Workplace Rights

Weekly (2/15/11)

Topic of the Week   Out of Sight But Not Out of Mind: Managing Telecommuters

It's challenging enough to manage people that you spend eight hours a day with. Getting the most out of people that you barely ever see? A Herculean task. But there are tricks of the trade to ensure that everyone on your team is contributing wherever they spend the bulk of their working hours. Which reminds me of a focus group that was done at one of the largest Seattle employers a few years back. The company was very interested in learning why it had such a difficult time keeping younger engineers. One exchange told the company everything they needed to know, when one employee was asked about his boss and replied, "My boss couldn't pick me out of a police lineup."

Bosses must connect with all employees to help them reach their full potential. Sure it takes some time and effort, but to get the kind of results you need, it's required. I've included three Do's and one Don't to turn telecommuters into tele-producers below. For more, check out Harvard Business School Press's book "Teams that Click" (2004).

Do communicate, communicate, communicate. Yep, if the rule in retail is "location, location, location" the rule in telecommuting is all about communication. Text, IM, email, face-to-face, webcasting, Skype, Twitter, whatever. Some organizations have even created an online whiteboard where people can brainstorm about ideas and problem solving. What comes natural in many workplaces, conversations in the elevator, over coffee or following a meeting, don't tend to happen with telecommuters. So you've got to go out of your way to maintain a dialogue with them.

Do keep people connected. Just because people aren't on-site, doesn't mean that you can't look for opportunities to bring them together. Training sessions, trade shows and industry conferences can all be places where you can create opportunities for people to bond and brainstorm with each other. But don't overlook non-work connections like recreational sports, parties and picnics and other chances to create a feeling of camaraderie.

Do create simple ways to monitor performance. Sales is famous for the funnel, a series of key steps involves in selling that allow everyone to know exactly where in the sales process a particular customer is. We need to create a variety of ways to monitor employee performance along these same lines. However, there is a huge irony here. Most employees who aren't telecommuters could use these same tools to monitor performance. Develop these tools for your telecommuters, but share them with all the employees that you can also see on a daily basis.

Don't take them for granted. Throughout most of my career most of my bosses have left me alone. I'm very independent and self-motivated. So my bosses have tended to put their energy into employees who required more handholding. But this is a mistake. You need to dedicate time to each of your people on a regular, read weekly, basis.

Follow these tips and you'll stay out of a police lineup, because your team will be firing on all cylinders.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via

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