Employees in remote work: how to control and build communication

Sharing the pains of working with remote workers and five rules for organizing off-site employees.

Employees in remote work: how to control and build communication


This is Evgeny Kiryanov. Before getting into startups, I worked as a "product owner" and often interacted with remote employees and entire remote teams.

A few years ago, before telecommuting became mainstream, employees working on my products just sat in another office, and at best I came for weekends (once a week). And some teams weren't even contacted by video! So I know a lot about the pains of working with remote specialists and can share tips on how to motivate people to be more productive.

5 rules for organizing the work of remote employees

There is an opinion that the project should be managed this way: find professional professionals on the market, give them the most interesting tasks, assign them a huge salary and only have time to accept results that promise golden mountains. But, as we understand it, this is not the case.

It's hard to find a pro, your budget is limited, and your tasks are not that interesting at all. And most importantly: are you sure that your pro works only for you and doesn't have one or two other full-time jobs and evening freelancing?

So I will tell you what I do to make remote workers more responsible. All the ideas I formulated in the form of five rules.

Set intermediate deadlines and monitor the implementation of tasks

We all know the matrix of the professional level of employees, which says that you have to communicate with the masters of your business as an outside firm:

  • Ordered;
  • Accepted the order.

But my experience tells me that people are different, and procrastination attacks everyone. It can manifest itself in perfectionism, laziness, inability to solve a difficult problem, etc.

To combat this, I recommend setting intermediate deadlines and giving tasks only for the next week. This way, we form an internal responsibility in the person's head, and at least 2 days a week he will already be working. Nobody wants to confess publicly that they have not done the tasks they have set themselves.

The best tool for intermediate control is a kanban board, which both the supervisor and the executor can see.

An example of what a kanban board looks like in Shtab

Coordinate the scope of work

All tasks must be discussed with the employee, and he must agree with them. And he must agree to them wholeheartedly.

Believe me, I'm so stubborn, tough, and nerdy that anyone would agree with me just to stop discussing how many tasks would fit into their schedule. But that won't be the employee's solution. Every day when it's time to do tasks, he'll go over in his head that I pushed him and set unrealistic deadlines. So the unrealistic may not get done and fail all the deadlines. As much as we'd like to, but as much as the employee has outlined that he can do, that's how much he'll do.

I will add two short tweaks, as I often see myself doing this and observe others doing it:

  • All tasks are mandatory. There is a great temptation, after the employee is ahead of the tasks he or she will take, to throw another one on, saying: "Well, in case you make it in time, it won't be mandatory. This way, we get the person used to the fact that not all tasks on the list are mandatory. And that's not true, is it?
  • Crunches (working to the limit) should not be a regular practice. If we fall behind and call for employees to work beyond the norm, they will do it, especially if we explain why it is important. But after each such week, we have to wait another 2-3 weeks at least before we can assign new overtime tasks.

Don't always be the boss

My calls with remote employees go much better when I also share what tasks I have done for the project and tell them why it is important and how it will affect the overall result. Yes, to them I am the boss, but on the phone calls we are all equals. Tasks are discussed as equals, and I set them out for the whole week in the general kanban, too.

Tasks must be public

If you didn't publish it, it didn't happen! All tasks must be visible to the team and preferably assigned publicly. This is necessary not to implement Agile-manifestos and everyone was aware of everything - this is just not really working and not necessary. And we do this only in order to make an employee take public responsibility for the tasks assigned. But let's remember the previous rule - we also set tasks for ourselves publicly and are no less responsible to the team.

Describe the task in detail to avoid ping pong

Oh, how great is the temptation to write in the task card in the task manager "Make a new project cool!" and send it without any additional information. I'm sending it to a pro, he knows how to make it cool and will do it. Or not.

I often encounter situations where remote employees start playing ping-pong with me. If the task is poorly described, they ask something, and I do not answer promptly, then that's it - the task not done in time is no longer the employee's problem. The manager described the task poorly, the manager did not respond to emails, the task is not done due to the manager's fault.

In these cases, you need to talk to the employee the necessary level of detail card and describe it in this manner, without mocking and giving unnecessary information.

So, as a conclusion again - I've managed a lot of projects and screwed up a lot, so I had to fire my whole team and hire a new one. So I'm sure the authors of the cool books who say it's all unnecessary are living in some other reality. My advice is purely imperial, it works great for me - I hope it helps you too.