Managing Remote Workers Takes Technology and Savvy

Managers routinely struggle with how to manage employees and their email, which CSDG’s Fernald said is often used “incorrectly or badly. It’s great for facts, but when you need to convey feelings, emotions or controversial things, it can be taken wrong way.” He even had one person ask for a raise via email and threaten to quit if it wasn’t forthcoming.

Then there’s the issue of people “copying the universe”—effectively drowning colleagues in emails, said Fernald, who like many managers can get upwards of 300 emails a day.

He’s tried many approaches to dissuade people from this practice, including instituting Web-based forums where employees can register their feelings about an issue, or posting topics designed to assist everyone. But emails are quick and dirty and Fernald said the only way to wean people to new practices is through a combination of incentives and education.

Stevenson is critical of companies that use email to lay off people or convey bad news. CIOs, he said, need to know “when to stop using email and get on the phone.” And when they do use email they need to be “careful in their phrasing. Always ask for clarification in a nice way to make sure the two of you are synced,” he said.

Language Barriers: It’s tough enough to communicate when both CIO and staff share a native tongue, let alone with people whose native language doesn’t match yours. Schmidt said at Arch Chemical they tend to recruit people who speak English at least as a second language. In their foreign offices English is used as “the common bases for speaking.”

Clearly Defining Processes: With accounting, recruiting, finance, HR and other key departments moved off-shore to India, Kucheria said language nuances matter more than ever, along with clearly defining processes.

It’s imperative to set expectations “properly to know who was responsible for what tasks in each location. … simultaneously, establishing metrics for measuring job performance of remote staff was important for both the company and the employees,” he said.

Culture, Motivation and Capability: Stevenson considers these three factors key to managing staff or subcontractors remotely. A person’s cultural background will affect how they react. A CIO who doesn’t understand cultural nuances will be prone to misjudging an employee or subcontractor’s motivations, how they deal with relationships and their business style, he explains.

He also notes that it’s tough to determine someone’s capability from a distance “and get a true understanding of how they will perform on an assignment or mission without spending prior time with them. Maybe they’re outstanding in technical issues or poor on human skills. If you’re not sure, you can make a mistake that hurts the entire organization.”

Stevenson advises locating people with knowledge of the foreign culture in question. For example, if dealing with an Australian then find an American with knowledge of the Australian mindset.