Making Telework Work: The Magic Wand for Success

by Colin T. McLetchie

Time and again during my 20+ years in Human Resources, I heard the same plea from managers at all levels: "Colin, tell me the secret to managing remote employees effectively." With varying levels of anxiety, fear, trepidation, confusion, and even whining, this was among the top 5 questions I encountered. The good news is, there is a secret. There is a magic wand, and it's gonna blow you away.

Do everything you would do for/with people in the office, and do it with greater discipline and purposefulness.

Ta da! That's really all it takes. Use the effective management techniques already in your toolkit and do them more frequently, with more thought, more planning and more purpose. Treat your remote employees BETTER than your in office employees. This may sound crazy at first, and yet deep down there's a little voice inside of you saying, "I think he might be onto something here."

The big difference between in-office and remote employees is one key thing: convenience. It's easy to catch up with an in-office colleague spur of the moment, to pop your head into their office to ask a quick question, to call them into an impromptu meeting or brainstorming session. In-office employees will naturally feel more connected and in tune because it will organically happen just by being there. Therefore, you are called to up your game with the remote employees. How can you do this?

Seven Simple Steps:

  1. Stick to your scheduled meetings: If you have to inconvenience anyone on your team with schedule changes, pick the in-office staff first. Don't cancel or move your remote staff's one on one time. Barring emergencies (real emergencies), just don't. If you're going to be a few minutes late, send a quick IM, text or email to let them know when to expect the meeting to start. 
  1. Connect personally: It's easy with remote staff to get away from this; don't let it happen. Get to know your employees, make connecting part of your one on ones, figure out what interests them or what worries they have, and connect with them as people. 
  1. Use technology to support the connection: Skype, FaceTime, something. Put a face to the person. Find common technology tools you can use with each individual and with the team overall so everyone is using the same tools.
  1. Turn off distractions: Shut down email, turn off your cell phone, close your door, do what it takes to be fully focused on the remote team member. Being present is harder and more important. 
  1. Meet in person periodically: Budget for and get the team together once or twice a year for connection and growth. Even better, have the manager get on the road to meet with individual team members where they work; go see their home office and spend a day with them there. Visit remote offices on a periodic basis. This is especially important for new team members. 
  1. Ask: Check in occasionally with remote staff during one on ones: How are we doing in terms of helping you feel connected? What can I and the team do to increase your sense of connection?
  1. Trust: Most of us have a good sense as to whether someone is getting the work done and at a high quality. If someone doesn't answer your IM immediately, it may be for a very good reason. If you find that you're losing trust with a remote employee, have a conversation about that and seek to understand what's going on. Then partner with the employee on what you both can do to increase the level of trust.

 All of this is assuming that the employee has the temperament and skills to be an effective remote worker. Some people just aren't good at or wired to be successful when sitting in a home office day after day.

By doing these Seven Simple Steps, your relationship with your remote staff will improve, and you will see better results.

And here's a bonus for you. We've all had occasion to be the lone wolf on the end of a phone when everyone else is in the same room together. It is almost impossible to not feel at a huge disadvantage. How do you level the playing field?


Four things will make all the difference:

  1. If anyone is going to be remote, make everyone remote: Particularly for on-going standing meetings, this can be hugely effective. If one person is on the phone, have everyone be on the phone. Or on video conference. Everyone will then be having the same experience and side conversations and other distractions are eliminated. 
  1. Remember time zones: Occasionally move the meeting time to make it easier for remote staff, even if it means 10 out of 12 people have to get up an hour earlier. Doing this once or twice is a huge deposit for the remote staff and reinforces the sense of team. 
  1. Intentionally solicit opinions from remote staff by calling on them by name and using good "what/how" questions to draw them out:
  • Tanika, what would you add or reinforce in the discussion?
  • Manuel, what haven't we thought about?
  • Henry, what would make this even more successful?
  • Tonya, how might we be more effective in implementing our idea?
  • Jeanetta, what's running through your head as you're listening to us?
  1. Assign someone in the room to be the remote shepherd: Make this a rotational assignment for folks in the office to take ownership for ensuring the remote staff are in the conversation and having a good experience. It's this person's role to pay attention to whose voice isn't being heard, to make sure technology is up and running, to call out "we're on page 23 of the deck now" when someone doesn't have access to technology, etc.

 See, it's simple really. Implement these practices in your work groups and you will feel as if you've found the magic wand. Abracadabra!



"People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get"

~Frederick Douglass



Colin is the President & Founder of Five Ways Forward, LLC, ( and a deeply insightful and dynamic leadership, life and career coach, HR & Organizational Consultant, Facilitator, and Speaker. Originally published at Ultimate Software's People First blog.

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