Hiring remote employees means giving your business access to more talent but it also requires major adjustments to your company culture in order for it to have a positive effect on your team and bottom line. Frequent communication, solid organizational support, and helping remote employees stay balanced are the keys to sustained success.
Knowing how to lead remote employees within your larger team is not solely about you or the leadership team you are a part of. Employees are part of this equation too, and clearly understanding the remote experience for them is the key to success. A leader’s processes and employee-centered engagement needs to be equipped with the tools to meet their employees’ ongoing needs and requirements. Buffer.com reported the common obstacles remote employees report in their day-to-day such as getting distracted or missing camaraderie of colleagues.
To help you counter the common problems of remote work, we put together a robust list of the best tips to managing remote employees.
1. Set an Expectation for Communication
When there’s no chance you’ll bump into your team members at the water cooler, or on the way to the parking lot, you have to be intentional about creating regular opportunities for team communication.
At a minimum, managers should have a scheduled 1:1 check-in meeting (weekly or bimonthly). Developing real relationships takes more effort, and for that goal, meetings throughout the week and unplanned check-in calls are the way to establish these channels.
In addition to check-in meetings, choose to include weekly or bimonthly team video-chats, or quick Monday morning greetings via a messaging application, and utilize tools like Slack or another communication channel to encourage fluid work and communication planning. Friday afternoon text messages or larger companywide or team meetings or calls to close out the week help cap off what everyone is working for together. It is a nice reminder for remote employees to see and hear how their contributions are folding into larger projects for the organization. What works best for your team will depend on your industry and the involved employees’ roles, but the idea is to create opportunities for interaction that reduce isolation and that grow comradery.
Use Video Technology
Lastly, insist that when you are meeting with your remote team members, either 1:1, as a project team or your larger department or work team, video sharing is on. This is a helpful habit to get into when managing remote employees long term. Being able to read body language and facial expressions (or knowing when someone sounds serious, but is actually joking) goes a long way to inclusion. Seeing each other also helps connect individuals and there are fewer things more important than to help your remote team members feel connected and part of a larger team.
Without any of the non-verbal cues to discern intent from what we see and hear, challenges with communication can easily arise. Maintaining an active practice of having video on during Zoom, Teams, or WebX calls ensures that each team member is interacting fully in a clear and present manner.
2. Establish Solid and Reliable Processes
When managing remote employees it is vital that you’re clear about what you need them to do. You can’t look over their shoulder in the office to check that they are doing a job correctly, nor would you want to if you could. Having said that, processes that are established in the primary workplace (whether it be an office or some type of facility) will not be the same processes designed for remote work utilization.
Use Collaborative Tools
Project management tools as well as communication-based applications can be incredibly helpful when developing a sustainable platform for remote work.
Maintaining alignment with team members and tracking progress on multiple projects is essential when leading a remote workforce. We recommend monday.com to keep your team connected on projects, so you can continue to collaborate, manage and track work in one easy-to-use platform, wherever you are.
Once developed, ensure that processes that leadership has created are followed. In many ways, remote team members learn more from consistency than any other attribute in the workplace. Once they know that leadership takes certain processes very seriously and they expect compliance in all team members, they are more likely to follow suit.
3. Develop Robust and Accessible Support Teams
When managing remote employees, you need to be able to provide them the same level of attention and support as those who report to the main workplace. This includes having HR functions ready whenever it’s needed. Many smaller employers utilize providers like Bambee who offer on-demand HR compliance solutions for US-based businesses. Their HR managers can be trusted to perform your HR tasks and provide solutions, implement policies, and resolve issues for your remote employees for as little as $99 a month.
Another area that is probably the most mission-critical field for remote employees, is IT support. Remote workers, more so than in the main workplace, need the IT tools and corresponding support to conduct their jobs smoothly, efficiently and without interruption. Here are some helpful tips for IT (and HR) support and continuity for remote employees.
New (or Reliable) Equipment
Make certain that equipment is new or within warranty and remains current on software and security updates. These small yet crucial updates and maintenance precautions help keep employees moving forward on day-to-day project initiatives.
IT Support That Covers Time Zones
Ensure that IT support covers all time zones you have employees in. Nothing can be more frustrating than to be in one time zone with an IT issue, while your IT support team has not yet come on or has already gone off line for the workday. It is maddening for remote employees.
Remote IP Address IT Access
IT desktop support should have remote access to all remote employees’ computers so they can explore and fix firsthand, instead of asking questions and having users “drive” through the solution-finding exercise.
If possible, develop an IT framework that can be fully, or partially, accessed mobily. Allowing your remote employees to work from anywhere is why they love remote employment to begin with. If they can work remotely off their smartphone for appropriate tasks, then that functionality further extends their ability to remain flexible and nimble in their work practices.
