How to Supervise Staff in Remote Locations

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We live in a global economy. These days, your staff or direct reports may not be located in the same building you work in. They may not even be in the same city, state or country. Yet, as their manager or supervisor, you are still ultimately responsible for administering and monitoring their performance, dealing with any issues that arise and handling pay administration--all from afar.

Things You'll Need

  • Telephone
  • E-mail/Internet access
  • Travel budget and transportation
  • File folders
  • Be sure there is a written job description available for each employee you supervise. Send each employee a copy of their job description to ensure you both have the same expectations for job duties and performance.

  • Start a file for each employee. Include a copy of that employee's job description, his personnel record from any previous managers, former evaluations, attendance records and any other pertinent information.

  • A firsthand visit to the employee's work environment is the best way to get a real feel for what the employee does and the challenges he may face. It also gives you an opportunity to get to know the employee on a more significant level, to meet the other staff with whom the employee interacts on a regular basis and to form some kind of bond with the employee. This is also an opportunity for the employee to get to know you, your management style and your personality.

  • Buy your employee lunch when you visit and spend some time in an out-of-the-office social business setting. Get to know him as a person, find out his likes and dislikes, discuss his future aspirations with the company and give him an opportunity to ask you questions. Share something about yourself to establish a connection between the two of you.

  • Snap a picture of your employee to take back to your office with you. Post it on a bulletin board or hang it by your desk so you will see it often and remember the person behind the voice on the telephone or the e-mail communications you exchange.

  • Let your employee know that you want to keep the lines of communication open. He can call or e-mail you at any time with questions, concerns or just news and updates about what is going on at his office. Find out if his preferred means of communication is telephone or e-mail, or perhaps videoconferencing. Honor his preference when communicating with him.

  • Communicate with your employee often--about work and other matters that you might share with the employee around the water cooler if he were located in your office. Stay approachable. Invite your employee to reciprocate if he is comfortable in doing so. Call just to ask how things are going from time to time and to ask if he has any concerns or anything you can help him with. Don't just be a bad-news voice on the other end of the phone--one of those managers who only contact their employees when something is wrong or to deliver a specific directive.

  • Schedule regular (at least annually or twice annually) visits to each employee's remote location to maintain your relationship. Too much time between physical visits can make the employee feel left out or forgotten, unimportant to you and the company.

  • Communicate with the other people your employee interacts with locally on occasion to find out how things are going from their perspective, what their experience dealing with your employee is like and to help assess your employee's performance from their viewpoint.

  • Inquire about possible problems, customer complaints or issues that may need to be resolved in a genuine effort to discover what is going on and improve the situation. Ask questions and get the employee's view of the situation. Don't just assume the worst. Get the facts you need to form a more objective viewpoint if you can rather than just taking one person's "complaint" as gospel.

  • Remember that e-mail communications can sometimes be misinterpreted, so word your messages carefully.

  • Evaluate your employee's performance regularly--both measurable performance items and subjective performance assessments. Let him know what to expect from you and when to expect it in terms of performance evaluations (i.e., will it be annually, every six months or at some other interval; will performance assessments correlate with salary adjustments or bonuses; etc.).

  • Praise your employee when his performance warrants it or he does something above and beyond his job description. Recognize him in some tangible way such as a personal note or a small gift you can send in the mail.

  • Seek to understand your employee and his job and to help him grow and develop within his current position or the company. Remember that his success--and the success of all of your employees--directly impacts your success as a manager.

Tips & Warnings

  • When you supervise employees long-distance or in remote locations, out of sight shouldn't mean out of mind.
  • Supervising employees remotely can be extremely challenging, even more so than supervising employees in your physical location.
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