6 Tips for managing a distributed workforce

With all the technology available to us, sometimes we work with people for years before we ever meet in person. That can be terrific, or it can be a headache.

Andrew and Jeff lead the conversation about Managing Distributed StaffsDigging around in my notes from conferences, I found these tips on managing a distributed workforce from a 2008 session at SXSW with Andrew Huff, Editor and Publisher of Gapers Block, and Jeff Robbins CEO of Lullabot. 

1. The best system to learn how to manage a distributed workforce: the One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard.

2. Leave time for informal talk during online and phone meetings. Make it feel like in-person interacting.

3. Give clear communications of when to work and when not to. No need to be online all the time.

4. Declare a weekend off.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask for increases in output when needed.

6. Write an employee handbook. Include that extra time will be required for daily reporting-in, and the worker will need to allow for it.

What tips can you add?

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About Becky McCray

Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband own a retail liquor store in Alva, Oklahoma, and a small cattle ranch nearby. Becky is an international speaker on small business.

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  1. says

    The presidents of two small businesses, in Minnesota and Virginia, that our nonprofit honored for their innovative leadership a couple years ago hosted a webinar for us in 2008 on maintaining community in a virtual workplace. I wrote a blog post after the webinar wrapped that contains some audio of their tips: http://bit.ly/bqe5S8 I hope this is helpful. Thanks.

  2. says

    Mark, thanks for adding your Link. I’m glad Winning Workplaces honors “virtual” workplaces, as well.

    Also, Walt Hucks emailed some tips for the distributed workers, to help manage themselves:
    1. Get your family, friends, and neighbors to buy in. They need to know not to interrupt during your working hours.
    2. When you’re not working, be accessible to those same family members, friends, and neighbors. Don’t be a hermit.
    3. Emergencies happen. Speak up and make sure others know when you have a sick child, for example, that may affect your work product.
    4. No one knows everything. If you don’t know something, it is even more important to ask questions than when you are in the office, where you can quietly watch someone else to figure out what you need to know.

  3. says

    Good tips, not much to add but that it’s important to have real-time, non computer-driven interaction (phone call, lunch meetings) with your coworkers.

  4. says

    @Becky – I must see I disagree with extra time devoted to daily reporting-in. To me, that feels a lot like micromanaging and I’d personally feel insulted. You hire the best people, people you can trust, so you don’t have to check on them daily.

    Besides that’s 15 minutes a day they’re not getting something more important finished.

    A simple e-mail at the beginning of the week to let your leadership know the status of your projects should be sufficient. It’s not hard to pick up the phone if something is urgent.

    Also, with all the social tools available to remote workers now it’s easy to keep a wiki, basecamp, etc. going of the projects you’re involved with and their status.