In last month’s article “Working Remote: Is It Here to Stay?” we discussed the current trend toward remote and hybrid work arrangements, and the many benefits – some expected, some a surprise – that remote work situations provide both the company and the employees.
Surveys report that workers are happier, more productive, and have lower turnover when allowed to work remotely for part or all of their workweek, and companies such as Ford, Target, and Lockheed Martin are reacting to these positive results by allowing many of their workers to continue to work from home, either full time or on a hybrid basis.
Many managers are facing new challenges as they adjust to managing remote employees, and are realizing that their systems and management techniques need to be modified to ensure that remote workers are engaged, productive, and happy.
Challenges Of A Remote Work Environment
A remote work environment brings unique challenges to management that they may not have encountered when supervising on-site employees.
Lack of face-to-face supervision makes connecting with and supporting their employees more difficult, and lack of transparency and visibility can leave workers feeling unnoticed and unappreciated.
Remote teams may lose their cohesion and collaboration without the constant opportunities to connect in the office, and team output and quality may suffer as a result.
Managers who are intentional about their management practices, however, can develop routines and create opportunities which prevent these issues from happening, and keep their employees connected, productive, and motivated.
Tips For Effectively Managing Remote Employees
Take The Time To Connect On A Regular Basis
Remote workers lose the “small talk” opportunities that happen in an office setting.
Small talk may seem inconsequential at first glance, but it is actually foundational in creating connection between you and your employees as well as maintaining a connection between team members.
This means building time into one-on-ones and team meetings for casual conversation. In one-on-ones, ask your employee about their interests, their family, or perhaps a recent trip they just took.
In virtual team meetings, start each meeting with a fun question and have each team member answer, or perhaps highlight a different team member each week and have them answer pre-determined questions that help others get to know them.
The rapport you build will build a base of trust and camaraderie that will help the team work through problems and make difficult work decisions down the road.
Schedule Regular Check-Ins
Check in calls can be short one-on-one check-ins, or slightly longer team check-ins. Some situations may require daily check-ins, others weekly; what is important is that they are regular and predictable.
Establish a question template that prompts for new successes to report, difficulties encountered, and any questions or concerns that need to be discussed.
Equip Employees With The Technology They Need To Be Successful
When you are managing remote workers, email isn’t enough for successful communication.
There are so many innovative apps out there for remote workers. You may have heard of the more common apps like Slack or Zoom, but those are just scraping the surface!
Innovative apps give your remote workers the chance to do things like:
- Use a virtual whiteboard – real time – in a meeting
- Send a video chat that will disappear in 24 hours
- Create flow charts and diagrams real time in meetings
- Allow group editing of documents
- Participate in virtual icebreakers during meetings and group events
- Go on virtual retreats
- And more!
possibly insert pictures of a virtual whiteboard or group online video meeting
As you can see, the possibilities are virtually (no pun intended) unlimited. This article by Collaboration Superpowers gives an impressive list of tools and app options, divided by category, that make remote work productive and exciting.
You also need to make sure that remote workers have up to date equipment with enough memory and processor speed to run these apps, as well as the monitors, cameras, and other accessories needed to help them work efficiently and effectively.
Training and Rules Of Engagement
Giving your employees appropriate apps and technology to use for communication is the first step, but it won’t do any good if you don’t teach your employees how to use them and establish “rules of engagement.”
Have employees go through a tutorial for any app you are using that gives them a solid foundational knowledge of how to use it.
For each app, set clear expectations about what you want it to be used for, and how frequently. For example, “urgent issues need to be communicated through IM or text” and “please post weekly updates on Slack to let the team know what items you have worked on.”
Keep a reference document online listing each app, what it is used for, and any frequency requirements. This will ensure that all employees are aware of, and share, the same expectations for company communication.
Provide Social Interaction Opportunities For Remote Workers
Remote workers can feel very isolated and unconnected, so it’s essential that managers create opportunities for social interaction.
Spend the first few minutes of team meetings catching up; ask how their weekend was, latest book read or movie watched, etc.
