Leading a team can be a challenge, especially when you’re managing remote employees. While you want to get the best out of your staff, obstacles exist that aren’t present in an office environment.
Fortunately, though, there is overlap regardless of whether your team is always remote or suddenly remote.
These tips can help you successfully manage remote employees and teams.
Not everyone is cut out for remote work. And not every job can be done effectively from home. Leaders and employees need to agree that the job and the employees are a good fit for remote work.
Some people have trouble focusing on tasks when they don’t have access to ready feedback from a colleague or manager in the next cubicle. Others struggle with feelings of isolation when they’re working alone in a home office.
When it comes to hiring an employee for any role, we talk about the “right fit.” Remote employees need to not only be the right fit for the open role but also for remote work. When interviewing remote workers, ask questions that help you gauge factors such as:
You should also use multiple technologies during the remote job interviewing process. Email showcases whether the applicant can provide timely, coherent information in written form. Phone calls offer clues about verbal skills. A video interview gives a peek into many areas, including the ability to collaborate and deal with any technical difficulties.
For more interviewing and hiring tips, read:
Once you’ve hired the perfect candidate, make sure you train them. Of course, this means training them on company processes, communication preferences (chat over email, for example), and the fundamentals of their role. But when it comes to training a remote employee, you can’t just share a few emails and leave it at that.
When managing remote employees, it’s important to remember that a virtual employee can’t poke their head over the cubicle wall to ask a question. Have a centralized location for training and information documents that new staff can access (and that will jog the memory of more experienced staff). It’s something they can utilize to answer questions themselves and use as an ongoing resource hub.
Sometimes, though, the answer isn’t in the documents. It happens. So, make sure your remote staff has a plan B in place. Assign staff a buddy they can call on whenever there are questions that require a human touch.
One survey found that employees want ongoing training and education from their employers. More than 90% of respondents said professional education is “important” or “very important.” And 53% of those respondents also said they’d look for a new job if their employer didn’t provide enough training and education.
What’s more, employees want training so they can perform their jobs better! Yes, over time, employees will improve their skills if they do their job. However, that’s not enough for many workers who are looking for additional skills and knowledge that will help them advance in their careers.
While there’s the possibility that the employee will take their newfound skills to another employer, companies that provide training and professional development opportunities are more likely to attract and retain top talent in the long run.
Training programs for remote staff don’t have to be synchronous Zoom meetings given by in-house staff (though they can be). As an employer, you can offer tuition reimbursement so staff can take classes or pursue degrees on their own. Or, you can send staff to training events and conferences when it is convenient for them.
For more training tips, read:
This is the golden rule for managing a remote team. Not only should you keep in touch, you should keep in touch often! If your remote workers feel cut off from you or their teammates, they will be much less likely to collaborate effectively, stay productive, and feel happy about their jobs.
Most companies find that they need a mix of tools to communicate different information effectively. The key is for everybody to be on the same page about what method to use according to circumstances.
While each company has its own policies and response-time expectations, common set-ups include:
Technology is one tool, but not the only one. While collaboration tools can connect all members of a team, effective leadership will make or break how successful you are in managing remote teams.
Managers who make a point of reaching out to people regularly can identify small problems before they become large ones. These leaders also create a sense of community and ensure everyone stays in the loop, which keeps people engaged. Frequently asking the simple question, “Do you have what you need to perform your job successfully?” helps remote workers feel supported.
Reiterate to staff members that they are expected to be proactive communicators, too. Remote workers should never worry that they are “bothering” you or a colleague when they have a question, need clarification, or want to share an idea.
During the pandemic, active and ongoing communication is more important than ever when managing remote employees. Many managers and staff were thrown into a remote work experiment with very little warning, training, or possibly the right tools, so be patient while your team finds the best way to communicate with you and each other.
Make it a point to regularly reach out to staff and find out what is and is not working for them. Ask if they need help, different tools, or just need to vent. Everyone is feeling the stress and uncertainty right now, so let staff know that it’s OK to feel frustrated, and to ask questions and ask for help.
