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How to manage remote employees

Over-communication can be a good thing.

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More and more companies that operate in industries that don’t require a significant investment in physical space — think professional services, such as marketing and advertising — are realizing big cost savings by shifting to a remote workforce.

Some, like Tampa-based eventPower — a tech firm that specializes in Software-as-a-Service event management products — have never operated from a physical office. Its 30 employees are scattered nationwide, which makes sense because the firm also provides on-site management and execution services for a wide range of conferences and trade shows.

‘If you’re remote, and you go a week without talking to anyone, you’re not going to feel like you're part of the team. You're going to feel isolated.’ Craig Duncan, Venuetize chief revenue officer

But that doesn’t mean remote employees shouldn’t be managed with the same expectations and level of attention as in-office workers.

“If we were all remote, and nobody ever got together, that would be a challenge,” eventPower co-Founder Frank Powell says. “You've got to make sure you have regular phone calls and updates.”

Powell says he and his wife and business partner, Laurie Powell, bring new employees to Tampa for orientation and training and then send them to train with their department manager, wherever that person might be. And despite the significant cost, they also schedule an annual meeting that brings the entire staff together for team-building purposes.

However, when it comes to such meetings, a key for eventPower is to keep them short on company business and long on fun and camaraderie, with scavenger hunts and other activities that team up workers who might not normally interact with each other. 

“Let’s be honest: Nobody wants to get together for a meeting to address company topics when you're working from home,” Powell says. “Everybody knows all the issues we have. The big issue, when you have so many employees working in these remote environments, is people don't have that one-on-one connection with each other. So you need to help build that connection.”

Venuetize, a Tampa firm that created a mobile platform designed to help increase monetization of arenas, stadiums and other sports and entertainment venues, also has a sizable remote workforce — about 30 of its 50 staff members work offsite. That includes Chief Revenue Officer Craig Duncan, who’s based in Boston and oversees a team of 10 remote employees.

Managing remote employees “is a time commitment,” Duncan says. “But there’s nothing more important. If you’re remote, and you go a week without talking to anyone, you’re not going to feel like you're part of the team. You're going to feel isolated.”

Duncan runs a weekly “round robin” meeting in which every team member is allotted five minutes to talk about whatever they want, work related or not. He also schedules weekly one-on-one calls with each employee.

“We're a small enough company where everyone has the ability to steer the direction and have a major impact,” he says. “So I want to give a forum to the people on my team to share ideas: what's working well, what's not working and where do they need help.”

In Duncan’s experience, one of the strongest indicators of a remote employee’s effectiveness is how well he or she communicates internally. Venuetize uses that for performance reviews.

“I have a very low tolerance of, ‘Oh, I sent an email and didn’t get a response.’ Well, did you pick up the phone if you needed to get something done in a time-sensitive manner? We are still building our business," he says. "We need to run at a fast pace, lean on each other and communicate. If things are important enough, we should talk about them.”


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