Freelancing in America is booming. Fifty four million people, a third of our workforce, do it to some degree, and there are millions who aren’t even in the same time zone as their employers. We did a survey of articles on remote workers and we found some common best practices themes.
First and foremost, maintain the human aspect of the relationship.
Pick a tool like Skype that lets you see each other on at least a weekly basis. Half of all communication is nonverbal and no matter how skilled you are at organizing your people and tasks in the Slack chat system, you’re going to miss important things if your interactions are entirely text and conference calls.
Make sure that some of your virtual face time is non-task oriented. You know who needs to be out of the office half an hour ahead of traffic to make that championship soccer game, but details like that don’t come through in a long distance relationship. You have create the time and space for that to happen.
When communicating with email and chat, use emoticons and gifs to convey mood. Business communications are typically terse, particularly when working well known tasks, and something you type with a smile on your face can come through as cold and critical to the person who receives the message.
Second, you need to be clear about expectations.
Parceling out work to a remote employee is very different from dividing up tasks in an office. You have multiple people you can assign work to, you can see how they support each other, and the office mood tells you how things are going.
The remote worker gets a task, they work on it in a much more isolated fashion, and even if your regular visual check-in discipline is good, you can miss important cues and opportunities to ease their workload. Make sure that they are using the same apps as the rest of your team, particularly chat. Make sure they’re introduced to everyone, and arrange situations where they have to coordinate or handoff work so they get to know the capabilities and temperaments of their coworkers.
There are a variety of chat systems out there, but today if you’re invited to join a few discussion, it’s very likely to be Slack’s chat service. Everyone working for Bitwage has a Slack login, we post documents to each other or in task related channels, and everyone loves the fact that there is a client for every type of desktop and mobile device.
Third, you need to be aware of what the failure modes are.
Is the person willing to claim or do anything in order to get the remote position, and are they focused on flexibility? These are signs that something is going on in their lives that distracts from employment. Hire for a limited term engagement, get the previously mentioned stuff right, and you can quickly determine if they’re going to work for longer, more flexible tasks.
If a remote worker is the only one on a team not in the office, unless they are on a specific task that makes sense for an isolated specialist, they are likely to fail. If they are the only one in the whole company that just increases the odds of failure. If you’re going to start adding people that will be around long term or who are part of a group that do similar work, try to bring on two or more when you start.
Temperament matters as much as skills. A fresh graduate who lived in her sorority house through her senior year is going to feel abandoned working at home, even if your remote management skills are top notch. Drop her introverted accountant father into a cubicle in a department full of younger workers and he’ll soldier through the experience, but at a distracted pace.
One of the reasons we launched Bitwage.me is to help smooth the path for both hiring managers and workers. The site permits workers with a history of successful remote employment to make public some information about their successes. We enable workers to use the payments they receive through Bitwage as a verified-resume combined with a payment-reputation system. This way, hiring managers can ensure the quality of remote workers without needed to pay for the fees of a marketplace.
Header via Ryan Morse