Off-hours HR Support
Much like IT support, HR guidance can be needed at all times during the workday. This refers to the multiple-time zone issue again. If you have the resources, overlapping HR support to help cover critical, time-sensitive issues that cannot or should not wait. If, however, you have an HR team of one, then shifting set work hours to cover this possibility is also effective (e.g., Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while Tuesdays and Thursdays are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or whatever arrangement best fits your needs).
4. Develop and Curate Small Work Teams
Creating and leading smaller work teams can help supervisors pay closer and better attention to each employee’s needs and project list. When remote work teams get too large, almost always, there are details that fall between the cracks and the required level of (over) communication needed for success in the field cannot consistently happen.
What is a small, or appropriately sized work team? Only you can determine that for your team. However, it helps to closely examine the type of work that your team(s) produce and how much time each team member typically needs from you on a daily and weekly basis. A few pro tips to remote worker (small) team management:
Yes, we have mentioned this throughout the article as this can be a common drawback of having remote-based employees located around the country or the world. Be mindful of when meetings are scheduled with colleagues in other time zones.
Rotate Meeting Leaders
When you have smaller teams, the option for leadership roles can rotate more evenly. Rotating who leads weekly team meetings, for example, can be a great way to learn from each other and to share leadership growth opportunities.
Daily Rotating Check-ins
With small work teams, each team member should have at least one check-in, or 1:1, scheduled daily. It can be with any team member or supervisor, but not allowing days to pass without team connection is essential for remote team members.
5. Know Your Team Members
Not all team members have the same needs, learning styles or preferences for check-ins. The single most important management task is to find out the mood, mindset, and motivation of each team member. You can only manage team members effectively when you know what their present-day struggles are and how long they have been struggling with them. There are really effective methods you can use to simultaneously check in with the individual on the team, as well as the team-at-large.
Maximize Remote Working Arrangements
Knowing each employee and what they enjoy most about the work and their remote working arrangement goes a long way. Supervisors who know how best to motivate their team members help enhance their productivity and overall work experience.
Round Robin Check-ins
As you check in with the team on how the processes are serving the project overall, you can also conduct a round robin where each member gives feedback. An example would be for a team member to point to an improvement opportunity or a strength to the team or its processes. This teases out shy team members, because participating is required, and helps keep in check team members who want to either complain about every conceivable detail to the processes or want to take over team conversation.
When your supervisor’s manager checks in with you, it is difficult to feel anything other than valued and appreciated. Skip-level 1:1s are a good way to encourage employees to stay focused and engaged in their project.
Offer Employee Surveys
Ensure that you have HR’s backing on surveys and be sure that you are surveying your employees so you know how they feel about their workplace experience. Within the survey, it is fine to have a predetermined set of questions, just make sure that there is a space in the survey to share additional thoughts.
Be Responsive and Available
Part of knowing your team members is understanding that some employees hate team meetings. What we mean is, unless you require these employees to speak up in meetings or to be present, you never hear from them … ever. Although this represents a nice opportunity for an employee’s inner growth, doing your level best in creating a channel of communication that is meaningful to them is critical. An “open door” policy or available drop-in office (or call in) times can be a wonderful resource for your team.
Understand Learning and Work Styles
As has been shared already, everyone has different learning and working styles. Although not all company processes can bend fully to each individual’s needs, knowing where and how to flex on work rules is critical to managing remote employees. Webinars are great for most adult learners, but materials that can be shared during and after trainings can appeal to a larger group of employees.
Lastly, not all remote employees will always work from their home office. Understanding an employee’s work style also means setting them up for success, as has been noted, to work from anywhere at any time. Some of your employees enjoy working from multiple locations.
6. Promote Company Culture With All Remote Employees
Employers can foster engagement within a digital workforce in a number of ways. First and most importantly, create a culture of connectedness and camaraderie. Take the benefits of the office setting, friendships and culture-focused activities, and move them online. Start a virtual book club or get a sports bracket going for some friendly competition. When employees feel personally invested in their relationships in their workplace, fluid engagement naturally follows.
Companies must also make the investment in digital collaboration tools to connect employees beyond text-based channels. Video conferencing and real-time screen-sharing capabilities are especially important, as they mimic the same in-person face-to-face opportunities for collaboration necessary to maintain strong interpersonal relationships, rapport, and communication between teams.
