How to Successfully Manage Remote Employees
By Rachel Krubsack
The ranks of remote employees are growing. While working from home comes with a unique set of challenges, it is possible for remote employees to not only survive, but thrive, whether the arrangement is temporary or permanent. Whether you’re managing a well-established remote staff or a group that is new to the remote working dynamic, it’s important to fine tune your skills to best manage your team.
Two Common Challenges of Remote Working
Here are two common challenges you are likely to face when managing remote employees:
1. Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction
One of the most common challenges of managing remote workers is the lack of face-to-face interaction that naturally occurs in office settings. Without the ability to get up and talk to individuals or groups of employees freely, you may begin to feel disconnected. Worse, employees may start to feel that you’re out of touch or unsupportive of their needs.
2. Employees Who Require Extra Attention
Employees who demonstrate independence, trustworthiness, and good time-management skills often have an easier time adjusting to a work-from-home arrangement with less supervision. In fact, these types of employees might even flourish with less supervision and more freedom.
On the other hand, employees who struggle to stay on task or have a tendency to get distracted might need more attention. This does not mean employees with these attributes cannot be successful at working remotely; they may simply need more guidance and more regular manager interaction to succeed.
Setting Expectations for Remote Workers
There are things you can do to create a positive team dynamic and prevent common challenges among a remote team.
Set expectations: Your expectations of remote workers may need to be different than those of employees working in the office for a remote work arrangement to succeed.
If employees are required to work from home suddenly due to business disruptions or other unforeseen circumstances, they may be facing other challenges including:
- Childcare issues
- Other family members at home during the workday
- Inadequate or limited working space
Four things to keep in mind when setting expectations for remote employees:
1. Focus on productivity, not activity. If your employees are still meeting their deadlines and the company’s needs, try not to focus on what else they might be doing during the day.
2. Allow flexibility with hours. Consider allowing employees to be a bit more flexible with their schedules, unless work needs to be performed within specific hours. Whenever possible, however, allowing some extra flexibility in their hours will help employees feel valued and trusted, which will in turn build trust and loyalty.
3. Ensure all deadlines are reasonable. Have a good grasp of how long assignments should take to complete and understand what other projects your employees are responsible for completing. Overloading or underloading a remote worker can easily happen, particularly if trust doesn’t run both ways.
4. Try to be flexible with employee goals. If your company sets regular objectives, understand that a change in employee circumstances may mean a change in goals. For a remote working situation to succeed, you must be willing to revisit employee objectives on a regular basis.
Best Practices for Communicating with Remote Employees
Your company may determine which tools are available for connecting with remote workers, but it’s up to you to make the most of them.
Below are some general guidelines to consider.
Instant messaging will be used for urgent needs or questions, as well as casual check-ins throughout the day. Employees should make every attempt to be available via instant message during all regular work hours, unless otherwise engaged in company business.
Video chat will be used for scheduled meetings only. When possible, employees should be visible on camera in order to establish and maintain good working relationships.
Email will be used to conduct regular business communications, and employees are expected to reply in a timely manner.
Phone calls will be used when necessary for communication but will be limited.
Good communication is the foundation of a successful remote work arrangement.
To ensure your remote workers feel connected to you and their coworkers:
- Establish structured check-ins
- Provide opportunities for social interaction
- Understand which meetings really matter
- Don’t underestimate team-building activities
- Be sure to share information
Keep remote workers healthy and engaged
It’s important to encourage remote employees to make choices that help them stay healthy and engaged. When the home is also the workplace, it’s easy for the line between them to blur.
To create a healthy work-life balance, employees should:
- Do work-related tasks during working hours, and leave household chores for later. For example, don’t stop working to unload the dishwasher.
- Try to have regular starting and stopping times for work each day, including a regular lunch break.
- When work is done for the day, shut down the computer, and stop checking emails, taking calls, and responding to work-related text messages.
It can be easy to stray from a previously healthy routine if you’re new to working remotely. Remind employees to:
- Eat a healthy diet. Schedule regular meals and snacks rather than “grazing” all day.
- Take breaks. Stand up, stretch, and walk around a little at least once an hour.
- Keep to a regular schedule as much as possible, which includes getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
- Avoid using alcohol and/or drugs as coping mechanisms, especially if remote work is the result of an unexpected or stressful turn of events.
Encourage remote employees to seek out help if they experience mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, or depression. If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), remind remote workers they are still able to use it. If your organization doesn’t have an EAP, HR may be able to recommend a resource.
Managing remote workers comes down to strong planning and communications. With the right tools and a positive approach, you’ll be prepared to face even the most daunting challenge.