remote staff your productivity gains will be short lived. 


That’s why your ability to communicate your message and have staff members act on it is key to a good remote working relationship. 

Get remote staff to explain the project (not you)


If you’re bringing a staff member onto a new project or allowing them to work with a new customer, there needs to be a detailed step-by-step brief in place. 


Talk is cheap and staff often don’t ask for clarification given they can sense a small business owner is time poor, stressed and needed by others. So, instead they plow on thinking (hoping) they’re doing the right thing. 


So before any meeting you must ensure staff have this brief well in advance and are given the time to read it thoroughly. Therefore the meeting (presumably a video call) is not about you explaining the new project or customer, but about remote staff asking questions on the things that they’re not sure of. 


This way you can be certain that there’s no confusion and you’ve addressed every area of concern a remote worker has because they’re giving you this information. 


After you’ve answered their questions, make sure you once again get remote staff to articulate what the project is all about. Get them to explain in their own words:


  • The end goal of the project. 
  • What needs to be achieved. 
  • The process, timelines and deliverables of it. 
  • Who else is involved. 
  • Why it needs to be completed. 


By working in this way you’re allowing remote staff to take ownership of a project and reducing the amount of time you need to be involved in it. 

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) 

If your staff are working towards nothing, they’ll ultimately achieve nothing. That’s why every staff member (remote or otherwise) needs to have KPIs in place to enable them to do their job. 


Staff KPIs need to be functional, practical and consistently monitored. But it’s not about keeping an eye on remote staff for when they fall short, it’s about identifying where they need your help and getting stuck in and helping them. 


KPIs are only as good as the staff member working on them, so they need their input. Before you write down what’s expected, meet with each staff member to discuss so you’re both happy. Unrealistic expectations don’t benefit anyone. 


Make clear decisions around what staff members have to deliver and hold them accountable to it by conducting regular meetings to review progress. You also have to allow staff members access to their KPIs so they can monitor them too (this can be done on Notion if you wish). 


As a role or a circumstance changes, so will KPIs. Given the massive shift in business dynamic due to COVID it’s probably irresponsible to hold remote staff members accountable to the same KPIs pre-COVID. 


SkipTheDrive is a jobs board for people wanting to work remotely. They claim that regular work-at-home, among the non-self-employed population, has grown by 140% since 2005, nearly 10x faster than the rest of the workforce or the self-employed.


Whether you like it or not, in an increasingly globalised world, remote work is only going to become more popular. 


That’s why as a small business owner you need to ensure you have the right systems in place to enable remote staff to work unabated and produce the results you (and your customers) want to. 


Using project management tools and providing remote staff with functional, actionable KPIs is a great way to systemise your business. Download our 10 Simple Principles to Grow the

Perfect Business ebook to discover more.


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