Managing While Working Remotely from Home


Hi, it’s Victor Cheng from Today, I want to talk about managing a remote workforce. I’ve been in business for about 16 years now, and we’ve been virtual since day one. My two longest-term employees, I didn’t even meet them in-person until about nine years after they started working for me. I didn’t even know what they looked like.  I’ve been very used to working and managing a remote workforce for a long time, and so, when the entire world changed with a lot more people working from home because of the coronavirus, it didn’t even occur to me that that’s a transition and a difference for some people.

One of my staff said, “Hey, Victor, why don’t you make a video about how people work from home effectively and can still be effective when they’re used to an in-person working environment?” I thought that was a great idea, it just never even occurred to me. So, I thought I would do that. I thought I’d do that from two different points of view. One is, as a CEO, how do you operate your business in a remote capacity? And then, maybe more at the managerial level in terms of just more of the day to day things, and how do you do that differently?

First thing is, if you are managing and delegating effectively in the office, that process translates very well to remote working. If you are managing your staff by looking over their shoulders, rather than having a good accountability process, then you obviously can’t do that when they’re working from home. And so, one of the things that I think is relevant for both CEOs and operating managers is to look at your delegation process. The delegation process has a couple of steps. Step one is to explain the outcome that you want and when you want it by. Step two is to negotiate either the deliverables or the timeframe, and then step three is to go verify that it got done. That’s a bit oversimplified, but that is it in a nutshell.

What you don’t want to do though, is to say, “Hey, go do this project, and then after I look at it, I’ll tell you whether you did a good job or not.” Because, in the request to get the work done, you’re not specifying the criteria by which you find the deliverable acceptable, which means they can’t assess their own work because they don’t know what criteria you’re going to use to evaluate their work. What I find is that, in in-person environments, there is a tendency to just delegate very imprecisely with no criteria for a good outcome. “Nah, just bring it to me, I’ll tell you if I like it or not.” And it becomes about your personal opinion, rather than some objective standard that they can use to base their work off of.

The problem with remote working is that the back and forth sometimes takes longer. If you have a remote workforce they may be in multiple time zones, perhaps around the world. Like in my business, we have over a dozen people in four different countries. We’re a small business, but we’re operating 24 hours a day. Someone somewhere in the world is working every hour of the day. So, it becomes difficult to coordinate and communicate when there’s a 12 hours difference.

One of the big changes is to be clearer in your requests of what you want and what you consider acceptable. I call this acceptance criteria. A good colleague of mine who unfortunately passed away about a year ago, Rob Berkley, taught me this for the first time. He calls it acceptance criteria. How does the person know that they did what you want? What are the three or four rules or criteria or a checklist for an acceptable outcome that they can use as their own standard for guiding that behavior? That’s the first thing in terms of being clear in your delegation process.

The second is having an accountability cadence. When you’re meeting in-person, that’s pretty easy. It’s like, “Get it done before the next staff meeting.” That translates quite well into the remote environment. My staff and I, we have regular meetings that are usually on Friday mornings, and we go through accountability. I usually have all my deadlines be the staff meeting just because it’s easier for me to remember. It’s an arbitrary choice. You can pick any day of the week that you want. It’s just easy for me to remember. Friday morning is accountability day. And I go through everything that was committed to last week, and did it get done? And is it acceptable? If I want to make any adjustments, I make some adjustments. The process needs a cadence, you need a schedule to routinely check in on accountability.

Other useful tips that I think are helpful are around communication. When you’re in a remote office, there is no accidental communication. You don’t just run across somebody at the coffee table, at the coffee station, or the watercooler, so to speak. Every communication has to be intentional communication. That means being very aware to email, to call, to text, to use Slack, whatever your mechanisms are for communicating, and to make sure that those communications take place. Other things: When there are big changes, it’s important to have an announcement to update people, particularly if there are major changes in the business. It’s useful to have a virtual, all-hands-type meeting periodically to keep everyone in your team or the entire company informed.

Those are just some practical tools for how to work from home and still run a business. In terms of software tools, the ones we use a lot are probably the same ones that people use in the office. We use email, we use Slack, we use texts, we use Zoom quite a bit, GoToWebinar for some of our customer-facing communications, Trello for workflow management, we use that a fair amount. Those are just some of the tools we use in our business that we find very helpful.

Other things to keep in mind are shared data repositories. We use Dropbox for shared files because everyone’s scattered around the world and it’s a central place for you to keep information. So, Dropbox is great for files. If you have other pieces of documentation, you need some central place where everyone can see it because you can’t have a war room, you can’t have a big whiteboard on the wall where you’re looking at tracking certain metrics, for example. You need some sort of visual place that’s accessible remotely for everyone to view that information. Those are a few things that we find helpful in managing a remote workforce. I think the big key though, is really being very clear in the delegation process.

I had a friend of mine who used to run a Fortune 500 company and has since retired from that career. He can’t conceive of managing people without looking over their shoulder. It’s just a different way of doing things. Clear requests, clear acceptance, clear criteria, with a clear deadline. It’s important to give your staff an opportunity to negotiate, both the deadline and the deliverables, so that they have input into the process. If you just force them to do something and they can’t do it, it’s very unfair, it’s very demoralizing. It’s important that you negotiate and allow them to weigh in on that. Then when they agree, it’s a commitment and you hold them to it. That’s super important.

Those are a few thoughts on how to manage a remote workforce. Hopefully, everyone’s making this transition and getting through things okay. It’s just a different time we’re living in. I just got to say. If you would have told me what the world would look like today, maybe a month or six weeks ago, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Everyone, I hope you’re doing your best to adapt and adjust to the current situation. Certainly, I’m trying to on my end. I wish you the best of luck in that process, and I’ll see you on another video. Thanks. Have a great day, guys.

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