In my experience, remote employees most often fail because of the way they’re managed, not a lack of dedication and hard work. That may not be what it feels like when you’re struggling with a relationship that’s headed in the wrong direction, but it’s often the root cause.

Your remote employee wants to succeed as best they can, because their income and reputation are on the line. You can expect them to be motivated.

The employer, on the other hand, tends to make lots of assumptions. As we all know, it’s hard to represent everything in a contract. Have you found a way to contractually ensure that any employee will be actually excited to do their best every day? No, instead you measure the quality of the deliverable and its timing and cost. You tend to focus on a distant employee as an engine to get the work done.

Yes, that’s your reason for hiring them. But without attention to the more human factors, you may doom the relationship to mediocrity – or failure.

Why do you hire remote employees?

It’s wonderful to be able to access the best talent across the globe. You can take advantage of efficiencies when someone is close to a partner or supplier, and reduce expenses when employing people at locations with a lower cost of living.

That’s laudable.

But it’s really a balancing game, because at the end of the day you must deliver quality and reliability to your own customers, with a company which is functioning efficiently.

It’s about alignment of goals and expectations. Let’s look at an example.

Wonderful Websites Inc. has grown rapidly, and has decided to create a team of people in another country to provide round-the-clock, cost-effective customer support. They create an employment contract which specifies activities, response times, salary and benefits, and the handoff process from first-level to second-level support. They’re pretty advanced, so they even specify how those workers will be appropriately trained, now and in the future.

What’s missing?

Those employees will work toward the goals which are stated in their contracts. But in fact, Wonderful’s goals are broader than that. The company is worried about customer loyalty in a much broader sense than just answering support questions.

Wonderful Websites is missing an amazing opportunity to take leaps forward in the relationships with its end customers. In fact, as we often see, customer satisfaction can dramatically decline because of the loss of rich communication.

The end customer may have relationships with the sales people, the support teams, and perhaps even the developers. These three groups aren’t talking much with each other, and in fact will start to blame difficulties on their colleagues just because it’s easier than taking responsibility.

If these people were in the same building, if they had lunch together, if they had real discussions in meetings and in hallways, this would be less likely to happen. They’d be relating to each other at a more human level.

But when the groups are separated by physical location, by organizational structures, and by timezones, you’re going to see them drift apart.

Aligning the teams

If you’re managing remote individuals or teams, you’re responsible for building and maintaining the relationships that matter.Some of that will flow through you, of course, but you need to develop the working relationships between colleagues as well. Employees need to view each other as partners with equal standing, deeply understanding and engaging in your larger goals. All employees need to see how their unique expertise and knowledge helps you in critical ways. They’ll develop human relationships with their counterparts around the world.

Go ahead and manage to the goals and metrics, but spend most of your creativity on helping the teams to create the relationships to work together effectively.

This post was first published on the Bolton Remote blog.  It’s a great site – check it out!

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