7 Mistakes Managers Make When Managing Remote Workers

Written By: Anita Bruzzese
April 14, 2014
5 min read

Allowing employees to work from home or other remote locations is often touted as a way to keep workers more engaged and retain key employees. With more than 3.3 million working remotely, or about 2.6% of the U.S. employee workforce, it’s clear that the definition of the American workplace is changing.

But that doesn’t mean working remotely is without its problems. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer put the kabosh on work-from-home deals and ordered everyone to return to the office so they could be more collaborative and innovative. Soon after, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman issued a memo urging the employees to work more in the office because “HP needs all hands on deck.”

Dan Ingram, vice president of marketing at Enkata, writes in Wired.com that his company found that those who work in an office do get more done, but telecommuting isn’t going to go away because it does offer many advantages such as savings on office space and a broader candidate pool.

“The problem is that many companies, Yahoo included, manage telecommuters exactly the same as they would manage people in the office. This doesn’t work,” he writes.

So let’s look at the biggest mistakes you make as a manager when it comes to remote workers:

  1. You hire the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Offering remote arrangements can certainly help you recruit and retain workers, but if that’s all a candidate focuses on, then that’s not someone you want to hire. “Hire them for the job. Don’t focus on the flexibility at all,” suggests FlexJobs CEO Sara Sutton Fell. “If they keep bringing up the flexibility in the interview, then that’s a red flag.” In other words, those who prize the idea of flexibility above all else are more committed to their needs than anything else, including a job.
  2. You pay too much attention to Yahoo. Yahoo has become the poster child for “What is Wrong With Telecommuting” when the issues were much more complicated. But managers at other companies will seize upon such anecdotes and proclaim: “No telecommuting. Ever.” That’s shortsighted and can lead to losing some valuable workers or potential new talent. It’s better to think about your company culture and your team so your workers don’t become resentful of your attitude. Think about it: Many employees are already telecommuting with the amount of time they spend taking care of business at home.
  3. You don’t understand what the employee really does. Fell says managers often don’t give a lot of thought to how an employee does a job. A manager just wants to see an employee sitting in a chair, and then he or she feels that work is getting done. But look at issues such as how much of the work is accomplished independently, how often the person must meet in person with others and when and how they conduct important conversations, she suggests. That gives you a much more realistic idea of whether the job can be done remotely.
  4. You don’t know what makes the person tick. If you stick a young and social employee in a remote location, you are likely to soon have an unhappy and uninspired worker, Fell explains. Someone who gets “easily distracted by shiny objects” also is probably not the best candidate to work from home, and needs the daily interaction with a manager. But those who are proactive communicators and are self-disciplined may thrive in a remote location and see it as a reward for their performance, she adds.
  5. You don’t set up metrics to measure progress. Working from home can be a mixed bag in terms of employee engagement. A Gallup survey finds that working remotely less than 20% of the time is very good for engagement, but doing it 100% of the time can lead to active disengagement and those disgruntled employees can infect others. So if you want to ensure you’re striking the right tone with remote workers, you need to have measurements in place. Fell suggests not only monitoring output, but also ensuring deadlines and targets are being met.
  6. You forget about them. Once you get over the person not being in the office, you don’t give them much thought beyond sending an email requesting information on a project. If you acted that way with someone in the office, it would be weird and rude. Managers need to make informal calls to remote workers, asking how things are going and just shooting the breeze. This lets the employee talk about issues of concern, or just feel acknowledged and appreciated. Managers should also remember to invite the remote worker to events like employee picnics or parties or use a company intranet to post items like birthdays or awards to let them feel like they’re still part of the team.
  7. You miss warning signs. If a remote worker is missing deadlines or being asked to re-do work, then it could mean there’s a problem with communications. Don’t ignore the situation but meet with the worker to determine if you need more Skype conversations or should set up instant messaging to improve the situation.

What other mistakes do managers make when it comes to remote work arrangements?

Anita Bruzzese
Written By: Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today Show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

Never miss a post — subscribe to the Quickbase Blog.

Sign up to receive the latest posts on everything from Operational Excellence to Digital Transformation.