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June 17, 2018

Small Business Advice:

Managing a distant work force

"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." ~ Henry Ford

Jerry Osteryoung | 10/21/2012

As our working environments change and with the advent of new (and not so new) technologies, more and more workers are working from their homes or in remote locations. This is especially so with the real estate market the way it is, as many potential employees just cannot afford to move out of their houses as they are underwater on them or they just cannot sell them without taking a terrible loss.

Managing these distant or remote work forces requires both a special kind of manager and of course a special type of employee as this type of working is not for every employee.

The number one problem affecting distant workers is feeling isolated from human interaction and feeling as if they are not part of a team. A manager must make sure this does not happen by promoting interaction with themselves and other team members. Frequently checking in on each distant employee but not with an email but with a phone and even better would be a video chat. Many current cell phones have these capabilities plus Skype is great as well.

Additionally encourage sharing of information between remote and non-remote employees are so important to insure that there is adequate communication links. Websites and sharepoints work great to encourage this interaction. I think, also, remote employees really need to have mentors assigned to them as well to increase the amount of interaction.

Many times I have seen companies hire a new worker for a remote position and have them come to the office for about a week and then put them in the field. This just does not work as the worker just cannot grasp the culture of the organization and the new employee cannot get to know other staff members in the organization that they need to have relationships with. Some firms only allow workers to work remotely if they have worked in business’s office for at least a year to insure that those relationships are pretty well inculcated. However, many firms require at least a 2-month stint at the home office before letting any employee operate remotely.

Another problem frequently seen is the feeling of some remote workers that they are out of sight and therefore will be forgotten or overlooked for promotions and other advancement. One good way to overcome this problem is to require each remote worker to be in the office 3 days a month so people are used to seeing them around and this improves their visibility.

Obviously the number one thing with having remote workers is to insure that they have the right skills and attributes. Some of the attributes to look for are being a self-motivated person. This type of job mandates that each worker is motivated to get out and do a good job without much supervision.

Another important attribute is for these workers to have great communications skills. These are needed especially for remote workers to insure that can communicate well their needs and desires but also do well out in the field.

Many firms, as well, only hire workers that have experience in this type of work environment to insure they can handle the isolation that it entails.

Remote workers can be at any level of organization. In one case a firm was headquartered in Tallahassee but the CEO lived in California. The firm was willing to hire this CEO because he had such unique skills and they believed and did make this work.

Now go out and make sure that before you have remote or distant workers that you both hire well for these positions but understand that managing them is going to require a different skill set that works that work in an office with their manager.

You can do this!

Other small business advice columns from Dr. Osteryoung are here. Note: Articles older than 30 days require registration (it's quick and free).

Jerry Osteryoung is a consultant to businesses - he has directly assisted over 3,000 firms. He is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship (Emeritus) and Professor of Finance (Emeritus) at Florida State University. He was the founding Executive Director of The Jim Moran Institute and served in that position from 1995 through 2008. His newest book co-authored with Tim O'Brien, "If You Have Employees, You Really Need This Book," is an bestseller. He can be reached by e-mail at

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