How to manage remote employees
Table of contents
- Common challenges facing remote workers
- What can you do to help?
- Create clear expectations from the outset
- Focus on your onboarding process
- Check-in with remote employees but avoid micromanaging
- Make communication as easy as possible
- Establish “rules of engagement” for communication
- Be flexible, open-minded, and offer support
- Understand the everyday challenges of working from home
- Set policies around working after hours
Working from home offers a range of benefits for employers and employees alike, but it also requires a completely new approach to managing staff members. Having people working in several different places is a challenge. But if you can make a few essential changes (and listen closely to your staff’s needs), you can manage remote workers very effectively.
Common challenges facing remote workers
The remote working environment has plenty of benefits, but it isn’t without its challenges — especially for those of you facing the prospect of managing a remote team for the first time. The events of 2020 meant that many businesses were forced to pivot to remote working overnight; as a result, there’s far more advice for companies who are still considering leaping away from the office.
As a manager, you need to understand the factors that make remote work especially demanding. Fail to do so, and you may find that your high-performing employees experience a sharp decline in output, motivation, and job satisfaction. If you’re keen to keep your workforce engaged, productive, and fulfilled in their roles, it’s important to be aware of these potential pitfalls.
Lack of face-to-face interaction
Employees and their managers frequently cite worries over the lack of face-to-face interaction as one of their primary concerns around working from home. From a management perspective, there may be fears over their employees’ ability to remain productive outside of the office. Employees may struggle with a lack of managerial support and communication, too.
The home environment is rife with distractions — whether it’s the family pet demanding attention by scratching at the door of your home office, or the pile of unwashed clothes just begging to be thrown into the washing machine. Family commitments may impinge on work, too — many workers may choose to ditch childcare and instead take care of their children whilst working from a home office.
Loneliness is probably the most common complaint with regard to working from home. Employees may find that they miss the informal social interaction of an office setting — the water cooler chats, coffee machine catch-ups and lunchtime strolls. Over a long period, this isolation can negatively impact an employee’s sense of ‘belonging’ within an organization, and may even result in higher rates of employee attrition.
What can you do to help?
At this point, you’re probably wondering “what can I do to help?”. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways you can ease the transition from the office to a remote working environment.
Create clear expectations from the outset
Communication is key when it comes to managing remote staff members. To ensure that you are both on the same page, set clear expectations from the outset, such as how to log your completed work (if you’re not using a time-tracking tool, change that as a matter of urgency: Timedoctor has a solid list), daily tasks that need to be done, or simply what time they need to start work. When employees know exactly what is expected from them, they are easier to manage — plus, you can avoid unnecessary problems.
Focus on your onboarding process
When a new employee joins your business, their first impression is largely shaped by their first few days or weeks in the company — that’s why the onboarding process is so important. Getting employees set up can be easier in person, so when it comes to remote workers, you have to be organized way ahead of time to avoid any unnecessary problems. Furthermore, if your new starters are remote and overseas, an employer of record service from a provider such as Remote can simplify the onboarding process by eliminating legal and practical obstacles, allowing your new hire to get up to speed quickly.
Check-in with remote employees but avoid micromanaging
You have to strike the right balance between checking in with your employees — whether that’s overseeing their work or simply asking how their week is going — and coming across as too overbearing. Always let your employees know that you’re available for a chat whenever it’s needed, but it’s also a good idea to schedule regular video calls, even if it’s just for 15 minutes or so, to have a face-to-face conversation. Often, people feel more at ease face-to-face and therefore will be more comfortable chatting through any questions or concerns they may have.
Make communication as easy as possible
Email alone isn’t enough. If you’re looking to create a seamless transition from the office to the home working environment, you’ll need to make the most of all the tools available. Video conferencing tools such as Zoom or Google Hangout are crucial for face-to-face interaction, but there may be cases where quick, informal collaboration is more effective.
Think of tools like Slack or Rocket.Chat as the online equivalent of nipping over to your colleague’s desk for a quick update on a project you’re both tackling together (or even a quick gossip about the latest episode of your favorite TV show). These mobile-friendly applications are perfect for simpler, less formal conversations.
Establish “rules of engagement” for communication
Remote work is more satisfying and engaging when management sets clear expectations for how communication is handled. If you’re going to use different tools for internal communication, make sure your team is aware of how they should be used. For example, video conferencing is better suited to formal meetings, whereas instant messaging can be used to urgently notify your employees of emerging developments. It’s also a good idea to have every employee share the best ways and times they can be reached during the workday.
Be flexible, open-minded, and offer emotional support
If you’re giving the option of remote work to your team then you need to be flexible. Everyone’s home environment is different. Being open-minded about your employees’ needs, particularly around working hours, is a great way of improving productivity among remote workers so they produce the best quality work. When you’re more flexible, managing your staff is a lot easier.
In the context of a sudden, abrupt switch to remote work, it’s crucial that as a manager, you’re there to listen to your employees’ anxieties and concerns. Empathize and do your best to understand any struggles they may be coming up against. If you’re aware of a certain employee who finds it difficult to speak up or voice their concerns, initiate the conversation with them and ask, “how are you coping with working remotely — is there anything I can do to make things easier?”. Listen carefully to their answers and — most importantly— act upon them.
Understand the everyday challenges of working from home
As a manager or HR team member, it’s your job to facilitate your staff working from home effectively, so you need to understand the everyday challenges. Do your remote employees have appropriate desks where they can work comfortably? Equipment in general is a significant factor: Wired has some solid recommendations (they’re a little on the expensive side, but it’s a worthy area of investment). Are they struggling to communicate with their team? Having a good understanding of the areas where they may need support will make you better equipped to manage their needs and be on hand to provide solutions.
Set policies around working after hours
In an office role, working hours are very clear and employees are usually pretty good at leaving when they’re meant to. However, when working from home it’s very easy for employees to work way beyond their normal hours, whether that’s finishing work, answering emails, or doing admin. This can lead to burnout, and will be counterproductive in the long run. If needed, set policies around working hours so remote workers don’t feel pressured to do more than they need to on top of their regular work.
Remote work is here to stay, so ensuring that you’re well equipped to manage remote teams is essential. Get that right and you’ll have happy employees, a thriving business, and be able attract global talent to your company.