Thanks to new technology, changing corporate policies, and COVID-19, remote work has become more common than ever before. As a leader, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually be tasked with managing remote employees either some or all of the time.
While remote work offers numerous benefits for both you and your employees, it can present a few challenges for team leaders. To help you overcome these obstacles and ensure you and your employees are working effectively from home, here are 10 tips to help you manage remote employees.
1. Set immediate & clear expectations
A big part of managing remote teams is making sure your remote employees know exactly what your expectations are. For example, let them know how often you want them to check in, whether you’d like them to touch base before they end their workday, and if they should track their time. While some leaders expect updates from each team member on a daily basis, others may be satisfied with a weekly briefing. By letting your team know what you want from them up front, you can make sure you’re on the same page.
2. Document your communication strategy
In addition to sharing expectations with each team member individually, it’s also important to document your communication process so remote employees have something to reference. For example, outline what kinds of questions or issues necessitate a group meeting or video call versus a quick message or email. Provide details about timing and responsiveness, such as how soon you expect a response to an email during working hours.
3. Engage as often as possible
Take a moment to engage directly with remote employees at least once a day, whether through an email, instant message, phone call or video chat. The longer you go without reaching out to these employees, the more likely they are to feel left out and become disengaged from their work — which may lead to poor performance and turnover. Consistent interaction with each team member, whether they work on a remote basis or not, will ensure they feel motivated, included and valued.
4. Schedule regular team meetings
Whether your workforce is partially or fully remote, it’s essential to set up regular group meetings, live virtual events, and virtual team-building activities to foster a sense of unity and help employees bond. These meetings can help employees get to know each other, build connections, and feel more inclined to cooperate and communicate with each other on a regular basis.
Additionally, team meetings give remote workers a chance to contribute their ideas and clear up miscommunications regarding project details, deadlines, and expectations.
However, be sure to be mindful of “Zoom fatigue,” a term used to describe the burnout or tiredness associated with the overuse of video meetings. Using alternate communication methods (e.g., email, messaging apps, phone calls), supporting transition time between meetings, and making some social meetings optional are all things you can do to help combat Zoom fatigue.
5. Be transparent
Employees often look to leaders as an example of how to behave in the workplace. If you’re open and honest, for instance, they’re more likely to be open and honest with you. By making transparency a part of your team culture, it’s easier to build trust with all employees and ensure they feel comfortable coming to you with any questions or concerns.
Just be sure your transparency extends equally to all team members. For example, if you have news to share, make sure to let every team member know at the same time. This way, your remote employees won’t feel like they’re the last to hear about what’s happening in the office, or that you’re intentionally withholding information from them.
7. Use technology to overcome geographic boundaries
Important tools and technology that you’ll need to manage a remote workforce include chat and team collaboration tools (e.g., Slack), video conferencing software, screen sharing tools, project management systems to keep track of important tasks, time tracking apps, and more.
The same technology your company uses to enable remote work can also be leveraged to build a community. Use tools for more face-to-face interactions and create spaces — such as separate instant messenger channels or online forums —where employees can discuss non-work-related topics during breaks.
Another idea is to create a remote version of anything you do locally. For example, if you have an in-office tradition of singing “Happy Birthday” to employees, be sure to do the same for remote employees by gathering the team together for a video call.
8. Set aside time for regular one-on-one conversations
When you’re busy, it’s easy to cancel or postpone seemingly non-essential events such as one-on-one conversations. However, these meetings are crucial for effectively managing remote teams. That’s because remote employees often miss small updates and ad hoc meetings that happen throughout the day, and may not be as up-to-date as local employees.
Do your best to hold one-on-one meetings at the same time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and give each remote employee at least half an hour of your undivided attention so you can give feedback and they can ask questions, raise concerns or share their ideas.
9. Don’t exclude remote employees
When employees work in an office setting together, conversations happen organically. So-called “watercooler” chats can turn into critical conversations where you or one of your team members shares crucial information. When these conversations develop, be sure to pass along the message to your remote employees as quickly as possible.
If you leave remote employees out of meaningful discussions about company objectives, visions, and/or plans, they may begin to feel alienated and undervalued. Send employee satisfaction surveys periodically to gauge how remote employees feel about their work environment.
10. Don’t micromanage
Part of the appeal of remote work for employees is autonomy. But when you’re not sitting next to your employees, it’s easy to assume they’re not working or sticking to the tasks you’ve delegated. This can quickly develop into micromanaging behavior where leaders bombard remote workers with communications and continuously ask for progress reports.
However, micromanaging remote employees can be stressful for both parties and make employees feel like they’re not trusted to do their work. Instead, focus on outcomes and goals rather than visible activity and hours worked. As long as the employee is getting their work done well and on time, their work style may be irrelevant.
At the same time, it’s important that remote employees aren’t taking advantage of their autonomy by wasting time and ignoring their workload. Some employees may not have the self-discipline for remote work, and it’s critical you recognize this behavior quickly before it affects team productivity.