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How to deal with remote workers

Remote
Underperformance
Internal Communication
Managing Expectations

6 December, 2017

Nikhil decides to give an engineer who wants to work remotely a second shot, despite the engineer's initial attempt not working well.

Problem

One of my direct reports asked me whether he could work remotely for a few days. Since I used to work in a company where remote work was quite common, I agreed. However, this experience didn't turn out to be very positive. He was not connected at the same time every day so we didn't know when to reach him, he didn't communicate enough with the rest of the team, and other engineers were unhappy with his progress as well as the concept of remote work in general. A few days after he came back to the office, he asked me whether he could work remotely again during the next month.

Actions taken

I had two options. I could either tell him "No, it did not go well last time", or "The last time we tried this, a few things did not go well, so let's figure out how we can improve the process this time". I picked the second option and set very clear expectations for him. First, he would have to make it very clear when he was going to be available, so that the other engineers could reach him; second, he would need to communicate a lot more about what he was working on as well as the status of the work, in order to make up for not being there in person. It went much better the second time. I asked his peers for feedback and the feedback this time was a lot more positive. This set the right tone for the rest of the group, and helped people realize that when done right, remote work can be effective.

Lessons learned

As a manager, when you are disappointed with an outcome, try to think whether you set the expectations clearly enough. In this case, this approach enabled me to find a satisfying compromise with this employee, rather than saying no after a not-so-good experience.


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