HR Tips for Effectively Managing Remote Employees
Remote employees and teams are becoming increasingly common. After all, modern technology makes it possible for employees to work from almost any location or time zone. A global study found that 70 percent of employees work outside the office at least one day a week, and 53 percent work remotely for at least half of the week.
Many employees who seek more flexibility find remote work to be a great way to increase their productivity and work-life balance. In addition, remote work arrangements provide companies with the ability to hire employees from a broader, global pool of candidates. Research by Owl Labs found that 16 percent of companies are fully remote, with employees working from anywhere around the globe.
Managing remote employees requires more than giving employees a laptop and saying goodbye to seeing them in the office; it requires finding ways to keep them involved and aligned with the rest of the team. Here are seven tips and best practices for managing remote employees and distributed teams:
- Improve collaboration
- Communicate regularly
- Build a digital company culture
- Recognize their contributions
- Ask for their feedback
- Clarify opportunities for growth
- Introduce virtual onboarding
1. Improve Collaboration
A Harvard Business Review survey found that remote employees often feel left out and that their non-remote coworkers make changes to key projects without involving them. All employees benefit from improved collaboration in the workplace, but remote employees may miss out on key opportunities to collaborate with the rest of the team simply because they are not physically present.
Remote team members will benefit from tools and activities that encourage collaboration and prevent them from feeling ignored or forgotten. Examples of useful collaboration tools that can keep remote employees connected with their coworkers in the office include:
- An interactive org chart that syncs 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 face-to-face time during meetings
2. Communicate Regularly
Whether they work partially or are fully remote, employees who aren’t on-site need frequent and consistent communication with their manager and peers. Remote employees don’t have the benefit of team bonding in the lunchroom, or sticking their head in for an impromptu chat with their manager. Communication must be deliberately cultivated so that it happens regularly.
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. Tools and activities that can help improve communication among a distributed team include digital games that help employees get to know one another better, regularly scheduled team and one-on-one meetings, and virtual off-sites.
3. Build a Digital Company Culture
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. When you establish a culture in which everyone incorporates modern technology into their work life, going digital isn’t just for remote employees; it’s for everyone.
In a digital company culture, employees communicate in real-time using chat and collaboration platforms, they manage projects both in person and virtually, and company leaders encourage the use of new digital tools to drive efficiency and streamlined decision-making. Internal social media platforms, personalized employee profiles and directories, and the company intranet are great examples of tools that support the development of a digital culture that benefits everyone.
4. Recognize Their Contributions
Remote employees, especially those who are fully remote, don’t have on-site coworkers or a manager who sees how they spend their workday and the effort they put in to support team goals. Because so much of their work goes unseen, remote employees may even overcompensate and attempt to prove their value by working longer hours. In fact, one study found that remote employees were more likely to work longer hours beyond a typical workday and put in more effort than needed.
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 it also reminds the whole team of their value. When remote workers see that they don’t have to work longer and harder than necessary, they have a chance to provide more consistent effort and avoid burnout.
5. Ask for Their Feedback
Although company leaders and HR 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. Employee surveys, informal conversations, and virtual focus groups are all effective ways to ask remote employees for feedback about their experiences at work and what they need to be more productive, connected, and engaged.
6. Clarify Opportunities for Growth
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.
In instances where remote employees aren’t available to attend on-site training, they can participate in virtual lunch-and-learns and digital training as well as coaching by video or phone. Furthermore, an interactive org chart is a great way to illustrate not only the different roles that currently exist in the company, but also the various career paths that may be possible for remote employees. By making the organizational structure more transparent, you can help remote employees better understand their opportunities for growth and advancement.
7. Introduce Virtual Onboarding
Effectively managing remote employees begins at the very beginning of their time with the company. Onboarding introduces new hires to the company, their team, and the day-to-day of how things get done. For remote employees, onboarding is even more critical because it introduces them to the people they may interact with on a more limited basis once onboarding has concluded.
Virtual onboarding fills in the gaps that traditional on-site onboarding might miss. Remote employees may not visit the office in their early days of work, but that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit from great onboarding that helps them get started with a new job on the right foot. Virtual onboarding can include early access to the company org chart, video introductions, and an online training library. Each provides a great opportunity for remote employees to become familiar with the people and teams around them.
Successfully Manage Remote Teams
Learning how to manage remote teams doesn’t require a lengthy management course. Instead, it’s possible to successfully manage remote employees by following practical tips that improve communication, collaboration, and transparency. Remote work arrangements are already an everyday occurrence for many companies. The key to making the most of remote work is to engage in activities and use digital tools that transform distributed teams into tightly woven work units and take remote employees from isolated and left out to valued and included.