Many of your best employees don’t come to the office, hang out at the coffee machine or attend social events. Why? That’s because many of your best workers are actually remote workers – based somewhere in the world – they may be in the same country as you or they may be not. The rise of the remote worker is one of the greatest changes to the workplace in the last twenty years. Technological advances, ubiquitous internet connectivity and the drive for a better work-life balance have seen untold numbers of employees choose remote working. Employers have recognized the advantages that this new, dynamic and flexible workforce can bring to their organizations. It is not all a bed of roses, however. HR and managers need to learn new skills and apply new managerial techniques to manage remote employees effectively.
Here are six things you can do as a manager to overcome these challenges:
1. Trust is a must
Trust is vital. In fact, it’s not just about hiring people you can trust, but about trusting your own judgement enough to hire remotely.
Setting up a remote team and constantly being suspicious of its members is not conducive to a productive team. In fact, it will create a toxic environment and kill your employees’ motivation.
Let your virtual workers know what they can do to gain your trust, and it will be a two-way street. Building an environment of trust and collaboration fosters productive and long-lasting relationships.
2. Think tasks completed, not hours
Managers that chase working hours instead of successfully completed tasks usually end up losing their best talent. And that’s particularly easy to do if the talent is remote.
Try to establish and track how long each task takes.
You can ensure that your remote employees are kept busy and discuss their workload, but you should never evaluate their performance based on the hours they spend in front of their computer.
If you want to manage remote employees effectively then compassionate leadership is key.
Remote workers should not be afraid to take sick days when they really need it. If you’ve hired right, they will come back and compensate for the creative time-off.
For hourly workers, you may need to sign off a weekly timesheet, but that should not stop you keeping an open mind to the actual hours if the tasks are being completed efficiently.
3. Take time for clear communication
The look on your face may tell your in-house team that they need to improve the quarterly report, but all your remote workers have is the email you sent or your face in a virtual meeting which doesn’t always transmit the same human emotions.
Be clear when assigning, explaining and assessing tasks.
Be especially mindful when setting up:
- Task dependencies
- Project owner
- Project update requirements
Most importantly, make sure your employees know why they are doing what they’re doing. How do these tasks bring your team closer to achieving their goals? Give meaning to your remote employees work and you’ll see their motivation spark.
Addressing technological needs to enable working from home is the easy bit, it is the human element we need to emphasise.
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4. Have the right tools
When managing remote employees, it’s important to be generous with tools.
In fact, your company should invest in online tools to support the communication patterns of your day-to-day operations.
Here are some examples of excellent tools to streamline workloads and make your remote workers more efficient:
- Task Management System (Basecamp, Teamwork, Trello, etc.)
- Email for official communication (Outlook, Gmail, etc.)
- Real-time messaging for quick communication (Slack, Twist, Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, ChatWork, etc.)
- A video conferencing tool for meetings (UberConference, ZOOM, Skype, Hangouts, etc.)
- Document storage and sharing (Dropbox, Google Drive, Sharepoint)
- A password management tool (LastPass)
5. Processes and procedures
If you’ve been managing an in-house team for a while, you may think everything is crystal clear. But if you have a remote newcomer, you may have to provide them with a roadmap.
You must give them guidelines on how to use the tools you provide, how to communicate with other team members (and clients), and how tasks should be carried out.
For example, if you don’t want your email to be packed with unimportant conversation threads, make sure your team knows to use email only for official communication.
Everything else can go into real-time messaging tools. It’s also vital to have guidelines about passwords and document storage and sharing.
The good news is that you need to set up these guidelines only once. Without this, it becomes very hard to manage remote employees and get the most out of their skills.
6. Make videos a priority
Some managers prefer quick communication. Why have a 15-minute meeting when you can accomplish the task in two minutes of texting?
The main reason is that using video is not just about exchanging information. It makes your remote workers feel involved.
Without this your remote workers may drift away from your company, losing touch with your business objectives, company values, and the team. If this happens you need to take action and bring them back to the table, even if it’s only a virtual one. After all, we all need to belong.
Video conferencing will help your remote workers to feel part of the team, a human team. Incorporating non-verbal communication will boost teamwork and motivation. We are people, and we need to talk to people.
Texting to a computer can’t be the sole channel for communication. And make sure you allow time for a “virtual water cooler.”
Just as you would in a face to face meeting, allow a bit of time at the start of a call or meeting for a bit of social chat and interaction. Team identity is best created through social, not professional, conversations.
The bottom line
Remote working is on the rise and you can’t escape it. Based on statistics from Global Workplace Analytics, 80-90% of employees like to work outside of the office. After all, why go to the office from 9 to 5 when you can sit at a beachfront cafe and write your report while boosting your Vitamin D levels?
Your remote workers are not in the office – so you should stop treating them as if they are. Meet the transformative communication challenges half way and come up with new management mechanisms. Learn how to use your management skills to get the most out of your remote talent and you will see your team’s productivity soar.