7. Provide Both Structure and Independence
When managing remote employees, it is key to give them both freedom and structure. The structure you provide offers a set group of expectations as well as consistency and safety. Employees need to have a degree of predictability and clear expectations so outcomes can be planned and strategized for. Employee safety is won when structure is securely in place and does not change from day to day or week to week. Two examples of offering workplace structure is the manager’s ability to set clear guidelines for work quality and to set detailed project deadlines.
Independence is allowing the employee enough autonomy to complete tasks and make decisions without overt guidance from their manager. This independence allows for a balanced approach for employees to enjoy that moves fluidly between the structure you provide and the freedom to engineer their own working schedule, or personal appointments during the day and so on.
An example of staging freedom, or independence, for your remote workers, is deciding to focus on results and not how an employee accomplishes tasks. If the team member gets their project work completed timely and efficiently, then the results are more important to dwell on then the “how” it got completed. Without a balance of structure and freedom, you’ll find they won’t get everything done, or they won’t be happy with the job they have.
8. Hold Team-Building Events When Possible
Although the most critical work with remote team members is accomplished through fluid communication, team approaches to project management and inclusive team spirit, there is no substitute for good ol’ team building. Whether this means gathering everyone at headquarters once a year or an exhaustive effort in getting smaller regional teams together when and how possible, in-person team-building events are important acts of unity and fun (and almost always worth the expense).
We know that not all teams can be gathered together. When possible, these events are important. If no other option is available, then virtual happy hours can help fill the gap.
9. Show Confidence in Your Remote Hires
Daily communication is critical for helping remote workers feel engaged and be productive. That being said, be careful not to hover. If you allow your employees to work from home, you should be confident that they’ll work as they do, or would do, when in the office. This includes working consistent hours overall, meeting deadlines and deliverables and communicating with staff as they normally would. If you’re unnecessarily checking in five times a day to “see how things are going,” it could send unintentional messages to team members that you do not trust in their ability to meet these objectives and their deadlines.
If deliverables and other goals are not regularly met, then coach your team member in a way that is helpful to them. Oftentimes reminders and coaching will do the trick. Ensure that you are removing all roadblocks to their ability to work well and remind them of needed processes and expectations that lead to sustained success.
10. Actively Promote Work-life Balance With Remote Employees
Ensuring that deadlines are met, work quality is best-in-class and growth goals are on track are all important parts of leadership. With remote based employees, however, the key to longevity with your organization is to actively partner with them in ensuring their overall health and well-being.
Note that the two most common concerns shared with remote based employees in the State of Remote Workers Report last year were both “wellness” related. Unplugging after work, commonly because their office is down the hallway, and second, loneliness. Loneliness may be an obvious challenge to have to manage but it is very real. We have found that many employees who attempt remote work eventually return to a conventional office space because they did not want to feel as though they were on their own.
Good leadership can help stem this concern. Teaming remote workers up with chat groups and weekly one-on-one’s with other supervisors and team members (who are not in their immediate work group) can help bring a more stable and larger work team experience to remote employees.
One last way that managers can actively assist with their remote team members’ health focus, is to encourage frequent small breaks throughout their workday. Scheduling meetings back to back to back, is a very dangerous and poor work habit to imbue. One way that managers can model this behavior is to schedule 50 minute meetings and to hold to their timeline for ending them. This allows employees a little more time to move around between calls and meetings.
COVID-19: Our Rush to The World of Remote Working
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the global workforce at-large to work from home, at least for the positions within companies that allow for such a change. In the months and years to come, we will probably be developing out of necessity, remote work environments and processes that are designed for long-lasting solutions. We are redefining how day-to-day work is being done. Our encouragement to you is to challenge your leadership team to look at remote work as less a temporary inconvenience and more so as the future of work.
Remember that successfully managing remote employees is not only about you–it is also about your employee that you lead. Their well-being, to put a fine point on it, represents one of the biggest challenges they’ll encounter as a “one person workplace.” Offering resources to them, particularly during the COVID-19 era, will help them feel valued, part of the team, and engaged.
Although there are many out there the one we will highlight is the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Center for Workplace mental Health. This is a wonderful resource for both the manager and the employee, as it reminds them to schedule their day out in a wealthy manner and offers tips for healthy working.
There are pros and cons to managing remote employees within your workforce. However, as remote employment becomes more established and, slowly, a larger piece of the norm, clearly more benefits come from remote team management, when done correctly, than the drawbacks.
Knowing how to manage a remote team gives your business the freedom to focus your investment on acquiring talent instead of overhead cost (due to ongoing employee attrition). Remote employment allows companies of any size to hire top talent anywhere in the country, or the world for that matter. The small businesses that capture this ability will find the biggest opportunities. Competitors will struggle to catch up and your edge within the industry will lead to bigger and more sustainable gains over the long term.