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How to Manage and Motivate Telecommuting Workers

7 Leadership tools to inspire and supervise a remote and local team

Globally, over 70% of professionals work remotely at least one day a week according to International Workplace Group, IWG. In the US, 40% of all workers toil away from the organization’s sites some of the time on a regular basis, an increase of 173% since 2005 (Global Workplace Analytics). The current coronavirus contagion concerns have significantly increased this statistic. How do you keep your widespread team collaborating, motivated and productive? Having managed business in 120 countries at the same time, I’ve learned much about how to lead, collaborate, and coordinate with a diverse and remote team.

The tools and skills needed to lead a combined local and remote team productively and happily are easily and economically accessible now. The technological tools have significantly improved since I first started managing workers in different locations and time zones, but the most important factor is still the same — you as the leader.

Ultimately people work for their manager and then secondly for the organization. If you establish clear goals, treat people equitably, ethically and have a meaningful product/service, your team will be more likely be effective, motivated and loyal. Below are 7 tools that have proven to be useful in managing a mixed local and remote team.

1. Establish clear goals. Share the project, division and company’s goals in clear and consistent ways. The entire team need to know what the targets are. They should have an understanding of why the goals are important and how they relate to organization’s mission and purpose. Equally consequential is sharing how how they and their work fit in the goals and mission.

2. Maintain regular virtual face to face communication. There is no substitute for face to face meetings. Schedule electronic individual and team meetings where the participants can see and interact with each other. The members have to feel that they are part of a team. Virtual face to face meetings provides the nonverbal cues that more fully express what words often leave out. The bonus of visual meetings is that they minimize the multi-tasking and reduced attention that may occur in a non-visual event.

3. Develop mentors/mentorship relationships. A powerful way to strengthen cross connections, knowledge and accountability is to develop a mentorship program for workers. Everyone can benefit from a mentoring program. The mentees learn, are inspired by people who have gone before them, and feel seen. Mentors also learn from teaching/mentoring, they are rewarded by being able to share their experience and wisdom, and gain insight into the perspective of the newer entrants into the business.

4. Share information and files. A crucial aspect of any organization, especially one in which some members are not able to gather relevant information in person, is to communicate well. Maintain an online system of sharing of files, updates, news and any tweaks in strategy. There are many private and public virtual networks that a company can use to ensure that every member has access to the information they need to accomplish their tasks well and feel engaged.

5. Respect each other’s time. When time zones and different schedules are involved, it is easy to forget that some team members may have other commitments when you are working, like sleeping. Plan meetings and call times to minimize disruptions. Send out a clear agenda in advance and request each member come to the meetings prepared so that the meetings are time and productively effective.

6. Copy relevant parties only. Virtual teams grow easily with a number of people being copied on matters that may not concern them. Include parties involved in the specific project and leave off people who are not working on the aspects being discussed. Otherwise the mass of electronic communication reduces the effectiveness of the messages and buries people in unneeded mail.

7. Show them that you care. Everyone wants to feel that they have a purpose and are valued. How you communicate, listen and follow through with your team sets the stage for how they feel about their work, the team, the company, themselves and of course you, as their manager/leader. Have regular touch base sessions with each team member; acknowledge their accomplishments, coach them on how they may improve, and share your higher perspective about the project(s) and organization. Pay attention. Be real, honest and human. When people work remotely, they need human connection and one to one communication to feel involved and to know how they are performing.

Working remotely is a rapidly growing trend. As a leader it’s your privilege and responsibility to guide and manage your team so that they are performing to their potential, and to feel fully engaged so that you and your team are happily aligned and creating the best functioning organization for today and the future. Happy telecommuting!

COVID Contractor Perspective: Martin Brookes, Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc.

Martin Brookes, President of Heritage Marble & Tile, Inc., an NTCA Five-Star Contractor member

On March 16th, 2020 our tile world changed. In Mill Valley, Calif., we went from being overwhelmed with work in a vibrant economy with the labor shortage as our biggest challenge  — to a shelter-in-place order.

I thought I had a grasp on this. I didn’t know the extent of changes that COVID-19 would bring upon us. To prepare, I got jobs stocked with tile and materials,  sent emails to our client base letting them know how we would work responsibly, and had tailgate meetings with my crews daily on the importance of social distancing.

But it soon became quite clear that this situation was going to have far more impact than any of us could have imagined.

The public announcement of government relief available to small businesses added confusion and anxiety. Who would — and who wouldn’t — get financial help to see them through this unknown time period? Uncertainty was an understatement for both the employer and employees.

I thought we could weather the storm with the pre-planning and jobs we had ahead of us. How wrong I was! We worked through the jobs that got stocked ahead of time; then systematically our job sites were closed down. Restrictions got tighter as the local building inspectors teamed with the police to start closing down job sites with the threat of a fine if not in compliance.

I suffered sleepless nights wondering how I was going to be able to ride out the storm, keep my doors open and make sure my hardworking employees could take of their families and pay the bills. I decided that I would pay them to the best of my ability, for the foreseeable future or until all my resources had been exhausted.

I had applied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) $10k grant and the Paycheck Protection Program forgivable loan for payroll and some other expenses, but was not holding my breath on these programs. I bank with a large institution. The initial application program was not easy and changed frequently, so I thought my chances of getting funded would be minimal.

Since I do all my payroll, bookkeeping and timecards through QuickBooks, it was easy for me to pull reports and paperwork.  Forms 940 / 941 were just a click away, and easy to attach to the required paperwork for what seemed to be a remote chance of being funded.

I’m a small business — I mean a real small business; forget the 500 or fewer — we are 7 or fewer. So I thought, “Who really cares whether I survive or not?”

I was assigned a business advisor at my bank and he supplied me with his cell phone, because due to COVID-19 he also was working from home. We talked and he changed my mind on how I though the bank perceived me.  He was friendly, informative and seemed to care. He reassured me my application was in line for funding and I would be getting an email by the end of the week (yeah, right!). A few days later – nothing.  I sent him a polite but assertive email explaining my banking history and loyalty. I also mentioned that I just might have to reconsider my banking choice, after hearing that my peers had been funded from community banks and credit unions.

He again reached out and told me to hang in there because he was hopeful I would be funded by the end of the week. Shortly after, my bank sent a midnight email informing me that we had been funded. I felt a wave of relief knowing I could take care of my employees for at least the next 2.5 months.

Lessons learned

A few things I have learned from this experience to date is that having access to like-minded business owners through NTCA gave me perspective. I learned that the bank does value me and the business I bring them.  And operating my business with professional recordkeeping allowed me to produce the paperwork I needed to justify what I needed to maintain my business.

I’m hopeful we can all learn and grow from this unfortunate situation – though I’m sure we are not even close to realizing how this situation will change the way we do business, not to mention how it will affect our personal lives.  I’m hopeful that others will have the same experience as I did, and can keep their doors open to take care of their hardworking employees.

Yesterday, as part of the Learning Opportunities offered by Coverings Connected, Wally Adamchick, president of Firestarter Speaking and Consulting offered a session on “Acting on the NTCA Culture Survey – Leadership in the Face of COVID-19.” He quoted an article from Fortune magazine that stated that the three key factors in keeping employees engaged is 1) trust in their supervisor 2) pride in the organization and 3) camaraderie with those they work with. I’m hopeful our hardworking employees will remember how loyalty, respect, and genuine caring is helping build a culture that separates our company from run-of-the-mill companies, and that’s why they choose to work for us. It can be an opportunity for all of us to show leadership – and respect  — for workers bring to the party. And in the long run, it can make us an even stronger team.