The Way We Work
September 13, 2010 by Erica Benton

Whether you’ve got one remote worker or an entirely distributed team, getting a new online hire set up — and running smoothly — is critical to ensuring the success of your remote work program.

1. Set Great Expectations. Make it clear from the start what the expectations are for the position. What are the goals you will be judging his success by? What are the milestones you want him to hit along the way, and how quickly do you expect him to get there? This is typically a 15-minute conversation that takes place very soon after the hire is made. Laying out the expectations early on will make future reviews and feedback discussions fairly straightforward, and gives the newbie an opportunity to voice concerns or ask for clarification before an issue arises.

2. Create a “New Hire” Care Package. Unlike the packages your parents sent you as a kid at summer camp (though everyone loves MadLibs and bubblegum, right?), this one should include,  in one easy-to-find place, everything your remote worker needs to succeed:

  • Your contact info and usual availability to respond to messages.
  • The contact info of critical team members she will be working with, or whose work may impact her assignments.
  • A schedule of upcoming meetings and deadlines related to his assignment.
  • Logins/passwords and other tools she needs to gain access to the areas critical for her role. This access should be designated for your remote user in advance, so that you can turn over the keys to her little kingdom with minimal effort while still being able to see what changes are attributed to her unique login.
  • Any existing documentation on the role he’ll be tackling.  A new writer on your team will need a copy of your company’s style guidelines, a link to previous content that captures the desired “voice” of the company, and an editorial calendar outlining deadlines and assignments. A new developer joining your product team? Give him access the existing PRD, any completed wireframes or mockups and a Codesion account for a place to store code under construction.

3. Play Well With Others. Many times, a contractor is brought in to fill a gap on an existing team, but get thrown to the wolves. Make it easy for her to find her place in the group by sending email introductions to all team members she’ll be working with, with a brief explanation of each person’s role and how they should interact with the remote worker on the current assignment. Note related areas of expertise on the existing team — while you may not think your new forum moderator needs to know who in your office manages your blog, clarifying those relationships can help streamline communication during a crisis and integrate  your remote worker easily into your team.

4. The Devil is in the Details. When you hire new in-house employees, you probably spend some time with them in the early days – you introduce them around, explain who they’ll be working with, what hours everyone keeps, etc. When doing the same with your new remote team member, don’t forget to fill him in on the details that local employees figure out on their own: which folks prefer email to phone calls or IM, how open the “open door” policy really is, when his coworkers are going on vacation, etc. Taking the initiative to educate your remote folks about these “little things” can positively impact their productivity and how they are perceived by your local team.

ramp a remote hire three5. Schedule Casual Checkups – How often do you check in with new members of your in-house team? Beyond scheduled meetings, it’s likely that you stop by their cubicles or pop your head into their offices every once in a while just to ask “what’s up?” These casual conversations give your workers a chance to share things with you in a more relaxed atmosphere, one that lends itself to relationship-building and trust.  Establish this practice early on with new remote staff by scheduling daily or weekly check-ins. I usually request an email with a list of “progress” and “questions” prior to weekly one-on-one meetings. This gives the contractor time to think through current activities and issues, and gives me time to troubleshoot prior to our call.

Got your own remote team culture challenge? How do you make your remote staff feel integrated into your local team? Let me know in the comments!

Erica Benton

Social Media Guru

Erica Benton joined oDesk in 2009, bringing with her nearly a decade of small business and freelance experience, and a love of all things social. Her passion for startups, technology and marketing was born during her tenure with Kulesa Faul Public Relations, while she learned the art of entrepreneurship firsthand through Equine Alternatives, a business she founded while earning her Bachelor of Science degree from… read more