Manage From Afar

January 25, 2017 02:06 AM

Here’s how to overcome the challenges of leading off-site workers

Are you considering a farm expansion but worried about managing employees remotely? With 17,500 milking cows spread across four locations, Tuls Dairy knows a thing or two about leading long-distance employees. Its 250 employees are spread across, Kansas, Nebraska and Wisconsin. 

How do they keep everyone on the same page? Clear protocols, concise communication and face time. 

“Todd makes the trip to each farm at least every other week,” says Liz Doornink, director of safety and employee management, referencing dairy owner Todd Tuls. “That’s helping the site managers [by] working alongside them.”

Leadership consultant David Grossman agrees face time is valuable for remote workers. 

“Keep in mind employees want visible leaders who listen to their needs,” Grossman says. “Employees need to know their voices are heard, whether they work remotely or not.” 

Doornink also makes the trip to every dairy each month. While she’s there, she not only assists and oversees safety and employee training but also gets to know people. 

Putting a face with a name is a critical part of the job, she says. “If they don’t know you and have never seen you, employees are more hesitant to feel responsible to you,” Doornink points out.

People First. For businesses such as BASF, employees who work in the field and from home are vital to success, says Paul Rea, senior vice president for the company’s North American Crop Protection Division.

“We are talking about our values more than ever before,” Rea says. “Our remote workforce is largely the group interacting with our customers, so it’s very important everyone have the same message.”

If you’re in a position to expand your business and you’re thinking about hiring a manager to oversee a farm in another area, think twice about who you hire. More than anything, the success of remote-employee management begins with hiring the right kind of employees, Doornink says. Without smart and capable team players in charge at satellite farms, it’s hard for the rest of the workforce to perform at a high level of excellence, she says.

Communicate Clearly. To maintain ongoing communication with workers, BASF has started transitioning to technologies beyond email.  

“We’ve started incorporating more video and web calls because email can become burdensome,” Rea says. 

When working with a remote employee, make sure expectations are clear, Doornink says. Have consistent protocols and procedures in place across all farm sites.  

Provide ongoing support, adds Patricia Rossman, chief diversity officer and HR communications for BASF. The business maintains a helpline and provides a stipend to full-time remote employees to buy office furniture and supplies. 

6 Tips for Staying Connected

To ensure remote employees have every opportunity to succeed, producers can put these six tips from business consultant David Grossman into practice.

1. Use non-traditional forms of communication such as web meetings and video conferences. 

2. Make sure remote workers are included in team recognition when appropriate. 

3. Highlight successes of remote workers.

4. Plan meetings for supervisors to share company updates with employees.

5. Use group text-messaging to your advantage to deliver urgent news to mobile workers.

6. Properly train supervisors to communicate effectively with remote workers.


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