10 Tips for Successfully Managing Remote Workers

Stay-at-home orders prompted by COVID-19 are creating a challenge for managers including those in HR.  Whilst many are embracing the change almost 70 percent of employers are finding it difficult to adapt to this new way of doing business.

If this is the first time that managers are in charge of managing remote employees, it can be scary to navigate and ensure employees are productive, engaged and thriving.   The transition to remote communication removes the personal context that helps us interact with each other.

It’s not just a matter of providing remote workers with a new video communication platform and assuming it will be business as usual.  Managers need to be aware of how remote work may create feelings of isolation among team members.

If you’re used to seeing your colleagues or customers every day, feelings of isolation can creep in remarkably quickly.  This new remote working environment can also affect focus, a sense of team and creativity. It’s not something that is often talked about, but if we are to help our teams stay healthy, happy and ultimately productive, we have to recognise and manage the high-stress environment that remote working can create for many people.

The following 10 tips can be used to help managers who work with remote employees.

  1. Set expectations early and often: 

Providing guidelines, setting boundaries and reviewing the basics are among the most important steps to take when setting out on your project.  Your team will have questions; be accessible and provide clarity on priorities, milestones, performance goals and more. Outline each team member’s availability and ensure you can reach them when needed.

And just as in the workplace, as a manager you should keep workers up-to-date on policy and staffing changes, company successes and tips for working at home.  In addition, you should model behaviour around the hours employees work, such as establishing expectations around responding to any after-hours work e-mail and texts.

This helps employees maintain a healthy work/life balance and prevents them from burning out—which, without the physical separation between home and the office, can be more common when working from home.

  1. Be organised and flexible: 

When it comes to working with remote teams, the key is to allow, where possible, flexible hours to maintain consistency.  Although a concrete plan is a must, you should be open to adjusting strategies as needed. Whether your employees choose to put in their hours in the morning or evening shouldn’t matter, as long as the work gets completed and is of high quality.

  1. Adapt the length of your meetings: 

What works in the office is unlikely to be of the same effect remotely. Instead of lengthy meetings, have short virtual contacts. Apply this thinking to team resourcing, scheduling and action planning.

  1. Track your workers’ progress: 

Have your employees give you a work schedule, along with tasks they are expected to accomplish within a given time.  This will calm your fears and give your team the structure they need to fulfill their role. Remember, just because you can’t see them working at their cubicle doesn’t mean work isn’t getting done. Trust the process.

  1. Emphasise communication: 

It’s crucial that managers communicate with their remote staff because it keeps workers apprised of deadlines, available resources, work-related challenges and managers’ expectations, including work schedules.

Also, consider which communication tool best fits the team’s culture — e-mail, texts, phone calls, video chats, an intranet channel — and find that delicate balance between constantly pinging employees with texts and e-mail and radio silence. The frequency of communication may differ among employees.

The best method is to discuss with employees how they will be managed while working remotely. That way, managers can keep a pulse on what each employee needs to be productive while working from home.

And while it’s important that managers track metrics that matter to their organisation and check in with employees, too much oversight can show employees signs of mistrust.  If your employees are communicating clearly and meeting goals and deadlines, what’s not to trust? Show trust and you should be rewarded.

  1. Remember to listen: 

The most successful managers are good listeners, communicate trust and respect, inquire about workload and progress without micromanaging, and err on the side of over-communicating.  Often it is a good idea to seek feedback from your employees, either individually or maybe by survey or suggestion box.  Just remember if you’re asking for feedback from our employees, you need to do something about it.

  1. Build connections and be available to your team: 

Many workers feel isolated and disoriented in this new work reality. That’s why it’s important to build connections with employees.  Share positive feedback, open a fun chat channel, or try and ‘grab coffee’ together online—whatever helps maintain a sense of normality [and] solidarity and reminds everyone they’re not an island working alone.  You could even include in the day or week an online coffee catch up, such as over zoom, which may reflect the catch ups people would have in the staff room when working the office.  Think outside the box to keep connections alive.

Also good managers make themselves available to team members.  They will go above and beyond to maintain an open-door policy for remote employees, making themselves available across multiple time zones and through multiple means of technology.  It is important that remote employees can always count on their manager to respond to pressing concerns.

  1. Provide a way to collaborate: 

Providing a shared document that tracks work activities is one way managers can stay apprised of what their teams are doing. It’s a good exercise, even when teams are in the office and it will help managers refine their expectations and responsibilities of employees in this uncertain period.

Also, agree as a team on acceptable behaviour for virtual collaboration such as how quickly to respond to messages from colleagues. Is it OK, for example, to send a quick message to say “I’ll call you back” if you are focused deeply on something else when a co-worker reaches out?

  1. Resist the urge to micromanage: 

You shouldn’t have to be looking over your team’s shoulders while they’re in the office, so you shouldn’t have to do it when they’re remote, either. Regular one-on-one check-ins help managers avoid micromanaging, while still enabling them to keep a pulse on employees and provide them with an opportunity to ensure feedback goes both ways.  Trust that if they’re communicating clearly and meeting goals and deadlines, your employees are being productive and doing their jobs effectively.

  1. Celebrate success: 

Managers should also look for opportunities to celebrate the same work milestones that would be celebrated in the office.   Employees just might have to switch out their high-five for a virtual elbow bump for the time being.

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