How to delegate tasks to remote staff during stressful times.

The experience of CEO Barbara Maheshwari

To delegate tasks to remote staff can be tricky when even their home office can’t give enough comfort and relaxation from the overflow of work demand. If there are urgent tasks needed to be taken care of, then there is no time to write extensive briefs – you need to assign the work right then and there, and your employee or junior co-worker need to get down to business immediately.

Delegating is like playing pantomime. You are describing your vision to your colleague, and you can only hope that they get it right. Last weekend, I tried to explain the word „Trump“ to my friend. I was mimicking Donald Trump’s funny faces that we see everywhere in memes and I was thinking to myself – this is so obvious. He confidently yelled „Grandpa having a heart attack“!

It is the same when you delegate tasks to remote staff. If you don’t give enough information, or you don’t know your colleague quite well, things can go south. Delegating remotely requires extra effort if we want to do it right.

Delegate tasks to remote staff – ten steps you don’t want to miss

1. Describe the task in a maximum of three sentences

Example: I want you to write a six to seven hundred word blog article on the topic „Marie And Her Little Lamb“. The style of your writing should be professional and funny, the text should be structured in four paragraphs, and you should supply four free stock photos. I need it submitted latest by Tuesday 5 PM UK and sent via email in a word document.

2. Delegate via email (or at least a voice message).

It might be maybe weird to write a message when talking to your in-office secretary, but to delegate tasks to remote staff in written form is always a better option. It is easier to miss something during a phone call – noise, misunderstandings, different visions. When we write something down, we can read it through, and double check what we said. Moreover, our employee can read through the task as many times as they need, while we will have written proof of what exactly we delegated.

3. Give a deadline.

If we say „Urgent“, for me – that can mean by 2 PM today, for you – it may be by the end of this week. “Urgent” is not a set deadline, it’s a broad adjective that can be taken very subjectively.

4. Remember to mention small details.

If you hire a graphic designer to make the font in your brochure more colourful – you can expect that result will be a rainbow, or whatever “colourful” meant for your graphic designer. It would be much better to say „combine pink and grey, and don’t use more than 2 colours“.

5. Think before you delegate

This step is crucial when you delegate urgent tasks. You have to think about what exactly you want the result to be like, and any obvious confusions that may arise with lack of information. Let’s say you need someone to compile a list of 50 possible speaking opportunities in the UK, and you delegate that task to one of your employees while giving them a 48-hour deadline. One day later, you decide that you can realistically attend events in Central London only. By then, your employee has probably already finished at least half of their work. Now, they have to start all over again while having much less time.

The outcome could be of a much lower quality due to the pressure of running out of time. Avoid all changes unless absolutely necessary. When we change instructions, our team members need some time to adjust and to motivate themselves again since they just realized that everything they did so far was all for nothing. In this case, it has nothing to do with the (in)competence of your employee, but merely with the fact that you delegated a task before even you knew what is it exactly that you wanted.

How To Delegate Tasks To Remote Staff During Stressful Times
When you delegate tasks to remote staff, you will still get your preferred outcome. Having said that, the stress your employees might experience could be overwhelming.

6. Give examples of the work you expect

This point connects to the previous one and will help you to manage expectations. Imagine if you want to build a house: you go to a construction company and say “I want a nice, small house where I will feel comfortable”. Six months later – they made a house for you, which is in their opinion perfect small, gorgeous home – but you expected something completely different! You wanted at least four front-facing windows, two bedrooms, and a separate toilet and bathroom. They should know that, anyone knows that nice houses have four front-facing windows, right? Wrong.

Your employees don’t have telepathic access to your vision. Poor delegating leads to dissatisfaction, and also bad relationships with people who invested their resources in delivering work while thinking they were doing good. I bet, if you showed them three photos of your perfect home, they would have a better view in regard to what you’re looking for.

