5 Tips to Leverage Your Remote 'Telecommuting' Team

04/08/2015 04:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 08, 2015

Since 2005, tele-community has grown by nearly 80 percent (source: Global Workplace Analytics). And the trend continues to increase. Forrester Research's US Telecommuting Forecast predicts 43 percent of the U.S. workforce will work from home by 2016.

There are many advantages to a remote workforce:

  • You open up your hiring talent pool exponentially
  • You lower your costs (no "CAPEX" overhead, or greatly reduced amount)
  • You give your team a huge perk that they will value greatly

But there are some downsides, primarily, how you effectively meld and manage a team of remote players for your company.

I've used a primarily remote workforce when scaling my last four companies and the results have been powerful. For example, my first company with a remote workforce we scaled to a $10-16 million valuation in eight years, and all of our 65 team members worked remotely.

So how do you keep your remote team connected, productive, and happy? Here are my five top ideas:

1. Clarify the expected results so that you both understand what success looks like.

What concrete results do you expect them to generate? What does great performance of their position actually look like? The clearer you can paint this picture the more likely you are to be satisfied with your remote team's performance.

The biggest mistake I see from our business coaching clients who use remote workers is they have a fuzzy or incomplete understanding of what their remote team are responsible to do. By focusing on clear success criteria you empower your remote team to understand what they are working to accomplish.

Before you worry about how they'll get things done (processes), or what they are doing (task list), first get agreement on the expected outcomes. Once you both know what success looks like you can give them greater freedom to generate those results. If they are off track, you can brainstorm ways to get things back on track.

But without this clear agreement on expected results too many business owners feel compelled to micro-manage their remote workforce. Or just as dangerous, they abandon their remote team for weeks on end with no feedback or accountability at all. When you have clear expectations both sides have agreed on, tip two below now becomes much easier.

2. Agree on the reporting through which you'll hold your remote team accountable.

What "Key Performance Indicators" (KPIs) should they report on? How often? What updates should they submit? How frequently?

The biggest stressor to having a remote workforce is not knowing status on key projects and deliverables. By setting up a reasonable and mutually agreeable reporting rhythm, you can both relax and focus on getting the valuable work done.

In my current company, Maui Mastermind, we use an internal tool called "The Big Rock App" through which our team identify the top 2-3 most valuable action items for the coming week (their "Big Rocks") and also report in on their victories, challenges, and other key updates.

Whether you use an online tool like we do, or a spreadsheet project list, or even just an email update, having a regular way to update on progress is essential to take the mystery out of managing your remote team.

I suggest that for most functions, this reporting should be weekly. If there is a behavior that you need your remote team to really make habitual (e.g. your sales team making 50 dials a day, or your client support team processing new orders the same day, etc.) then consider having your team report in an a self-scored KPI such as "number of deals made today" or "percentage of orders processed same day today". The choice and self-scoring of a smart KPI will direct attention to what matters most and can really help establish the winning habits that are otherwise hard to set when working in isolation.

3. For collaboration and relationships, get together in person at least 1-2 times per year.

Yes, there is a cost to this, but you can offset this cost by the savings of having no (or very little) "office" overhead.

If you already have team travel for client work, consider tying in your company time together with this travel. For example, as part of our business coaching program, my company hosts advanced business owner trainings for our clients every quarter. We tag on an extra day before or after these events to pull parts of our team together for planning and connection time.

It's hard to get creative remotely. We've tried conference lines, video meetings, and other tools. They all work, but none replaces face time together.

Plus, face time together helps build relationships that you can lean on to make the remote interactions flow smoother.

4. To help fight feelings of isolation and reconnect your team to the company and each other, consider short team huddles and meetings.

We gather our company every Monday via conference call for a quick, 15-minute huddle. Once a month we upgrade this huddle to a video conference for 30 minutes. One of the best parts of the video huddle is the chance to see our team in their home offices (see below). For example, we get to know our head of marketing Keith better when we see his "hulk" comic on his board, or our Coaching Director Colleen's zen-like room.


Caption: Screen shot of our monthly team video huddle. Since system we use only allows 6 video cams at same time, we rotate through all the team members so we get to see each other.

5. Hire people who have successfully worked remotely in the past.

This final tip may seem obvious, but in my experience it's anything but. If you want to know your team is mature and disciplined enough to work remotely, then in your hiring process screen for past success working from home (or a remote office.)

Some people find working remotely too isolating. They need the interaction of an office. Don't try to force these people into a culture of remote workers; they'll be left unfulfilled and you'll be left disappointed.