CWS 3.0: March 21, 2012

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Feature: How to Manage Remote Contingent Workers

Managers who drive results by peering over employees’ shoulders and calling impromptu status meetings should take a refresher course, because you’ll need different techniques and skills to supervise a team of contingent workers dispersed across the globe.

“Regardless of employment status, remote workers should be measured by their results as compared to defined and communicated expectations for hours, schedule, deliverables, quality and other measured criteria,” notes Doug Campbell, a technology consultant and creator of the Remote Daily Worker blog.

Here are some ways to manage remote contingents successfully:

Manage outcomes, not activity. The goal is to achieve results without squelching a freelancer’s ambition or creativity, because successful remote workers are independent, self-guided spirits who shun micromanagement. Start by providing a detailed work agreement that outlines your expectations and the scope of work; then monitor progress by breaking down larger projects into segments and asking contractors to meet a series of interim deadlines, key performance indicators and deliverables. Finally, a dispersed workforce poses unique risks, so ask contingents to sign-off on data security, intellectual property and safety protocols.

Create robust orientation and training programs. “A remote team will be dysfunctional if you act hastily and throw new contractors into the mix without putting them through a comprehensive onboarding program,” warns Jim Ware, executive director for The Future of Work Unlimited.

To avoid a similar fate, provide onsite training and orientation whenever possible. Alternatively, give new contingents a feel for the organization by taking them on a virtual tour of the company and introducing them to their teammates via video conference. Create virtual training programs and a toolbox that includes information about Web or mobile applications, forms, online chat rooms, passwords, company directories and policy and procedure manuals.

Collaborate and communicate. Establish required hours so workers in different locales and time zones can feel connected to the mission by participating in a daily Web meeting or group chat. Start the session by reviewing team and individual goals then boost accountability by asking each worker to provide a brief progress report. Consider appointing a scribe or communications czar to compile and forward the agenda and a summary of each session. But don’t rely strictly on formal communications, allow dispersed workers to share documents and ideas 24/7 via Web-based project management, call center or collaboration programs, group text messaging, chat rooms and secure Internet calls.

Motivate, engage and entrust. Don’t let remote contingents flounder on another continent. Engage them by explaining how their work impacts the company and its customers and by asking key executives and other department heads to address the group during team meetings. Encourage teamwork by organizing face-to-face meet-ups or furnishing Web cams and make work fun by offering small rewards and using gamification to solve problems and inspire innovation. Monitor new contingents to make sure they have the skills and attitude to succeed in a remote work environment before heeding Campbell’s sound advice: “Set clear expectations and deliverables, then get out of the way and let your freelancers find their stride.”

Leslie Stevens-Huffman is a freelance writer in Southern California who has 20 years’ experience in the staffing industry. She can be reached at lesliestevens@cox.net.

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