By Robby Slaughter

When people are sitting in the same office as you, it’s easy to get away with relatively vague explanations for your desired work products. You can drop by and give them guidance. You can sit at their computer and make suggestions. You can take a paper copy of a report and jot a few notes. You can be less formal because the feedback loop is relatively tight.

When an employee is working remotely, however, fuzzy job descriptions become a more serious problem. Someone might work for hours or days on something and do it completely the wrong way, but because you can’t see them making progress, their effort goes to waste. It can also be tougher to give feedback, since it’s harder to be subtle when you’re not meeting in person.

These are reasons to establish more precise guidelines for work whenever you are leading people remotely. Consider trying the following techniques.

  • Assign each task a specific name or job code, if employees have recurring tasks. That way, you can refer to everything within that scope. That helps prevent tacking on other items without going back to the original definition.
  • Work with employees to estimate the duration of the task in hours. If it’s more than eight hours, break it down into smaller pieces or sub-tasks.
  • Create a repository where task status can be updated (that isn’t email). Use a spreadsheet on a shared drive or a project management tool. That way, you don’t have a lot of chatter about how things are going on routine activities. If you want to know what’s going on or make an up-date, look at the collaboration tool. Think of this as a virtual bulletin board that doesn’t require an interruption to pass along information.
  • Ask employees to set their own deadlines based on their own schedules. They will certainly make mistakes, but this allows them to learn more about the task, about their other work requirements, and about the reality of surprises that pop up.
  • Provide compliments and critiques whenever you see work that is exceptional. You should also occasionally offer your appreciation for routine work that meets standards. After all, employees who are reliable and consistent are as valuable as those who occasionally innovate.

Great leaders aren’t afraid to get into the details. If you’re working with a remote team, specifics about their work products are extremely important. Start a dialogue and make it happen!

About the Author

Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork a business improvement consulting company. His focus is helping organizations and individuals to become more efficient, more effective and more satisfied at work. Robby is a regular contributor in several regional magazines and has been interviewed by national publications such as the Wall Street Journal. For more workplace advice, follow the AccelaWork blog here.

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