We’ve all experienced it. A conference call leader asks remote employees for their comments or questions and is greeted by the sounds of silence. Is anyone there? Or are they multi-tasking? Don’t just ask for participation. Stimulate it.
Encourage all points of view by calling on specific people. Ask remote employees for their insights to help them stay engaged in the meeting and to let them know that their thoughts are just as valuable as on-site staff.
As the work world shifts to a new normal and more companies are likely to become “blended offices,” including all staff in every meeting—wherever they are—will be essential to moving forward.
Especially when managing remote employees, ensure that your communication with them isn’t all business and helps boosts the morale of virtual workers. It’s always best to spend some of every meeting talking about things other than projects and deadlines.
Showing interest in family or hobbies can help you build relationships. Try a few of these ice breaker questions to learn more about your team. Here are a few examples to get you started:
To learn more about communicating with a remote team, check out:
Remote employees are increasingly working across time zones and even continents. A meeting that starts at 9:00 a.m. in California occurs at the end of the day in the U.K. Show empathy for remote employees by respecting time zones.
That may mean starting late in the evening, or quite early, but your far-flung employees will appreciate and respect you for it. When possible, rotate the start times so that the same people aren’t always getting up early or staying up late to participate.
This also means finding ways to help remote workers participate in team-building activities. Choose contests that can easily include people who aren’t in the main office (if applicable). And when you have a team lunch, encourage remote workers to have a meal on the company dime, too. It’s not the same as being there with their colleagues, but remote employees appreciate knowing they are not forgotten.
For more ideas to help you build a remote team, read:
Since you can’t stop by a virtual worker’s cubicle for a casual chat, it’s important that your expectations are clear when managing remote teams. Make sure remote employees understand what performance metrics they need to meet and how they will be tracked.
Tracking and reporting productivity and project outcomes can be as simple as a spreadsheet that tracks the status of tasks and projects, or metrics related to team initiatives. Or, they can be extensive databases that you use to run reports and monitor specific client interactions. Whatever method you choose, though, clearly outline your expectations.
Don’t forget to also spell out the quality requirements of the work, too. In some positions, the quality of the work is just as important as the quantity. For example, an animator may produce 100 short videos in a day. But, if the stories are gibberish or the illustrations are blurry, it doesn’t matter that the employee is a high-volume producer. You can’t use any of the work, and that is as much of a problem as an animator who creates one five-minute video every three months.
To learn more about measuring remote staff performance, check out:
For remote managers, employees are out of sight, but not out of mind. And for many managers, this may translate to: no one will work or get anything done. However, if you’re communicating with your staff regularly and the expectations are clear, you might find that your remote staff are more efficient and productive than ever.
Start with the assumption that your employees want to perform well. Spend your time giving them the support they need to succeed rather than trying to “catch” them slacking off. True professionals monitor their own behavior because they take pride in their work and realize continued employment depends on it.
This requires an element of letting go and trusting your staff. Trust that the work will get done and that employees will meet their productivity goals. Trust that they will put the company first in all of their business dealings. And, trust that even if the work isn’t happening on your schedule, it will ultimately be completed on time.
Remote work isn’t going anywhere any time soon. That doesn’t mean that your company or staff have to be less productive. Most employees want to work and do their best work for you, even under these circumstances.
Managing remote employees doesn’t require a magic touch. If you communicate well, include them as part of the team, and put in the time to build trust, you can do it and do it well. As a result, you’ll have a stronger, more diverse, and hopefully more productive team. That makes it absolutely worth your effort.
FlexJobs has been a leader and advocate in remote work for over 12 years. We work with companies of every shape and size to provide support and advice for any business that wants to go remote. And, we’ve been recognized for our company culture and remote work expertise throughout the years. Furthermore, we’ve always been a fully remote company! If you’re looking for expert guidance, get in touch with us today.