Managing your employees in any situation is already challenging enough, but managing a team that is working remotely is another challenge altogether.
Due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, many companies are forced to shift regular on-site employees to work from home. So, many traditional managers who haven’t managed remote employees before are also forced to shift their approach.
Managing remote employees doesn’t only add additional layers of managerial complexities, but there are actually some practices that work in a regular on-site work that simply won’t be effective in a B2B setting, and vice versa.
Yet, we have to embrace the fact that even after the pandemic crisis, remote working is here to stay and will become the norm sooner or later. This is why managers must adapt and start learning about the best practices of managing remote employees, as we will discuss below.
Best Practices of Managing Remote Employees
While there can be various remote working challenges faced by both the employees and managers, in general, they can be boiled into just four:
- Blurred lines between workplace and home: this can cause difficulties in unplugging after work since we are not experiencing the sense of “leaving the workplace”
- Self-isolation: working alone without communicating with team members can be lonely, especially when done in the long-run
- Distraction: we have more access to entertainment at home, and there are also distractions from spouses, kids, roommates, and other people living in the same house.
- Communication: remote communications can be difficult and has a lot of risks of potential miscommunications. This can lead to distrust issues and morale loss in the long run.
So, the best practices we will discuss below would be based on tackling these four core issues, starting with the first one below:
1. Create a System to Stay Connected
As discussed, maintaining communications is one of the most important challenges in remote working, and here are some ways to ensure your remote employees to stay connected:
Create a set schedule to get in touch with your employees
Again, social isolation is one of the key problems faced by many remote employees. It’s only natural in a remote working setting that managers have limited face-to-face contact with their teams, and in the long run, it can affect the team’s morale and performance.
However, it’s very important that managers should be proactive in reaching out to remote employees, not only to inform them about their next tasks or their progress, but also to congratulate them on their progress, and even just to have some casual conversation.
You don’t have to only conduct 1 to 1 conversation, but you can also organize group conferences where they can also chat with each other.
Have some fun
Team bonding in a remote working setting is also very important, and here are some fun activities you can organize with your remote employees:
- Games. Pretty obvious, there are various party games you can play together over the internet.
- A casual chat over beer always works. Organize a Zoom call together and your favorite beverage of choice.
- Take a course or webinar together. You can hire an instructor to teach your team a new language or even fun courses like a drawing class. Also, probably one of your team members can share their unique skills with the rest of your team.
2. Decide on Your Collaboration Tools
Since you are going to work together over the internet, deciding and agreeing on the technologies and solutions is essential.
You will need:
- Real-time communication tools: Slack, Microsoft Team, or others.
- Video conferencing tools: Zoom, Skype, etc.
- Project management tools: Google Calendar, Trello, etc.
- Document/file sharing: Google Drive, Dropbox, Slack, etc.
- Design and development: GitHub, Canva, etc.
And other tools, depending on what your company is doing. Having the right tools can significantly help in tackling the common issues of remote working, and will certainly help with your team’s productivity.
An important consideration in the remote working environment is that we have to always make sure that our IT infrastructure related to day-to-day work activities work properly. Even small businesses can be a target of various cybersecurity threats. So, it’s best to invest in cybersecurity solutions, especially a reliable DDoS and bot protection software from DataDome.
3. Be Upfront and Honest About Your Schedule
As the manager, you should be an example of communication availability. Share your calendar if necessary, and tell your time when you are going to be available (i.e. if you prefer them to reach you after lunch), and encourage your team to do the same. Use your chosen tools to provide visibility of your availability (i.e. update your Slack regularly about your availability).
Also, don’t be afraid to tell employees when you won’t be available, be open about sharing when you’re stepping away from your computer, and communicate when you plan to return. Set a precedent for your team that it’s fine to take a break every now and then (or take care of the household chores) as long as it’s reasonable.
This might seem like a simple thing to do, but can be very significant in establishing trust between you—the manager— and your remote employees.
4. Don’t Micromanage
Micromanagement is not an exclusive remote working issue, but an issue of management in general. However, remember that one of the key advantages of remote working is autonomy, so micromanagement can be a more sensitive issue in general with employees feeling that they are not trusted.
Instead, in communicating with your remote employees, focus on objectives and outcomes rather than activities: as long they can get their work done in time, it’s okay.
On the other hand, it’s important for remote managers to be able to quickly identify time-wasting and when the remote employees are lacking self-discipline. Some remote workers might have more challenges in managing distractions, so as a manager, devise a system to help them individually.
It’s very important to never leave remote employees out of the important discussion regarding objectives and plans. Again, this is to help manage their loneliness and self-isolation, or they might begin to feel alienated or undervalued. On the other hand, send your employees congratulations regularly when they’ve finished a certain task, and send satisfaction surveys to help evaluate how they feel.
5. Agree on Regular Meetings
In general, you should schedule 1:1 meetings with each individual member weekly, if possible, and also a weekly team meeting. Even when you don’t have a lot to cover that particular week, keep it just for casual communication, discuss what you can, and end your meeting early. When you take just a single meeting off the calendar, it will significantly increase the chance of you stopping scheduling them altogether.
While remote working can be a huge challenge for any managers and remote workers, doesn’t mean that it can’t be just as effective (or even more) than traditional face-to-face working experience. We just have to adjust some of our habits and how we manage our employees.
Maintaining regular communications and agreeing on a set meeting (video conferencing) schedule are among some of the best practices of managing remote employees. Also, don’t forget that consistency is very important, and even if you are not meeting them face to face, it’s important to make them feel rewarded every now and then.
Interesting related article: “What is Teleworking?“