Employees milking
February 14, 2017

Face Time Key to Managing Remote Employees

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

Are you considering expanding your farm but you’re worried about managing employees remotely? With more than 17,500 milking cows spread across four locations, Tuls Dairy knows a thing or two about working with employees a distance away. Their more than 250 employees are spread across Wisconsin, Nebraska and Kansas. How do they keep everyone on the same page? Clear protocols, concise communication and plenty of face time.

“Todd [owner of Tuls Dairy] makes the trip to each farm at least every other week,” says Liz Doornink director of safety and employee management for Tuls Dairy. “That’s helping the site managers, working alongside them and looking at cows. I think that face time is very important.”

Leadership consultant David Grossman agrees face time is important for remote workers. “Keep in mind that employees want visible leaders who listen to their needs,” he says. “Employees need to know that their voices are heard, whether they work remotely or not.”

Doornink also makes the trip to every dairy, every month. While she’s there, she’s not only assisting and overseeing safety and employee training, but trying to get to know people. Putting a face with a name is critical, she says. “If they don’t know you and have never seen you, employees are more hesitant to feel responsible to you,” she says.

For a business like BASF, having employees working in the field and from their homes is vital to the success of their business says Paul Rea, senior vice president for BASF’s North American Crop Protection  Division.

Rea says it requires effort to keep those remote employees engaged and tuned in to the core mission and values of the company. “We are talking about our values more than ever before,” he says. “Our remote workforce is largely the group interacting with our customers, so it’s very important everyone have the same message.”

Hire the Right Employees

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

Communicate Clearly

According to Grossman, effective communication with remote employees is key to their success. For Tuls Dairy, that means a lot of time spent on the phone and a lot of email traffic. Doornink says email is a critical way to communicate despite the occasional language barrier with managers.

Rea agrees communicating with remote employees is critical but at BASF they’ve started transitioning to technologies other than email to make that happen. 

“We have to ensure communication is constant with remote employees,” he says. “We’ve recently started incorporating more video and web calls because email can become burdensome.”

When working with a remote employee making sure expectations are clear is critical. Doornink says having protocols and procedures in place that are consistent across all of the farm sites is important. 

“You can’t do one thing on one dairy and another thing on another dairy,” she says. “It’s much easier if we’re consistent in how we do things at each facility. It also helps employees understand expectations and responsibilities.”

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