Or, try one of the virtual icebreaker apps from the Collaboration Superpowers article such as”
- Icebreaker (“200 questions designed to build trust, connectedness, and psychological safety”),
- Water Cooler Trivia, or
- Wild Goose (“activities designed to keep remote workers motivated, inspired and connected”)
*See the full list of icebreaker apps in the article.
Schedule virtual lunches: choose a fun dress theme, and choose a virtual background to match the theme. Have food delivered to each team member from a local restaurant using delivery services like GrubHub or DoorDash.
Have a recognition event and send each team member a theme package to recognize their efforts. Theme ideas include:
- Home spa care package
- Pet toy package
- Sport team themed package
- Coffee or tea lover’s package
- Gift cards to local restaurants or other local businesses
Provide Encouragement And Emotional Support
Managers need to check in regularly with remote employees and ask questions that provide opportunity for the employee to share concerns and struggles.
Weekly one-on-one meetings are the perfect venue to establish this habit. Effective one-on-one meetings give the manager a chance to ask remote employees questions like:
- How was your week? (Highs and lows)
- What are you enjoying the most about working remotely?
- What is your biggest challenge with remote work?
- What could we do to improve your remote work experience?
Be sure you listen to their response, validate it, and talk about possible solutions that would address their concerns or struggles.
In addition to support, be sure to encourage your employee. Point out their successes, and express your confidence in their abilities. You will be amazed at how powerful short statements of encouragement and affirmation can be.
Establish Clear Expectations
Whether remote or in-person, it’s critical to give employees a clear definition of their responsibilities and communicate what your expectations are up front about details such as:
- Monthly, quarterly, yearly goals
- Work hours (hours the employee is expected to be working)
- List of primary responsibilities
Not only does this prevent confusion and miscommunication, but it increases employee engagement. Employees who understand the importance of their job and how it contributes to the overall success of the company are more engaged and motivated.
Trust Your Employees
When your workers are remote, you need to trust that they are engaged and working hard even when they are off-site. This can be a hard mindset change for some managers, but it’s critical.
If an employee thinks you don’t trust them it will quickly affect the employee’s morale and motivation.
Focus your energy on providing clear expectations and having regular check-ins that ensure the employee is meeting those expectations.
An extension of trust is to make sure you do not micromanage your remote employees.
For some managers, the switch to remote employees can be difficult. They worry that if a worker is at home they won’t work as hard, or will be more distracted.
If you struggle with these emotions, you need to remind yourself that statistics are showing that workers are actually more productive.
In this 2017 Flexjobs study,66% of surveyed workers said they are more productive in a home office.
And in this 2020 study by Mercer (an HR benefits consulting firm), 94% of employers said productivity has remained the same or improved since employees began working remotely.
When you micromanage, you are sending a message that you don’t trust your employees, which is demotivating and discouraging.
Focus on having one-on-one regular meetings to discuss projects and concerns; doing so gives the employee the opportunity to discuss and struggles or concerns with you while keeping you up to date on their progress.
When your employees are meeting deadlines and goals and communicating clearly and regularly, you will know they are doing their jobs effectively.
Managers need to recognize remote workers and teams for jobs well done.
A corporate culture of gratefulness has a trickle-down effect. Grateful leaders create meaningful connections and motivate employees. Deliberate recognition results in more employee optimism, retention, job satisfaction, and job performance.
Recognition can help remote workers feel less isolated and part of the team.
From virtual meeting “shout-outs” to remote employee appreciation days, there are unlimited ways to recognize your virtual employees – click here to learn 12 Virtual Employee Recognition Ideas.
Be Intentional When Managing Remote Employees
As you can see, managing remote workers requires intentionality.
Develop systems that ensure the remote employee is given clear expectations, schedule regular meetings that enable clear communication, and recognize success when a job is well done.
By doing this you will build a culture of trust, hard work, and accountability. . .
and employees who want to stay with your company for many years to come!
For more tips on successful virtual employee management, check out these articles:
Establishing Systems For Remote Workers
Are you trying to put together a plan for your remote workers, but don’t have the time?
Robin Kramer is an Online Business Manager that has been working with small businesses for 23 years. She can help you analyze your overwhelming to-do list to identify what tasks need your executive expertise, and which ones she can manage for you to free your valuable time.
To learn more about Robin’s skills and how she could help your business, contact her for a free consultation today