The Care and Feeding of Remote Employees

How to keep remote employees happy, engaged and productive.

The fries are a delicious metaphor of the many tools remote managers have to keep their remote teams productive. (Yeah, I’m stretching this.)

Your remote employee (magicae remote hominem) is special. He or she thrives in an environment you may never see and connects to others using a combination of electricity, sand and metals. Great care must be taken not to disrupt the fragile balance they construct around themselves while still assuring that your remote employee is operating at peak performance.

Experienced remote managers and execs speak the secrets of black belt remote team management only in whispered tones to prevent office-trapped managers from overhearing and becoming confused. Some secrets are simply too disruptive. Below are a few tips on getting the best from your remote employee.

Hire Selectively

The most basic secrets of maintaining a pod of happy, productive remote employees is to only introduce pod members who are most likely to thrive in the environment. This means that when you shop for new remote employees, you shouldn’t just grab the first one off the shelf displaying that label. Look deeper. Ask for details on their own strategies for getting work done remotely. Do they have the odor of self-management about them? Be cautious if you can’t find any mention of remote work experience on their tags.

There are naturally occurring remote workers in the wilds of officeland but those require the greatest scrutiny. Don’t be satisfied with “I always wanted to work from home”. That’s just optimism, not drive. You can read more about that here.

Set Goals, Not Hours

It is impossible to assess remote job performance by monitoring how much time a team member spends “logged in”. This means that little green dot next to their name in Slack is nothing more than a cluster of #009900 pixels. Remote employees grow nervous and agitated to the point of hair-loss if the criteria you are using to assess their performance isn’t clear.

Help them avoid clogging up the keys their new MacBook Pro’s delicate keyboard by explaining exactly how you will gauge the quality of their work. Naturally, at this point you are exclaiming to your computer screen “but, Mr. Remote-work-know-it-all, if I can’t judge them by how deep a depression their butt left in the desk chair, what do I do instead? That always worked in the office.”

My answer won’t surprise those who have been reading my articles in the past. Set goals attached to metrics and dates then review them with your remote team member both before and after. They can’t strive to meet goals they are unaware of. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. The follow up is Management 101. Help them create solutions if they fall short, reassess the goals if they objectively turned out too ambitious or too easy to attain, etc, etc.

Minimize Micromanagement

If you used the correct criteria for selecting the best remote employees from the resume-lined litter basket, they will naturally grow into self-sufficient, driven team members. Nothing interrupts desired remote work behavior patterns than bungie-boss micromanagement. Stop giving advice from a passenger seat sitting a thousand miles from the driver.

Instead, encourage them to come to you for clarification and advice. Keep communication channels open and provide immediate responses. If you are worried about becoming disconnected from your teams and only learning about problems once they have festered, then read on. That’s also part of the care and feeding.

Reconvene Regularly

So you think you can’t keep track of what everyone is doing unless you are logging their start and finish times and counting keystrokes. Time to reconsider your strategy or go back to the office where you can peek out through the crack in your door. Go for the a daily meeting instead.

I know you are busy (especially if you are trying to micromanage remote employees — it’s exhausting) but open up your calendar right now and create a daily meeting at a convenient time for everyone on your team. If your team is over ten members, figure out a way to strategically divide them into two natural groups. The key to keeping these meetings effective is to keep them short and the only way to keep them short is to keep the number of attendees down to a manageable level.

Once you have established your meetings and who will attend, create a standard agenda that fits the goals of your team members. Maybe your primary goal is project efficiency, maybe it’s effective task prioritization or maybe it’s keeping communication open among a diverse and greatly distributed team of employees and contractors with siloed responsibilities. Whatever it is, stick to the agenda and have everyone take turns speaking to it.

Dead set on using my headset every day.

These meetings are ideally handled via a video conference platform (Hangouts, Join.me, Meet, Skype, etc) but can also work with an old fashioned voice conference call. Just don’t assume that a Slack channel group chat will cut the mustard–not even come close. It’s impossible to pick up on the nuances of remote human communication through text. Bipedal written language just hasn’t evolved enough.

Encourage Alternatives

Lastly, I’m going to throw a suggestion out there that is for the advanced remote managers in the audience. Use your own experiences with the ups and downs of remote work to inspire and encourage distributed remote employees.

You have likely discovered over the years that locking yourself in an office inside your house for ten hours a day isn’t good for long term performance. Take the time during your meetings and regular communication to drip feed remote work tips to your team members. Most are so busy trying to meet your goals (Ms. Slavedriver) that they forget that they aren’t tied up in a cubicle inside a sick building on an industrial estate. You’ll see better performance, happier campers and higher employee retention if you help them experience the benefits of remote work.


Gregory Sherrow is a VP at a 100% remote tech company with twelve years of international remote workforce management experience. The dude is a dedicated remote work mentor and consultant to corporations seeking unparalleled success with remote teams. If you would like Gregory’s assistance, email him at gregory@askaremotemanager.com.