Thanks to new technology and changing corporate policies, remote work is becoming more common than ever before. As a leader, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually be tasked with managing employees who work remotely either some or all the time. While remote work offers numerous benefits for both employees and employers, it can present a few challenges for team leaders. To help you overcome these obstacles and ensure you and your employees are most effective, here are 11 tips for managing remote employees.
1. Set immediate and clear expectations
Ensure all employees know exactly what you expect. 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 daily, others may be satisfied with a weekly briefing. By letting your team know what you want from them, you can make sure you’re synchronized.
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 which sorts of questions or issues necessitate a group meeting or video call versus a quick message or email. Also 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
It’s crucial you 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 included and valued.
4. Schedule regular team meetings
Whether your team is partially or fully remote, it’s essential you set up regular group meetings and live virtual events to foster a sense of unity and help employees bond. These meetings will 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 employees a chance to contribute their ideas and clear up miscommunications regarding project details and expectations.
5. Be transparent
Employees often look to leaders as an example of how to behave in work settings, and if you’re open and honest, they’re more likely to do the same. 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 and know you’ll do the same. Just be sure your transparency extends equally to all team members. For example, if you have news to share, make sure you 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.
6. Build a strong rapport with each team member
Always take time to get to know your remote team members in the same way as your non-remote team members, including their hobbies, interests and career aspirations. While you may feel pressured to focus on business during a call or video chat, always set aside a few minutes for small talk at the beginning or end of your appointments — just as you would do in an in-person meeting. Simply asking about an employee’s weekend, chatting about their family or inquiring about their plans for an upcoming holiday can help them become more comfortable with you and engaged in their work.
7. Use technology to overcome geographic boundaries
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 and build relationships. It’s also helpful to create a remote version of anything you also 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 the 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 a half hour of your undivided attention so 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 employee as quickly as possible. It’s critical you never leave remote employees out of meaningful discussions about company objectives, visions and plans, or they may begin to feel alienated and undervalued.
10. Don’t micromanage
Part of the appeal of remote work for employees is the 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 behaviour where leaders bombard remote employees with communications and continuously ask for progress reports. However, micromanaging remote employees can be stressful for both parties and make employees feel they’re not trusted. Instead, focus on outcomes and goals rather than activity. So 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 remote employees aren’t taking advantage of their autonomy by wasting time and ignoring their workload. Some employees don’t have the self-discipline for remote work, and it’s critical you recognize this behaviour quickly before it affects team productivity.
11. Create an “open door” policy
Remote employees may feel they’re disturbing you by contacting you outside of scheduled meeting times, especially if you work in different time zones. To prevent this, create an “open door” policy where remote and non-remote employees can contact you at any time. And remember: while in-office employees can see when you’re in meetings, away at lunch or otherwise out of the office, remote employees have no way of knowing whether you’re at your workspace or not. If you’re unavailable when a remote employee attempts to get in touch, make a concerted effort to respond as quickly as possible. If you’re not accustomed to managing remote employees, it can be a learning curve. However, by following these eleven tips, you can establish an efficient system, facilitate communication and ensure all employees are as successful as possible.