No matter where your employees are, you need to be able to set expectations, assign and monitor the progress of their work and give feedback. But there is a major difference in the way you communicate with your employees when you telecommute: You usually don’t speak face-to-face. With the Internet being used for almost every aspect of business, it’s no surprise that the majority of managers who supervise telecommuters communicate with them via e-mail.
But managing employees through e-mail messages can be complicated. The difficulties are not necessarily inherent in e-mail messaging, but arise from poor communication skills and misunderstandings from poorly crafted messages.
When you e-mail an employee, make the message as personal as possible. When you manage telecommuters it’s important to take a personal interest in them and their work. Because your employees don’t see you every day, they need to know you are accessible when they need you.
Simplify your messages for clarity. By re-reading a message before you send it, you can catch and rephrase statements that might be misconstrued. If you have any concerns that your e-mail could be misinterpreted, discard the message and call the person instead. Sometimes a phone call can save a lot of trouble.
Create an e-mail policy that all your employees will embrace. Establish how often e-mail should be checked, how to prioritize messages and how files are to be transferred. Setting expectations will prevent messages from going missing or unanswered.
When an employee has done a task particularly well, praise a job well done by sending e-mail to the entire department. But do not publicly reprimand employees.
Never discipline an employee via an e-mail message. E-mail can be too easily misinterpreted, and it might look as if you are avoiding dealing directly with the problem. Pick up the phone and discuss matters privately.
E-mail is a useful tool for communicating with employees. But when the message you need to send is particularly complex or sensitive, a phone call still remains the best option.