The workplace is constantly evolving. More companies are exploring alternative working situations and this includes remote work set-ups.
What is remote work? This refers to an arrangement where employees are not required to report to a specific place to do their work.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was already a steady rise in businesses that operated with remote teams. In fact, in 2019, business analysts predicted that approximately 70% of employees will work remotely for at least one week each month by 2025.
Work from home arrangements are even more popular these days with stay at home orders implemented across the world. So it’s more important than ever to invest in the skills and tools you need to effectively manage remote workers.
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1. Trust Your Employees
Remote set-ups won’t work if the manager can’t trust their employees to get the job done. Unlike regular workplaces, it’s very difficult to micromanage employees when they are working remotely.
On top of that, micromanagement can be costly in the long run. Studies show that it can lower productivity and increase turnover.
If you can’t trust an employee to work without supervision, then remote work may not be the best set-up for them.
With trust comes flexibility which is essential in any successful remote working relationship. It gives your employees the space to figure out how they’re going to meet their goals. Who knows, they may come up with something innovative!
Tip: If you’re in the process of hiring remote workers, make sure you look for self-starters! These are people who are intrinsically motivated to get the job done even if they aren’t being supervised.
2. Establish Goals
In any kind of organization, it’s always important for managers to establish and communicate goals to their employees. Otherwise, it’ll be difficult for them to prioritize the right tasks and stay focused.
This is even more important for remote employees.
Even if they’re working from home, remote employees need to understand the roles they play in the organization and how they contribute to the company’s long-term goals.
It’s also equally important to set clear and attainable short-term goals for all of your employees. That way, there won’t be any confusion when it comes to deliverables and deadlines.
Tip: Clarity is essential when communicating goals to your team. Make sure your goals are well-defined, specific, and measurable.
3. Set Expectations
Goals will tell your employees what they need to achieve, but it’s just as important to establish clear expectations. Your expectations will provide your employees with parameters to work with.
Work expectations naturally differ in each organization, but they normally touch on the following issues:
- Work schedule - number of work hours employees are expected to render. Depending on the agreement, employees can have a fixed or flexible work schedule.
- Communication strategies - acceptable modes and channels of communication.
- Group dynamics - the degree of interdependence in the workplace. Some organizations value collaboration more than others.
- Meeting norms - frequency and flow of team meetings.
In a traditional office, many of these expectations are probably left unspoken. It’s easier to figure out a company’s culture when you’re actually there. But when you’re managing employees remotely, many things that usually go unsaid need to be made explicit.
4. Adjust Communication Strategies
Lack of information and communication breakdown is a common problem among remote workers. That’s why managers need to adjust communication strategies when leading a remote workforce.
There are many non-verbal communication cues we take for granted. For instance, tone and hand gestures—without them, things can get lost in translation. It’s important to keep this in mind, especially when you’re giving feedback or constructive criticism.
Apart from these, a lot of productive discussions can take place during unofficial in-office chats. To make up for the lack of face-to-face interactions, try to maximize other communication channels.
Emails are standard in many businesses and organizations, but many users reserve emails for more official correspondences. Instant messaging is a great channel for quick follow-ups, daily check-ins, or simple questions.
There are even free business communication platforms like Slack and Telegram.
Video conferencing is a great way to encourage social interaction. When cameras are turned on, it’s easier to make a connection with your team.
When all else fails, don’t forget the off-line route! Sometimes, old-fashioned phone calls can still do the trick!
Keep in mind that communication goes both ways—you need to know how to reach them and they need to know how to reach you.
"It’s important to keep track of your team’s progress."
5. Keep Track Of Progress
As a manager, it’s important to keep track of your team’s progress. When you’re working in an office, it’s easy to get updates from your employees. You can easily visit them in their work area to check-in.
This can take up a lot of your time if you’re managing remote workers (especially if you’re handling a large team). Thankfully, there’s a tech solution for this too!
There are a variety of project management tools that you can use. Project management software can help you organize multiple projects involving different employees.
At a glance, you can see the progress of each project. It makes it easier to identify employees or teams who need more support.
6. Schedule One-On-One Meetings
Group video chats are a great way to foster positive relationships among remote team members. But it’s important to set aside some one-on-one time with your employees as well.
Some people aren’t comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas in a large group setting. Others also report that engagement dwindles during large meetings because of video call fatigue.
It’s good practice to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your employees. Here are some things you can cover in these meetings:
- Get updates about projects/tasks
- Provide positive and constructive feedback
- Inquire about challenges
- Ask about the employee’s well-being
A one-on-one meeting is also an opportunity for your employee to consult you about important issues. Try to have these meetings regularly, so that your employees know they can count on it.
Tip: If there’s nothing serious or work-related to talk about, use the meeting as an opportunity for small talk. It’s a great way to build rapport.
"The beauty of opening up your business to a remote work set-up is that it expands your pool of potential employees."
7. Consider Time Zones
The beauty of opening up your business to a remote work set-up is that it expands your pool of potential employees.
You’re no longer limited to your city or community. In fact, many companies work with virtual teams from different countries.
So it’s important to consider different time zones when you’re managing people from all over the world. If you need to have a large group meeting, try to find a time that works for everyone.
Tip: If you can’t make the meeting work for everyone’s time zone, try to schedule the meeting in advance. That way, your remote employees will have enough time to make arrangements so that they can join the meeting.
8. Celebrate Your Employees
In any office, celebrating special occasions, milestones, and victories helps keep your employees engaged and motivated. These small gestures can make your employees feel valued and they can also help foster good working relationships within your team.
It may take a little more effort when you’re managing remote employees. Here are a few things you can do to make your employees feel extra special:
- Send food
- Make public acknowledgments via email or instant message
- Announce birthdays
- Send a gift to the celebrant
- Send tokens of appreciation to teams
Recognizing model employees is also a great way to promote good practices in your virtual workplace.
9. Respect Work-Life Balance
One of the challenges of remote working is setting boundaries. Many remote workers work from home, so it’s harder for them to tune out of work even when they’re not clocked-in.
To avoid employee burnout, try to make an effort to respect your employees’ work hours. Avoid sending emails or messages when you know they’re off the clock.
This may be more challenging for employees with flexible schedules, but it might help if everyone is aware of each others’ work hours.
That way, they can schedule emails and instant messages to avoid disrupting anyone else's personal time.
Just like any other workplace, remote work set-ups come with their own set of challenges. But if you can learn how to adapt, it offers a lot of opportunities for businesses. In fact, Many start-ups operate with virtual workers because it can help lower business costs. There was a time when remote work was an experimental set-up, but the last few years prove that remote work is here to stay.