How To Help Your Remote Workers Be More Productive
Managing a local team is hard enough as it is. There are certain guiding principles, the rest is experience and common sense. But can you apply the same in-house management principles to remote workers?
Building a remote team can affect a company in plenty of good ways. Cost reduction, time savings, greater productivity, increased business flexibility – all of these, and more, can result from introducing remote work.
However, every worker-employer relationship has to be a two way street. You hire someone, and you need to give something back in order to retain that person on your team.
If you think about it, things that affect worker productivity include the size of the salary, the employment terms, but also the way you track task completion, the culture within your business, all the way down to the way you communicate.
There’s a lot to consider. So what are the most important things that you need to give to remote workers?
Salary and employment terms
Since we’ve already mentioned it, let’s start by talking about how much you should pay remote workers, and how you should employ them.
There are at least a couple of ways to employ remote workers:
- Gentleman’s agreement (or contract) between two business parties (remote worker needs to have a registered business wherever they live)
- Through an intermediary (like what we do at Talmatic) that finds the right candidates and hires them for you, relieving you from the hassle of bureaucracy
You can’t say that any of these is better than the other, because it depends on what you need. Intermediaries are great when you need to hire someone quickly, with as little trouble as possible, and don’t have a super-tight budget.
If you go about it on your own, then you’re going to have to search for candidates yourself, evaluate their skills, decide whether they’re the right addition to your team, and also handle all the paperwork required to hire a remote worker – but you’ll save a bit of money.
As for the salary – don’t hire remote programmers only for the cost cuts, because focusing on cutting costs is not how you build great products!
You should pay your remote workers a justifiable wage depending on their skills and experience. If you’re paying somebody less, you better have a great explanation for it, and make sure that everybody understands it.
Unclear salary policies can cause a lot of bad blood, especially if you don’t get to meet your employees everyday because they’re working remotely. And workers that earn less, and don’t even know why, are always the least productive.
Get your project management tech stack right
The technology stack of a project isn’t limited only to the programming languages and frameworks used by your developers. It includes the tools you use to manage your team.
To make it simple, let’s separate it from the product stack, and call it the project management tech stack.
You know how many tools there are out there. The amount of possible configurations is mind-boggling:
- Will you communicate project-crucial information through Trello cards, as @all Slack messages, or via email?
- Should you automate tasks with Zapier, or IFTT?
- Do you use Skype or Hangouts for video conferences?
- Will your developers track work time with a tool like Toggl?
And these are only the most basic aspects of communicating with remote workers. I’m not here to give you the best option, but I do have a bit of advice and a few important considerations.
The most important tip I can give is that you need to have a documented process for this. Nothing fancy, nothing that will require more than an hour of research and planning – just put some thought into it, work out a communication process, and put it to use.
You’ll refine it again whenever you deem it necessary. Putting it in a document will help you keep track of changes, and ensure that your process is consistent over time.
- Time zone differences – how do you make sure your whole team is on the same page regardless of varying time zones?
- Ease of use – the best tools are not the complicated ones with tons of unnecessary features, but the ones that have the exact features you need, and are the easiest to use.
- The “Hyde Park” rule – no matter how you communicate, always remember to add a place / room / thread where workers can indulge in small-talk in a similar way they would in an office space.
- Introverts / extroverts – introverts might feel insecure when you force them to get on frequent video calls, and extroverts might like talking a bit too much and schedule too many calls, distracting others on the team. You need to have boundaries, but also be a bit flexible, and sensitive to whether somebody is an introvert or an extrovert.
- Make it easy to work – ultimately, the job of managers is to get out of the workers way and simply support them by providing the right tools, encouragement, financial incentives and goals. But there’s a thin line between being a good manager, and being annoying. Remote workers most likely won’t tell you that your communication process is annoying to them, they’ll just start looking for another job. Keep it in mind!
Transparency or secrecy?
There is an important choice that needs to be made in your business, and it’s closely connected to managing your team.
You have to decide whether you will:
- disclose all business-related information to every worker on your team
- inform team members on a strictly need-to-know basis
Once you make your decision, you need to be consistent across all departments and all teams. This will help you avoid inner turmoil, and accusations from workers that feel left out (“why do in-house developers know more about the project than remote developers?”).
It’s never a good idea to favorise any group within a company. It can lead to arguments, create a toxic culture, and it’s particularly harmful in case of remote workers.
You need to ensure that your remote workers don’t feel like they’re being told less, or that there are any secrets being kept from them.
If your choice is to be 100% transparent, you’re going to need to be transparent with remote workers just as much as your local team. If you don’t want to divulge all information to everyone, then you can’t slip up and tell certain people without telling the others – this is exactly how gossiping starts.
Last resort – hire new people
One of the most important factors in building and maintaining a productive remote team is what type of people you hire.
Some workers might just be trying out in a remote position, and end up being really bad at self-managing their work, or feeling bad as they realise that they would prefer to work in a group.
That’s just fine. You can’t change people into something that they’re not.
You just have to observe closely, and identify whenever a situation like this is taking place. If someone just isn’t cut out to be a remote worker, you can either:
- Offer to relocate them (if you have the budget)
- Open an office on-site (if you have multiple remote workers in the same location)
- Let them go, and find workers more suited for a remote gig
If you need to let them go, do it as fast as possible. Once you realise that it is necessary, continuing an employment relationship like this is ill-advised, and potentially harmful for you, as well as for the worker.
To sum it up
There are, in my mind, 4 crucial aspects of remote worker productivity, and they are:
- Salary and employment terms
- Project management tech stack
- Transparency / Secrecy + consistency
- Hiring new people when necessary
Don’t worry if advice from articles like this, or thousands of other similar articles on the internet, doesn’t necessarily work for you. As long as you’re looking for a solution that will fit your business – you’re on the right track.
And I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed so that you find the best way to guarantee that your remote team is as productive as it can be. Good luck!