How to Effectively Manage Remote Employees
Remote work has probably been one of the hottest topics since last year. It’s never easy to step outside of one’s comfort zone and embrace the inevitable change(s). It is even harder when that change happens almost overnight leaving you with hardly any transition or adjustment period. That’s exactly what happened last year when so many businesses had to move to remote work suddenly.
It goes without saying that one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to (effectively) manage remote employees. Therefore, we thought we might provide some useful and insightful tips for you. But before we dig any deeper into this topic, let’s first see what the most common challenges were/are.
- 1 Common Remote Work Challenges
- 2 Lack of face-to-face communication
- 3 Distractions
- 4 Managing remote employees in an effective way
- 5 Establish clear goals and standards
- 6 Equip your remote team with the right tools
- 7 Establish specific times and methods for your team to interact
- 8 Follow up with your employees
- 9 Boost innovation
- 10 Share useful tips with your remote employees
- 11 Remote is not far away
Common Remote Work Challenges
In order to manage remote teams, managers need to show the willingness to recalibrate the way they manage their employees. At the same time, managers also ought to be aware of how sudden switching to remote work affects their employees.
Lack of face-to-face communication
No man is an island. We are all highly social beings and feeling deprived of in-person communication has proved to be one of the toughest challenges when it comes to remote working. Many remote employees stated that they had difficult times copying with the feeling of loneliness. They would miss daily interactions with their colleagues. Although they could still communicate with them via apps like Slack and similar, it felt different than in- person communication. When we work remotely, it is impossible to just stop by at our colleague or supervisor’s desk to pop a question and get an immediate reply. Remote employees need more time and effort to get the information, regardless how simple that information might be.
Sometimes, messages aren’t immediately received or responded to, which leads to frustration. Another missing part was the inability to really observe the body language of a speaker and get all the nuances and cues about how their information landed.
Moreover, not only do remote workers miss their peer -to- peer interactions, they are equally frustrated about not being able to always reach their supervisors. They feel that they can’t always get hold of their supervisors/remote managers so they feel as if their needs are neglected.
And it is not only remote workers who have problems with the lack of face-to-face communication. Remote managers find it challenging, too. One of the ways for remote managers to check their employees’ productivity was actually seeing them in person, meeting them. Monitoring body language, nuances, checking a general mood in the team, it is all done much easier face-to-face.
Wherever your place of work might be, it is natural that there would always be some kind of distractions. We are used to certain distractions at our working places: sound of typing, buzzing of copy machines or telephones, familiar clamouring of colleagues.
However, there are sounds and distractions we don’t really associate with the working environment. And it is those who have been one of the bigger challenges when people switched to remote work. All of a sudden there were toddlers crying or screaming for attention, your pets were doing photo bombs during important meetings, your upstairs neighbour was drilling the wall just when you were doing an online presentation. And the list could go on, but you know where we’re heading to.
In addition, most people really had to work from home because co-working spaces and cafes were closed, and not many were able to have a separate study. Most of them were makeshift office spaces. Daycares and schools were also closed which left many working parents juggling between their kids and work at the same time.
As a remote manager, what you need foremost in these situations is patience. It is equally stressful both for you and your remote employees. Give your employees some time to adjust to these changes, especially if they happened suddenly. This doesn’t say that you should tolerate these types of distractions for longer periods of time, just try to be a bit more flexible and supportive during the adjustment period.
Managing remote employees in an effective way
We’ve already mentioned that remote managers would need to ‘loosen up’ a bit in terms of their fear of losing control and the inability to monitor their employees the way they are used to. Their focus would definitely have to move from constant or frequent monitoring to the quality of the work done. What’s more, remote managers would have to deal more with technology and the way they should run online meetings.
Along this process of transition you, as a remote manager, would probably make many mistakes, but it really is the only way to learn and adapt to a new situation.
Let’s share some tips with you to make that road less bumpy for you.
Establish clear goals and standards
In every line of job, employees need to have clear goals or objectives of their tasks and duties. This becomes even more important when we speak about remote work.
If you don’t have your goals clearly laid out, you leave your remote employees unsure of what to focus on. And if you add the above mentioned lack of face -to-face communication and not immediate response to messages, things can escalate quite quickly. Your remote employees need to know what exactly is expected of them and what goals they should accomplish in a designated period of time. Aim for higher engagement and thus productivity, rather than on processes to get to that goal. If your employees feel recognized in terms of their contribution to the work that needs to be done, this would motivate them even more and make them more engaged.
Some rules and standards must be documented whether they are company-wide or individual ones. This is the only way to keep track of progress and see if there are any impediments.
Equip your remote team with the right tools
It goes without saying that a transition to remote work goes hand in hand with use of technology. Depending on your industry, it may take more or less effort on your side to see what technology solution your remote team would benefit most from. Furthermore, you need to make sure that your remote employees have access to the tools they need.
There is really not a one-size-fits-all solution, but the basic thing should be a computer/laptop and access to the Internet. Again, depending on your type of business you may want to provide stationery, a webcam, a headset, a small printer, perhaps an account at a copy shop with a set monthly limit.
