Managing Remote Workers

On the Road Again

On the Road Again

Employees of Marty Kotis' 23-person commercial real estate development firm, Kotis Properties Inc., are spread between the company's main office in Greensboro, North Carolina, and a satellite office in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Kotis, 36, and his salespeople often find themselves traveling or, in the cases of Kotis and his marketing manager, telecommuting from their homes. Needless to say, Kotis needs tools to keep himself and his employees on the same page, even when they're all in different places.

An impressive array of technology, including handheld wireless PDAs and videoconferencing technology, ties most of these employees together. "I can work anywhere, and, through the technology, I've been able to empower my employees to do the same thing," says Kotis, who personally designed and tested the telework technology and trains employees to use it. Networked calendars, for example, allow Kotis' employees to schedule meetings they would like him to attend, and they also allow Kotis to see who and where his salespeople are meeting.

But even Kotis admits high technology is a blanket that doesn't cover all beds. Some low-tech solutions help with the issue of coordinating all these resources, especially when he spends as many as four days a week on the road. For instance, at the company's headquarters, whiteboards outside the offices of people who spend a lot of time away from their desks describe long-term projects they are working on. Employees at the main office are encouraged to help out with these projects when their own work flow temporarily lags. "Other people can walk around the office, see what those projects are, and talk to that person to see if there's anything they can do," Kotis explains.

For Kotis, however, it all comes down to trust. He has to be able to trust employees to be self-starters, which is something he focuses on during the hiring process. He pays special attention to a candidate's ability to work with technology and his or her personal organizational skills. "I've found that the more technology-savvy and organized a person is, the better [he or she will] be able to deal with this type of environment," he says.

Employees also have to understand others' roles. Office-bound workers sometimes resent what they see as the freedom of others to work from home or elsewhere. In Kotis' case, he keeps resentment to a minimum by making sure that office-based workers have access to the networked calendars, which show the phone calls, appointments and other activities that remote workers are engaged in. "And there's a lot of communication," he adds. "If someone's outside the office for a day, they're [still] talking to the people in the office."

The mode of communication isn't important. What's important is that communication occurs frequently and intensively, especially from leaders to employees, and that it deals with big-picture issues. Says Platt, "The leader has to work hard to see that the vision and mission of the company are in front of people all the time."

Telework in a Nutshell

If current trends toward increased use of teleworkers continue, then it may not be an overstatement to say we are entering a new era of management. It will be characterized by greater reliance on technological monitoring of employees' performance and results, and more emphasis on communicating expectations and long-term objectives. What is the entrepreneur's ideal result? "Engagement," says Grantham. "The outcome of engagement is employee satisfaction, long-term bonding, and increased individual productivity and business performance."

Getting the Grad

Don't expect to lure new hires by offering a distributed work environment. In June 2004, consulting firm Accenture asked 1,501 job-seeking recent college graduates and students expecting to earn their bachelor's degrees in the next six months what they most desired from an employer. Telecommuting ranked dead last, behind shopping discounts and social events.

Source: Accenture

Mark Hendricks is Entrepreneur's "Smart Moves" and "Books" columnist.

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This article was originally published in the February 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Remote Control.

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