How To Control Remote Workers

One of the complaints employers have towards remote work is that they lose control of workers. This article will demonstrate tactics you can use to regain some of that control. Read our other article about how remote workers can build their power, if you aren’t a manager.

  1. Leverage commitment. If you did a decent job hiring, it is likely that the person you employ is at least average or high in trait conscientiousness. This personality trait means they feel an internal pull towards completing tasks, industriousness, duty, and more. Learn to leverage this desire. Before each week of work, ask the individual to estimate how much time each task will take. Average your estimate of the task’s duration and their estimate of the task’s duration. Then ask the person to commit to completing all the tasks for the week. You can also get group or team commitments. If they finish the tasks, let them leave early. If they don’t, expect them to stay late. Seek explanations for missing goals. Make it clear that rewards and punishments follow success and failure.
  2. Establish core hours. Core work hours are important for remote work. This is the time when the team can interact with each other and coordinate in real time. Most teams have at least three core hours a day. This also gives you time when you know what types of actions the person should be taking during those core hours. You can monitor for those actions and thereby keep track of what they are up to.
  3. Use software. Using monitoring and analytics software can intimidate people into working more. It can also backfire and cause people to feign work while not really paying attention. This is best used covertly, as a way of monitoring how successful your other attempts are at motivation.
  4. Get clear on your workers fears and desires. If you know what someone wants and what they don’t want, you can leverage that into behavior that you desire. For example, if you know person A likes task X, you can give them more of task X if they do good work, and give them less of task X if they don’t perform. Think of ways you can help the person’s career. Leverage that into compliance.
  5. Press the shame and praise buttons. Humans are motivated by praise and shame. Figure out the image someone is trying to convey to the team. If they behave how you want, help that image with praises. If they don’t, hurt that image with snide jokes and shame. Be careful, this tactic might backfire if used with long term employees who have more leverage.
  6. Get people to agree to team rules before you hire them. Set ‘petty’ rules to protect the more important ones. If someone agrees to the rules and then breaks them, and later breaks the larger rule, you have more proof of their negative behavior which makes it harder to minimize bad behavior.
  7. Give tactical gifts. Giving gifts means you can take those gifts away. For example, let people have some extra time for lunch when they are first hired. Take that time away when they stop towing the line. Hold letters of recommendation over their heads. You can also do this with tasks they don’t like.
  8. Use the hurt and rescue technique. If you need to build an argument against someone’s behavior, whether it is to reprimand them or fire them, consider setting them up where their negative characteristics can cause them to fail. For example, combine people who are combative in a pair project. This will cause them to fight and decrease their chances of success. Then you can use this failure as a negative point against them.
  9. Document everything. Whenever someone doesn’t listen, write down the date, time, and summarize the interaction. Explain to them how their behavior wasn’t in line with what you expected. This document is leverage you can use in performance reviews and if you need to fire the person later.
  10. Place yourself at the center roads of important tasks to increase your power. This means getting input on raises and promotions, task creation and task assignment, and controlling which people work together.
  11. Consider a different position if you don’t have the ability to reprimand, discipline, or contribute to their reviews. This company has cut you off at your legs. If they won’t trust you with power, they don’t really want you to manage or control things. Consider whether you could be a preplanned ‘fall guy,’ chosen by upper management to take the heat for something that was too wrong to fix.
  12. Circulate the bad team member’s resume with head hunters. Sometimes employees are difficult to fire. In situations like this, consider circulating their resume so they come across situations where they could make more money elsewhere. This is a win for everyone.
  13. Study our other articles on building leverage, frame control, and how control works.
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