[ Skip Main Nav ]

Phoenix Forward

7 ways to keep tabs on telecommuters

Effectively supervising teleworkers

You can’t see them, but your teleworkers are diligently working for you — at least you hope so. The inability for managers to keep a “watchful eye” on their remote subordinates makes real-time monitoring of employees’ job autonomy and performance metrics challenging. Yet supervisors can ensure their teleworkers are meeting company objectives, says Hoby Follis, a University of Phoenix School of Business instructor and consultant with 20 years of experience in organizational development. The key, he adds, is for supervisors to shift away from traditional office expectations to better reflect teleworkers’ asynchronous realities.

1. Establish a charter.
Before you can ask your employees to meet your expectations, you have to set them — as precisely as possible. Outline teleworkers’ roles and responsibilities, the group’s decision-making process, any required times to be online and other pertinent work details in a detailed team charter, says Follis. This also includes protocols of communication, including what communication channels equate to a supervisor’s urgency level, as well as information about deliverables and deadlines. “You really have to lay out all of those business processes you supervise within a charter so the employees know what the telecommuting boundaries are ahead of time.”

2. Let technology help with accountability.
Keeping tabs across the miles also means virtually tracking employee work ethic, work hours and performance through project management and human resources software programs, web conferences, email and text messaging.

“Traditional managers’ leadership comes from their physical presence and personalities at the office,” observes Follis. A teleworking supervisor, he adds, assumes more of a coaching role because they provide the technology, but then let the teleworkers essentially self-manage their workdays.

3. Assign a technology manager.
It is better from a management standpoint to designate someone on a virtual team to be the technology facilitator, Follis says, rather than expecting the supervisor to address telecommuting technical issues. The supervisor, he explains, needs to focus on the team’s overall performance and results, not on troubleshooting technological glitches and other operational matters.

4. Adjust real-time expectations.
"Traditional managers have to get out of the mindset that if they can’t physically see their employees at their desks that they must be goofing off,” says Follis. In teleworking reality, Follis explains that real-time presence — or, a set shift — is no longer a proper monitoring tool for supervisors. This holds especially true based on teleworkers’ time zones. Shifting this paradigm may also mean relaxing expectations for immediate responses, he adds.

5. Reprimand in real-time.
However, Follis suggests supervisors conduct important conversations live via the phone or Skype™ in order to quickly address any issues with teleworkers. Teleworkers may also have to travel more often than on-site employees, in order to make key meetings and attend important events.

6. Create a water cooler.
Use technology to a supervisory advantage by creating informal spaces within the online environment. For example, Follis says a supervisor can instant message a quick hello when she notices a teleworker simultaneously logged on. It’s the virtual equivalent of saying hello in the hallway.

7. Communicate regularly.
Whether you’re a teleworker or the boss, he notes: “In the virtual world, silence is absence.”

Skype is a trademark of Skype Limited.

Interested in furthering your education?