7. Check the process.

When working with remote staff, I always insist on transparency, like sharing access to folders using Google Drive (or any other tool where the work is being created). If we ask for updates several times during the collaboration, we still have plenty of time to express our desires, change the course of the project, and give additional guidelines to our remote employee on how to deliver PERFECT results!

8. Allow enough time.

We all have those clients who need something „yesterday.“ That always adds additional pressure on the whole team. When rushing to do projects, more often than not the concentration will be much lower, and the results will suffer. Employees might go over the minor mistakes they made two or three times without even noticing them. Normal work will always be 10-20% better quality than urgent work. This is not to say that you shouldn’t delegate urgent tasks, but expecting a designer who is available only six hours per day to make thirty unique T-shirt layouts by sunrise is the same as expecting dirt to turn into gold.  

9. Ask your remote employee to summarize what they’re about to do

This is the most important, and the most helpful factor. Employees are often intimidated by their superiors, and they want to leave a good impression, hence why they hesitate when they want to ask many questions about the instructions they just received. When you have urgent tasks and not enough time to explain, a simple confirmation could make things much clearer. You can literally ask them; “Could you please summarize what are you about to do just so we can confirm that we are on the same page?”.  This magic spell saved many projects.

10. Empower, inspire, motivate

There are two different ways how to communicate with employees:

a.) *This is rubbish.

* I could have done it better myself.

*How could you fail something so simple?

Being disrespectful and unprofessional demotivates the team, lowering down their self-confidence. If you’re trying reverse-psychology, drop the act right away, as it can result in your employees quitting your team. Nobody wants to be constantly brought down for their hard work and effort.

b.) *This is a good start, can you please work a bit more on XYZ because I want it to be more colourful/structured/etc.?

*Can we go through the brief one more time? It seems that my instructions weren’t precise enough, so I want to clear the confusion.

* Unfortunately, it looks like I need someone with a different skill set for this. Thank you so much for your effort, can you recommend someone with more experience in Excel?

An assertive leader is focused on solutions instead of expecting a good outcome by putting emphasis on failure.

If you are working directly with freelancers or full-time remote employees, you have to be prepared for situations like this. While if you are working with managed subscription staff agencies like Remote Bob, we will compensate lost time in most cases when misunderstanding occurs, even if it is partially created because of poor delegating. Even so, you should take notes on the issues poor delegating has brought and try to change your approach in the future, as tasks that are being reset mid-way come with a cost for both the company you hired and you yourself who now has to delegate the project anew.

How To Delegate Tasks To Remote Staff During Stressful Times
Positive reinforcement is always better than reverse-psychology

How to cope with all this during stressful times?

Most business owners are natural leaders. They are smart, resourceful, they know how to delegate, and what exactly they have to do, but sometimes there are simply too many things on their plate.

Last year, there was a period when I was a horrible boss. I was working 15 hours a day, I had no life balance, I was investing more than I was earning, and whatever I delegated to people went really, really bad. It seemed like it would be better and faster if I had just done it all by myself. In some instances, I was communicating with my employees in a way that I am not proud of, and that was definitely not professional. I was so overworked, exhausted, stressed out, and afraid that I will fail that I felt like I was not being myself.

A new approach

At one point, I just gave up. I took a few weeks of vacation, and after many Mojitos, crying, dancing, and reading Live, Pray, Love – I decided to try again. This time, I felt calm.

I realized that before I had a belief „all employees are doing a bad job“, so when someone would make a mistake, I would say something along the lines of „see, I knew you are not good enough for this position!“. People hated me, they felt miserable and demotivated. I was attracting bad energy.

Now, I run my business with a belief  that my team is the best, and in 98% of cases they actually deliver extraordinary work. But when they do make a mistake I offer them my help and assistance without downgrading their attempt. They feel inspired, empowered, motivated, powerful, and stay loyal to our company.

Maybe your employees are not as bad, maybe you just need a three-week-long yoga class or a good old Sex On The Beach.