The world is going remote.
A Wall Street Journal article published on September 8, 2019, chronicles the migration of remote employees from big cities like San Francisco to smaller areas like Denver and Austin.
Face it, if you own a business, the Internet is a significant part of what you do, whether you are a restaurant with online ordering or a law firm that utilizes an automated client intake system.
And the employees you need to make sure your online presence is robust may tell you that they don’t like to work in traditional offices; many will want to work from home while others will be located in shared workspaces. Regardless, this means you will be the employer of people that may never physically be in your office.
If you’ve just launched your startup, you undoubtedly understand the remote world; if you are a bit older and if the employment landscape seems to you like it has taken a seismic shift, you’ll have a bit of a learning curve. In either case, take note of the seven tips below that can help you be a more effective remote employee leader.
Change Your Mindset
It was comforting when you had all of your staff in the building during working hours. You knew where everyone was, and you could call a quick meeting if there was a pressing issue. With remote employees on the payroll, you’ll have to get used to the fact that while you can still have emergency meetings, it may take a little more work to round everyone up. This means that you should try and anticipate your needs as much as possible.
Most important, don’t keep wishing for the good old days when everyone had to be in the office ay 9:00 a.m. because these times are a-changin’.
Get a system for remote employee communication, and the phone call may not be the answer. Look into communication systems like Slack that are basically enhanced instant messaging platforms. Straight texts can be from anyone—and therefore may not invoke an instant response--but by using a Slack-type system, you can target messages to your remote employees.
A robust Internet connection is, of course, the key here. You can argue about whether a hard-wired connection is more reliable than Wi-Fi, but in any case, you need a great connection that hardly ever goes down. This is one place you don’t want to skimp, so pay a good and reliable company for the bandwidth that you need.
Just because your remote employees may be thousands of miles away doesn’t mean that you can’t set attendance and performance standards. While “in the office” may mean something different, availability should not.
If you want all employees—remote or not—available between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., that policy can apply to both remote and in-office employees. Just make all work rules clear to all employees.
This can be a tricky area with in-house workers, and it becomes even more difficult to navigate with remote employees. Some companies prohibit employees from doing any side hustles. Some states may allow these restrictions, and some may not. For example, if your employee works out of their cheap Chicago apartment, do you know the moonlighting rules and regulations to ensure they’re following moral and legal code?
Therefore, check with a competent attorney before you make any policy-related decisions. If you are able to limit your employees’ activities with other employers, think carefully about this. Good employees are happy employees and many companies with remote workers know that their workers naturally will have other clients.
These enlightened companies may only require that employees are available at agreed-upon hours and that all work gets completed satisfactorily. While some companies try to prohibit second jobs, others don’t care.
Whatever you decide, make sure that you have an attorney-drafted employment contract that is valid in your state. A classic start-up mistake occurs when a cash-starved entrepreneur calls a buddy in another state and asks to “borrow” her employment contract.
A few cuts and pastes later, the new business owner has a great looking document that is unenforceable because it was drafted based on the laws of another state.
First, make sure you and your prospective employee agree on the terms of the offered position, and then paper the deal with a good and local business attorney.
Do take another look at your remote employment situation every year. Make changes, rethink standards, and always try to keep your remote employees happy. As you navigate through your first remote relationship, you’ll be able to set standards for the next hire, and after a couple of years, you may find yourself happily alone in the office as your employees are scattered across the globe.