Over the last few years, many business owners found themselves having to manage more remote workers. However, managing remote employees requires a slightly different approach compared to handling teams working in the same physical location. Managers may find it difficult to track a remote workforce’s performance and productivity while helping them feel connected and part of a team. Setting clear work expectations is critical, but it’s also important that you provide remote teams with the business-related tools they need.
If you or your people managers need tips on how to manage remote workers, check out these nine strategies.
1. Identify and Understand Remote Work Challenges
Remote workspaces don’t necessarily have the same facilities and tools as regular offices. When it comes to managing remote employees, you need to be familiar with the challenges that teams face when working remotely, such as:
- Distractions: Your remote staff may have to deal with distractions like loud dog barks during Zoom calls or background noise from a busy coffee shop. Some may even have to balance work and parenting responsibilities.
- Home office challenges: Not all employees may have a home office space that they can use. Some may set up a mini-office in their bedroom or dining room—areas that may not be conducive to doing remote work. Others may have to contend with tech issues, such as unstable internet connection or problems setting up online remote work tools.
- Limited face-to-face interactions: Remote employees may feel disconnected due to the absence of in-person face-to-face interactions. Compared to on-site employees who can easily go to a co-worker’s cubicle or visit a supervisor’s office, remote staff don’t have the same opportunities to connect with colleagues or share work concerns with managers.
- Communication problems: Your remote employees may encounter delays or difficulties in getting the details they need to complete tasks or projects. On the flip side, they may feel overwhelmed if they receive too much information via Slack notifications and emails.
In knowing these common remote work challenges, you’ll be able to create strategies to address some of these issues. If you encounter any of these issues, you must show flexibility and understanding—these attributes will help you manage employees more effectively.
2. Set Clear Remote Work Standards and Expectations
Setting expectations for employees—regardless if they work onsite or remotely—is critical. Having well-defined work goals and realistic task deadlines will help you track performance. You can use the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) method to define remote work expectations. If you need a guide, check out our SMART goals template.
In managing remote teams, you may want to set up a schedule for receiving task status updates. This can be weekly, daily, or every other day. Not only will the updates provide you insight into the work that remote employees do, but these will also allow you to monitor productivity.
Creating remote work policies is also a must. These policies should cover expectations (like optimal working conditions), company rules (such as procedures to protect sensitive data), and other requirements (like software and devices that should be used) for working remotely.
3. Provide the Right Tools
Identifying and providing the right work tools to use is an important aspect of managing a remote workforce. The basic tools include internet access, a computer, a webcam (if the remote employee isn’t using a laptop), and a headset. You also need to provide:
- Secure access to shared work files
- Directory of company policies, procedures, and other helpful content (like presentation templates)
- Business apps (such as Gmail, Microsoft Office 365, and Monday.com)
- Online collaboration and communication tools (such as Slack and Zoom)
- HR software for tracking attendance or monitoring work hours (such as QuickBooks Time or Clockify)
4. Establish Trust
Part of the appeal of doing remote work is the autonomy and flexibility it provides to employees. However, you should avoid micromanaging remote teams by constantly requesting project or task updates. This can be stressful for both you and your workers. Plus, it will make your remote employees feel that you don’t trust them to do their work properly.
Demonstrate trust in your remote workers by tracking their work outputs, such as what they accomplished, the projects they did well, and the tasks they missed. Don’t focus on when they clocked in/out for work and how many hours they’re online each day.
Another good tip for establishing trust is to show that you are a trustworthy person. As a people manager, you can showcase this by helping your team members tackle work challenges and listening to their concerns. If you’re new to leading a team, we recommend enrolling in training programs to improve leadership skills. Aside from trust building, below are other training topics to consider.
5. Plan Team Interactions
One of the strategies on how to manage remote employees is planning when your virtual team should meet. This includes setting up regular group meetings and company-wide update sessions. You may also want to add short team-building activities to your online meetings or schedule virtual coffee breaks to help foster team camaraderie, create connections, and help your remote staff know each other a little better.
While these meetings can help you monitor work progress and provide opportunities for group interactions, be mindful of scheduling too many meetings. We recommend setting up “no meeting” days or timeframes to provide remote employees with the time they need to complete work tasks.
6. Conduct Regular Check-ins
Scheduling regular check-ins or one-on-one sessions with remote employees will help you monitor productivity, identify project roadblocks, and see how workers are doing overall. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to how often employee check-ins should happen, but a good option would be conducting biweekly meetings.
However, if your remote worker isn’t performing as well as expected. You may have to set up daily or weekly check-ins to provide support. If the problem persists, consider placing the underperforming staff in a performance improvement plan (PIP), which is a structured roadmap with a set completion timeline to help the employee meet work objectives or correct an issue (like tardiness). Don’t forget to coordinate with your HR team for any employee-related problems.
7. Encourage Open Communication
Encourage your employees to be honest and transparent with you and with their team members. Transparency is essential when managing remote workers as it can be challenging to build team rapport when employees work in different locations.
If you keep an “open-door policy” for on-site workers, you should also do the same for remote employees. Remind your team that they can easily contact you through your company’s approved communication channels (like Slack). And if you have employees who work in different time zones, let them know that they can message you at any time—although you may not be able to answer immediately due to the time difference.
8. Promote Work-life Balance
While all employees value work-life balance, remote workers find it harder to separate work time from personal time because they work from home. Some 22% of the respondents to Buffer’s 2023 State of Remote Work survey say that they struggle with unplugging from work, while 48% report that they frequently work outside of the usual work hours.
To help your remote staff manage work-life balance, encourage them to only work within a fixed schedule every day and then log out when the workday is done. As a people manager, you also shouldn’t expect remote workers to reply to emails or Slack messages that you send after their working hours.
If building a healthy lifestyle at work is part of your company’s work-life balance initiatives, encourage your workers to set up reminders to drink water, do simple stretching exercises, or even take a quick 10-minute walk. You may also want to consider providing simple rewards for remote teams who will meet or exceed wellness challenges like completing a specific number of steps in a month.
9. Celebrate Success
Don’t forget to celebrate success in the workplace. However, this doesn’t only pertain to project milestones or work tasks completed. Some employee recognition ideas include celebrating work anniversaries, birthdays, and other life events (like weddings). These celebrations make employees, including remote staff, feel valued and appreciated.
We also recommend creating a Slack channel specifically for employee recognition. You can also recognize high performers there or during company-wide meetings. If you’re unsure who to recognize, ask your workers to nominate team members who exemplify your business’ core values.
Managing Remote Employees Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Not necessarily. Many factors affect employee pay, regardless of whether a team member works remotely or in the office. This can be the business location, type of job, the employee’s skills and work experience, and the company’s pay methodology (not to mention its salary budget).
Setting up deadlines and scheduling regular check-ins will help you track the work that remote teams do. You can also use time tracking tools (like QuickBooks Time, Clockify, and Harvest) to monitor remote workers.
Aside from granting secure access to shared files, business software, and communication apps, you may want to provide remote teams with the required computer hardware and devices, such as laptops and headsets. You can also offer a monthly allowance to cover home internet fees or a coworking space membership.
There are a few remote work challenges that make managing remote employees difficult for managers. However, by setting clear expectations, building trust and transparency, and providing the right tools for team collaboration, managers can efficiently track staff performance while helping engage remote workers.