Managing a team that is physically in the same building as you is challenging enough. But what if part of the team is working remotely? Or what if the whole team works from home?
The current situation of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is forcing many companies to take unprecedented measures to keep their workforce safe. This includes having regular on-site employees work remotely for extended periods of time. Adding an extra, operational, layer to the already difficult task of the manager, it is their responsibility to put everything together to maintain a top team with a dazzling performance.
Complicated or not, remote working has become a reality for many companies, whether by choice or because of extraordinary circumstances.
Here are 7 best practices on managing remote employees.
- Setting clear expectations
- Communication is crucial
- Getting face time
- Having effective collaboration tools in place
- Accommodating flexible schedules
- Providing regular feedback
1. Setting clear expectations
With remote working comes the challenge for the remote employee to be disciplined enough to get the job done. This can become especially complex if your employees are not used to working remotely full-time.
Make it clear what you expect your employees to do. Think of the employees’ goals for the next week, the amount of work that they’re expected to complete every week, and whom they can go to with issues for instance. Don’t forget to include your availability – when can people reach you and how – as well as their availability – when do you expect them to be free for calls, etc.
When your remotely working employees know what is expected of them in their day-to-day job, it will help them focus on getting their tasks done. Consider implementing a work management platform like Trello or Asana to keep track of your projects and assignments and their progress. By setting tasks clearly and assigning them to your team members, you are also making them accountable for carrying out the assignments.
Unclear expectations lead to employee disengagement and reduced productivity. By letting your employees know what you expect from them, you mitigate against this.
During the COVID-19 outbreak: The Harver system Diagnostics Module serves as a remote hard- and software-testing instrument originally designed to serve work from home organizations in their recruitment process. The assessment checks an employee’s home setup to make sure the right components are in place to successfully work from home.
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During the COVID-19 outbreak:
The Harver system Diagnostics Module serves as a remote hard- and software-testing instrument originally designed to serve work from home organizations in their recruitment process. The assessment checks an employee’s home setup to make sure the right components are in place to successfully work from home.
2. Communication is crucial
It’s always important to communicate. Whether this is with the people sitting literally next to you in the office, or the ones that are working in your company’s office on the other side of the world. It is, however, even more essential to communicate well with your remote employees; if you don’t, it’s easy for them to start feeling disconnected and forgotten.
In fact, more than a quarter of remote workers consider communication their #1 challenge with remote work.
There are some simple rules & tools you can implement to set up a solid base for good communication. First of all, make sure you have an internal chat system in place, so team members can easily ‘talk’ with each other – Slack is a good example.
Furthermore, hold regular virtual team meetings. Jump on a Zoom call for your daily stand-up or after-lunch check-in. Doing so will help your remote employees stay on top of what their colleagues are working on and also maintain the team spirit. Do you require your workers to join with a video? Don’t forget to be clear about it!
Pay attention to your team members’ preferred communication methods. Do they prefer using a group chat to discuss their ideas or is it more efficient to reach them via a private message? Or do they like having short calls instead?
All in all, your team have to understand that you trust them to do their jobs the best they can and that you’re trying to support them, not micro-manage them. By communicating efficiently, you can support not only your team’s efficiency and productivity but also their creativity and sense of belonging.
That brings us to the next point.
3. Getting face time
A big part of our communication – more than half of it to be precise – is non-verbal. In other words: if you’re calling your remote workers without seeing them, you miss out on a lot of information. Whether this concerns a personal issue they have or something that bothers them work-wise, you won’t be able to detect it without a visual. Minimize regular phone calls therefore and have video calls with remote employees instead. There are loads of tools you can use nowadays: we’ve already mentioned Zoom, but there are the Google Hangouts as well, there’s FaceTime from Apple, and a whole lot more.
Because you’re not seeing your remote team in the office every day, it’s important to make extra video time for them. Not just because you’ll be able to spot if something’s wrong easier that way, but also because it will allow you to maintain a better relationship with them. Try to schedule a video call for an hour a week with your remote employees, so you really have the time to cover a lot of issues: a bit of general ‘bonding’ chat, work-related topics, and even personal stuff if it comes up. And, most importantly, do not cancel the call!
If you have full-time remote workers, the best thing to do, and inevitable to be honest, is to go and see your them in person at least once a year. Nothing beats a real-life visit, no matter how good the technology is.
Following best practices for remote meetings will keep your team productive.
4. Having effective collaboration tools in place
Good communication within and across teams is an essential base for effective collaboration, whether your team is remote, on-site or mixed. When managing a remote team, you need to provide your employees with cloud-based tools to work together. Microsoft Teams and Facebook Workplace are examples of teamwork hubs you can use to drive productivity and efficiency in (remote) teams.
Also, knowing where and how to access important company information, documents and files is crucial for all employees, even more so when they work remotely. For document sharing, you can use tools like Google Drive, Dropbox or Box, where employees can store and sync files regardless of where they are working from.
Using effective collaboration tools will help your remotely working employees do their best work. If you happen to be in a situation where you don’t have such tools in place yet, research the needs of your team and see what tools you can implement to help them thrive.
5. Accommodating flexible schedules
Many people choose remote working for its flexibility. In fact, 40% of remote employees consider flexibility the biggest benefit of working remotely. However, even if your employees don’t work from the same physical location, you probably have certain guidelines for them regarding their availability and schedules.
The situation might be different if your employees work remotely because of the current COVID-19 situation. If they have kids, there are chances that they have to stay at home too, as schools in many regions are closed down at the moment. Be understanding of their situation as much as you can and allow them to spread their hours if necessary.
Be proactive in listening to your employees’ needs and discuss how you can support them in doing their job, be it by rescheduling your meetings or letting them work outside the regular business hours.
6. Providing regular feedback
Your employees know what is expected of them and have the right tools to facilitate their work. Then again, this isn’t where your remote team management ends. You should also provide regular, detailed and meaningful feedback to your employees about their work.
This is not always the case, as only 17% of Millennials say that they report receiving meaningful feedback at work.
What goals has each of your employees set for the day/week/sprint? What have they done to achieve those goals? What have they done outstandingly? And what can they improve? Without feedback from managers and team members, it is difficult for employees to move forward and improve their performance.
Set up a process of providing feedback, whether it is a weekly one-on-one virtual meeting or using a feedback app, a combination of both, or another method. Encourage your team members to give feedback to each other, as well as to you as their manager.
Providing effective feedback is essential when managing employees, even more so when your team works remotely.
An office is more than just a workplace. It’s a space where people come together and share victories as well as disappointments. Often, we spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our families. Needless to say that when working remotely, you miss out on this. No spontaneous coffee machine encounters with the guy from the third floor, no late-night pizza sharing with the rest of the team when pulling an all-nighter. And it’s exactly during those unplanned moments that colleagues bond over.
A good way to create some sort of team-building with remote employees is through chat platforms such as Slack. It is very easy to set up a “Fun” channel where everyone can share random, not work-related, stuff or a virtual water cooler meeting. Taking a bit of time during a team meeting for people to share something personal – the great burger they ate last night, or a victory with their football team – is another fine idea.
Add a once-a-year team offsite where everybody from all over the world comes together, and your remote employees should truly feel part of the family.
A final word
Our work environment is changing, and so is the 21st-century employee. Remote working is now easier than ever, even in times of a crisis; thanks to the internet, the massive growth of mobile, and the rise of the cloud. With the remote benefits of flexibility and always being connected, come the challenges of a lack of face time and productive team collaboration. And while these 7 best practices don’t cover all of the issues associated with managing remote employees, they do give you a pretty decent foundation to work with.