If we get more technical, you also need to pay close attention to data and cybersecurity, check the bandwidth options, and be careful when you are sharing documents ( explore the options to see which one works best for you: password protected, open share, etc.).
It is worth mentioning that just because you provided your employees with the right tools, it doesn’t mean you should assume that they are immediately fit and ready to work remotely. Virtual communication differs a lot from face-to-face one. Some people don’t feel comfortable in front of the camera, some people may not know how to use certain digital tools that they all of a sudden need. So, please don’t forget to take these things into account as well.
Establish specific times and methods for your team to interact
When we speak about remote work there are different communication technologies that you will surely use to be in touch with your employees. It is always crucial to have regular conversations so you can deal with problems as they come. In a remote work environment, keeping regular conversations is even more important.
We’ve already said that one of the frustrations for both remote managers and employees are piled up messages and the feeling of lack of supervision or support. In order to have a better understanding of what is going on and if there are any impediments you should definitely set certain days and times for one on one meetings and team meetings. Having just email correspondence with your employees isn’t enough.Moreover, you should have daily check-ins to get a better assessment. Regardless of how you will structure those meetings, the most important thing is to keep them regularly so your employees know exactly when they can share their updates, news or feedback. This will show your employees that they can reach you and consult with you. In one word, they would feel heard and recognized.
Since we live in a digital age, use all the benefits of video communication, because it comes closest to in-person communication that remote workers often miss. Suffice to say, some topics are much easier and more efficient to discuss via video calls.
If you are worried about how to run a video meeting, just bear in mind that it is pretty much the same as a regular meeting. Still, you will need to take care of the following things:
- Set a clear agenda
- Check if everybody is at the meeting
- Everyone should mute themselves while a person is speaking
We’ve already mentioned the problems that you might encounter such as poor connection, running toddlers and similar, so arm yourself with patience. It is stressful for you, but it is equally stressful ( if not even more)for your employees.
On the other hand, there would be tasks that need quick collaboration. In that case instant messaging apps like Slack are quite handy.
Two- way communication between remote managers and their employees, and also communication between peers will enable each person to express and process the emotions and needs.
Follow up with your employees
Having video calls will for sure revolve around work topics. However, don’t forget that it is a great opportunity to make your employees more engaged and motivated. Try thinking along these lines:
- Check how the employee is doing
- Are they experiencing some impediments? If yes, what are they and how can they be eliminated?
- Talk about the employee’s professional goals and how to reach them
- Listen to all the questions they might have, which they find important.
Following up with your employees is also a great way to show encouragement and mental support. As it has been said, we all react differently to stress, some of us get more anxious. Make sure to monitor any signs of stress and check up regularly on your employees. Some of them might not show it. That is why it is so crucial to ask the above listed questions and listen carefully. Don’t take their feelings or stress for granted. And don’t forget that depending upon the employee and the nature of their job, some employees will benefit from more frequent interactions and some not.
This all might sound a bit overwhelming, but don’t stress out. Nobody expects you to do it perfectly. It is showing that you are there for your employees that matters; that they can rest assured knowing you would be there when the time and schedules permits.
(Sudden) transition to remote work usually can leave employees with a sense of uncertainty and even confusion about what might happen next or what their performance might be like. These factors are quite often not on friendly terms with innovation. People become hesitant to take risks. And ironically, it is actually during these times that innovation and risk- taking are so important. Your employees shouldn’t be afraid to take a risk if it will lead to higher engagement and productivity. When people work remotely, they tend to lose the sense of importance of collaboration and how much their work actually contributes. Your task as a remote manager is to emphasize how valuable their work is and to ensure them that taking risks is worth it. At the same time, they need to feel safe in case their taking risk turns into a failure.
You’ve probably noticed by now that the general message of this article is to be as helpful and supportive as you can. A great way to do that is to share tips from more experienced staff or trusted colleagues, people who are already using a remote model of work. These tips can come in many shapes and sizes:Short videos, PDFs, just to name a few. And don’t forget that these tips shouldnt only refer to work topics, but to all the things that are relevant for remote work and improving quality of life in general : favourite local food places, tips on how to stay healthy, how to incorporate healthy lifestyle, how to organize a day better and be more efficient, etc.
Remote is not far away
It might seem a bit odd to finish an article with a graph, but it is very fitting in this case.Let me tell you why. If you look at the figures, you will see that a staggering 90% of the companies will allow their employees to work remotely at least part-time even after the vaccines are widely adopted.
Why is this so important? To emphasize even more that you shouldn’t perceive remote work as something that is only temporary and something that you don’t need to put a lot of effort in because it will soon be over. Most likely, remote work is here to stay and like everything else that is new in life, it has its many challenges. However, if you tackle these challenges the right way, not only will you improve your managerial skills, but you will get an extremely useful set of new skills that would come in handy in the future, too. That is one of the best things about acquiring knowledge. Once you get it, it changes your life for good.
And last, but not least, as you could’ve seen in this article, remote doesn’t mean far away.