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But, I’m afraid remote employees will sip pina coladas by the pool


May 31, 2017 | by Eleni Lobene

Many organizational leaders are concerned about what employees will do, if they aren’t in an office from 9-5 every day. Aon Hewitt was just named a top employer for supporting workplace flexibility through teleworking. I recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of our North America Practice Leader for Assessment, Ernest Paskey, on how to effectively manage and motivate a largely remote workforce. Can his insider tips help you rethink the design of work and community in your organization – as well as the importance of identifying those who fit into your culture? See for yourself:

Why have a remote workforce? What are the benefits and disadvantages?

You have to go where the talent is. Why be unnecessarily constrained? You want the best person you can absolutely get - not the best person you can get within a 50 mile radius of where you are sitting. That is just stupid.

Ask yourself: What do you need them to do? What do you expect from them? It’s very simple: clarify what the contract is between you and that person and ensure everyone understands it. Define all terms, understand timing, what outcomes looks like, and then let them achieve it… and don’t get in their way.

One disadvantage, however, is that you don’t always have your hand on the steering wheel to make quick course corrections. As a leader and manager, managing the work remotely is about your skill and approach, not just about the employee(s). If they need more course correction more frequently, then you must identify that need and adjust. Hold the employee(s) accountable and measure progress. Acknowledge that you may have to work harder to keep common understanding in place and communication open.

How to you hold employees accountable?

The key is making sure you hold your employees accountable for the right things. We are still exiting the old school mentality that work is best measured by number of hours and the specific times and days someone is working. If we have that in our heads, it’s hard to define success as: "I need to delight client and come in at (or under) budget and get it done on time; I need the product to do what we said it would do." We need to start with a goal like that and from there define what the focus (e.g., customer/client satisfaction) and accountability (e.g., delivering based on the project plan) should be.

Some would argue you lose personal contact when you have a remote team. How to you ensure relatedness/connectedness?

There is a lot of value brought to employees in a physical workplace through little things, such as hallway conversations. Those beginning of day and end of day chats - over hearing something interesting in the cubicle next to you – those interactions are hard to replicate. Therefore it is critical to maximize the opportunities that you do have to be together - physically or virtually.

So, here is an example: every month we have a team call that is scheduled for an hour. The first ten minutes may seem unstructured – it’s free flowing, I’m getting the PPT up, we’re waiting for people dial in… that is actually deliberate. I’m actually scheduling 10 minutes for the team to banter - like at the water cooler. Not everyone is going to schedule that time, so this is giving them permission to do it. Allowing the whole team to be on phone together and not try to stick to the agenda and just to talk about what they are doing, is hugely beneficial. So whether talking about a movie, a book, a challenge, cute pets, etc… as a leader, we have to look for, and facilitate, those moments.

Other tricks of the trade?

Assume positive intent: everyone wants to work hard and to be successful. Everyone wants to do well and treat others well. No one is in this to work the system. If you focus on that mindset and those things, everything will fall in place.


So, it’s certainly understandable that you don’t want your employees drinking pina coladas by the pool if their laptop is in front of them. But, such concerns should become irrelevant if your remote employees are simply held accountable to get their work done well, under productivity-conducive circumstances (perhaps swap out the alcohol for coffee), and on time.

However, in order to make these assumptions and experience success with a remote workforce, you must first identify top talent that matches the culture of your organization. Your candidates need to have a realistic preview of what it means to be a remote employee, including both the advantages and disadvantages. You also need high quality talent. How do you do this? You need to meet-and-greet your candidates the right way. Learn more about the ways you can do this here!


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