Remote employees and teams are becoming increasingly common. Between improvements in technology that make it possible for employees to work from anywhere and the pandemic forcing us to keep our distance from one another, there is a myriad of reasons that remote work will continue to grow as a practice.
In fact, a recent Gallup article from May of 2021, reported that as many as 80% of workers are remote in some white-collar positions.
And even as there are calls for employees to return to the office, it’s highly unlikely that employees will return to the traditional 5-day week at their employer’s location.
All of this underscores a growing need for talented managers that understand the unique requirements of managing remote employees. Managers will need to possess knowledge of building remote cultures, hiring and onboarding remote staff, and keeping them engaged with the rest of their team.
Let’s discuss some of the unique challenges as well as the best practices that managers of remote employees can operationalize.
It’s easy for remote teams to suffer from poor communication due to the solitary nature of working from home. What used to be a quick question to the teammate sitting next to you, is now a Zoom call, an email, or a Slack message.
Resource sharing, status updates, and instructions need to be thoroughly documented in order to avoid confusion, too many unnecessary touchpoints, and to keep meetings succinct. And each type of deliverable or interaction needs to be sent through the correct communication channel.
Managers will need to set up an easy-to-understand hub of cloud-based communication tools, community resource centers, and set clear expectations on how team members should communicate with each other.
Recommended Reading: Causes and Effects of Poor Employee Communication in the Workplace
Employee engagement can also decrease as a result of remote team mismanagement. Remote workers don’t have access to the inherent energy levels that come from being in the office and seeing their coworkers. They also don’t have the accessibility to their managers that they rely on to stay focused and motivated.
Instead, remote leadership roles will need to be consistently finding ways to engage employees via surveys, team-building activities, and holding regular meetings that keep them tied into the greater purpose of their individual roles and the company’s goals.
Additionally, it will be important for managers to find ways to recognize employees’ accomplishments and ensure that their staff is being given opportunities to grow and progress at the company.
Many organizations have and continue to operate with a “throw-them-to-wolves” approach to onboarding. This usually means that the company doesn’t have a formal onboarding process, and new employees are left to learn on their own.
Managing remote teams in this way will result in either a failed onboarding process or a highly inefficient onboarding process in which the newest staff members will continue to make unnecessary mistakes for far too long. This will result in greater team and client frustrations with new hires and can lead to higher turnover rates at the company.
Managing remote staff requires a thorough, systemized onboarding program. This program involves a vetted plan, a personalized experience with social introductions, meetings with leadership, and scheduled training.
Recommended Reading: Onboarding New Employees: Your 2021 Process Guide [+ Free Onboarding Checklist]
Perhaps one of the greatest differences between remote work and traditional office work relates to the skills required to thrive in both environments.
Remote managers will need to both hire for and train employees to be stronger in skills such as time management and written communication. They’ll likely need to be more tech-savvy and able to solve more of their own problems.
Remote team members will benefit from tools and activities that encourage collaboration and prevent them from feeling ignored or forgotten. This includes setting up project management tools, shared slack channels, to make sure that projects include team members from other departments.
with employee contacts, calendars, and a collaboration platform such as Slack
Virtual whiteboards that allow individuals to brainstorm and share ideas around key projects
Video conferencing platforms that increase the face-to-face time during meetings
Regular communication not only helps keep remote employees in the loop and feel included, but it also provides more opportunities for them to connect and bond with others. On Thrive Global, Vy Luu describes communication as the “secret sauce” that enables successful remote work, adding that successful leaders of remote teams aim for 10 or more daily contacts with their team.
Digital games that help employees get to know one another better
Regularly scheduled team and one-on-one meetings
Put virtual off-sites on the calendar
Remote employees rely heavily on digital tools to accomplish their work and stay connected to the team. When they’re not on the phone, engaged in a group chat, or collaborating with shared-access documents, they’re probably on their laptop working independently.
Encourage the use of new digital tools to drive efficiency and streamlined decision-making
Utilize internal social media platforms
Create personalized employee profiles and directories
Provide company intranet ecosystems
To prevent remote employees from overcompensating and burning out, it’s necessary to regularly recognize their effort and results. Recognizing the contributions of remote employees not only helps them feel appreciated but also reminds the whole team of their value.
Managers should make time to publicly announce recognition in front of other team members
Reward excellent contributions with prizes, bonuses, or even time off
Although company leaders and HR departments can work to anticipate the needs of remote employees, it is also helpful to ask. Asking remote employees for their feedback allows them to have a voice in aspects of work-life that affect their productivity and engagement.
Some remote employees may express that they can be more effective with the addition of a new collaboration platform, while others may want training to support their growth. Understanding how to manage remote teams doesn’t happen automatically, but it can be easier with the aid of feedback.
Have informal conversations
Host virtual focus groups
All employees benefit from learning and development opportunities, but remote employees have a special need for understanding their options, particularly if there are certain roles that are more (or less) suited to remote work.
Where possible, it’s important to include remote employees in on-site training and development sessions so that they can learn at the same time that they get to know and connect with coworkers.
Create virtual lunch-and-learns and digital training
Schedule coaching by video or phone
that makes the organizational structure more transparent
Effectively managing remote employees begins at the very beginning of their time with the company. Onboarding introduces new hires to the company leaders, their teams, their software tools, and the day-to-day of how things get done.
Scheduled HR and manager meetings to clarify the role
Scheduled social events to get to know team members
Training on necessary tools and platforms
Tours that feature where to find shared resources
Good managers of remote employees understand what the perks of remote work are. One of them is the flexibility that it offers team members to accomplish work on their own schedule. If remote staff members attend the appropriate meetings and are able to complete the appropriate deliverables on time, then that employee is succeeding for the company. Remember to focus on the outputs and not the activity of remote staff members.
Utilize workflow tools like Asana to make sure the tasks are being completed
Have a shared calendar with important meeting times on it
Schedule a weekly team check-in call to make sure everyone is on track with their responsibilities
Avoid overloading your team members with too much work. You risk crushing their morale, burning them out, and effectively invite them to quit. Managers will have to work together with their employees to gain a thorough understanding of how long tasks might take, and how much work an employee can get done in a day.
Utilize tools and time tracker software to gain an understanding of how long common tasks take
Frequently ask how employees are feeling about their workload
Routinely meet with staff members to help reprioritize tasks to give employees more time and reduce their current workloads
Remote work is almost entirely a technical endeavor. Managers will need to have plans in place for when employees encounter those technical problems.
It might be that someone’s computer microphone isn’t working. It could also be that a storm knocked out the power for one of your staff members. In each case, you’ll need appropriate rules in place for how the team and the impacted staff member should respond.
If a technical difficulty arises, employees should communicate them immediately to the group communication channel
If power outages prevent you from working, reprioritize your deliverables and report your plan to your manager for completing that work
Pingboard makes onboarding and managing remote employees a better experience for everyone. From initial welcome emails to helping new employees understand who is who and what the organization looks like, we’ve got you covered. Sign up to get started and enjoy a 14-day free trial.