The Way We Work
April 20, 2011 by Julia Camenisch

“The magic formula that successful businesses have discovered is to treat…employees like people.” – Thomas J. Peters

It can be a challenge to successfully manage remote workers. They’re an integral part of your team, yet these people are only connected to you by the wires of technology. No dropping by their cubicle unannounced to check on project status. No impromptu hallway meetings to discuss workplace issues. Without face to face interaction to remind you of their humanity, you’ve got to be careful you don’t relegate these workers to email-producing automatons. (Trust me. It happens.) To help you guard against being that at-a-distance “evil employer”, here’s a few phrases you should banish from your management playbook:

  • “You didn’t do the job right (based on the meeting we had without you).” – Another way to phrase this statement is, “You not an important team member.” At least that’s what they’ll hear when this slips out of your mouth. Hey, actions speak louder than words! A remote worker is completely dependent on their manager for the information they need to get the job done right. If you deny them access to that info, they’ll get frustrated and begin to feel as though the job they’re doing isn’t important. And when that happens, quality and morale take a nosedive.
  • “Did you [insert remote worker’s name here] have anything to add?” (Said during the last 30 seconds of the conference call.) – Not only do you need to include your remote worker in meetings, you also need to make it a point to listen to them. While some personalities are quick to jump into the conversational fray, others will be more reticent. Take the time to draw every team member into the discussion. Ask their opinion on issues that are relevant to them. Give them space during the meeting to share concerns and showcase their expertise. Make sure they know their opinion is valued–and don’t wait until the last 30 seconds of the call.
  • “We’re on a deadline and the job must be done! Your personal life is irrelevant to me.” – Seriously? Who are you, Ebenezer Scrooge? If you’ve ever had an unexpected emergency derail your life, you know that these things can’t be planned. Extend to your remote worker the same courtesy you would want to receive in that situation. If the deadline truly can’t be moved, then give the worker freedom to bow out of the job and get someone else to complete the project. It may not be convenient, but that’s the way life works sometimes. At the end of the day, you need to balance optimizing the project with the well-being of your team.
  • “When I hired you, I forgot to mention that this job requires access to XYZ technology. Can you get it?” – Depending on the cost and scope of the technology required, this statement could elicit reactions ranging from mildly frustrated to extremely angry. Why? Because your new requirement puts the remote worker in a serious bind. If they’d known that this software or hardware was required prior to being hired, they may have thought twice about taking the job. But if they quit now, they’re potentially putting their reputation at risk. Best way to handle this type of situation? Give them a graceful way to back out of the job without any negative repercussions, or if appropriate, offer to help offset the cost of the technology.
  • “I forgot to mention a deadline when we discussed the job two weeks ago. Can you have it done by tomorrow?” – Ever heard of the project triangle? Speed, quality, cost – you can only have two of those suited to your liking. If you want the job done overnight without having given previous warning of that deadline, then you can probably expect quality to suffer. Conversely, if you want them to kill themselves to produce something excellent, then you need to reimburse the worker for the overtime you’re requiring of them. Last option: if you truly want a good job done at a decent price, then extend the deadline. It’s as simple as that. Your remote worker is only human, and as was previously noted, it’s up to you to optimize the project while respecting the well-being of your team.

Are you a manager of remote workers? Share your examples of the challenges and/or problems you’ve faced in that role and how you’ve dealt with them. If you’re a remote worker, what’s some statements that you hate to hear your employer say? Leave your answers below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.