In the era of COVID-19, the ability to successfully manage remote employees has quickly become a required skill for team leaders, managers, and business owners—and even as the pandemic winds down in some areas, it’s clear that remote and hybrid work arrangements are here to stay. In fact, 46% of those surveyed for Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report indicated their companies are planning to allow remote work on a permanent basis.
As remote work quickly becomes more of a norm rather than an exception in the workplace, business leaders will soon find that in addition to managing current remote employees, they’ll also be faced with the task of hiring and onboarding new team members—and in a remote work environment, that presents its own set of challenges.
An analysis of data from employee recognition platform TINYpulse found that professionals who were hired to new positions in 2020 were 20% less likely to say they identified with their new company’s organizational values, and they reported experiencing 34% less peer recognition compared to new hires in 2019. This was despite groups from both years rating their overall onboarding experience almost identically.
In the face of these challenges, these five strategies can help managers keep new additions to their team, even those with little experience in the remote workplace, on the right track:
1. Closely Monitor New Hires’ Progress
Setting up frequent face-to-face meetings with new hires via video conferencing software gives managers the chance to both provide feedback and answer questions related to the employee’s progress and job performance. It’s important to set measurable and attainable goals from the get-go, and to reflect on whether these benchmarks were met on a regular basis.
Tracking these initial projects can help managers identify and address problems as they arise, as well as give leaders the chance to interact with new team members regularly, helping them feel more connected to their colleagues and supervisors. Without frequent communication and feedback, it’s easy for new hires, especially those with little experience working from home, to feel disconnected from the organizational culture.
2. Identify the Root Causes of Underperformance
If performance problems are identified in a new remote hire, take the time to determine what could be causing the problem. Have instructions been unclear? Are there gaps in the training process?
Correctly identifying the root causes of underperformance will greatly increase the likelihood that these issues can be resolved effectively. You may find that it’s not a problem of procedure, but one of logistics, time management, or even company culture. Notably, among respondents to Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work report:
- 27% reported not being able to unplug at the end of the workday;
- 16% faced difficulties with collaboration and communication in the workplace;
- 16% experienced loneliness while working remotely;
- 15% faced distractions at home;
- 12% said they had trouble staying motivated; and
- 7% said being in a different time zone than their colleagues caused challenges.
By identifying problems like these early, you can nip them in the bud before they start to have a major impact on a new employee’s productivity.
3. Encourage Engagement in the Workplace
Many of the problems that may arise when getting newly hired employees acclimated to their new roles can be avoided by fostering engagement among team members. High levels of engagement have been shown to increase productivity and job satisfaction, while reducing absenteeism and turnover.
Some strategies that can be introduced to improve engagement among remote team members might include:
- Establishing an official or unofficial mentorship program;
- Introducing new remote hires to one another in a variety of department and team video meetings;
- Implementing multiple channels for both synchronous and asynchronous communication;
- Openly recognizing employee contributions and encouraging peer-to-peer compliments; as well as
- Fostering social interactions among team members using virtual coffee breaks or happy hours.
4. Improve Documentation and Training Processes
The quickest way to frustrate a new hire is to provide them with incomplete, inaccurate, or inadequate documentation and job training. Since most orientation programs and job manuals were developed for in-office use, they can often be ineffective in getting a remote worker familiar with a new company and position. Business leaders should reexamine and update current materials to ensure they’re both comprehensive and effective, even without in-person support.
In addition, it’s important to be as transparent as possible with company information and work documents so new employees don’t feel left out of the loop. Set up a centralized document repository that employees can easily access to get answers to their questions and find the information they need.
5. Support Healthy Work From Home Habits
As Buffer’s State of Remote Work report showed, some of the biggest challenges facing new remote employees come as a result of blurring the lines between work and home. During the COVID-19 pandemic, remote professionals reported working 30% longer hours, according to data cited by The Economist, but that didn’t result in increased productivity among these workers. Encouraging new employees to establish work habits that will provide them with a good balance between their professional and personal lives can help prevent performance issues and, in the worst cases, burnout.
A few strategies to employ could include:
- Help team members establish a personalized work schedule, and get them to stick to it by encouraging and adhering to others’ boundaries and by modeling them yourself.
- Provide information and advice to team members on how they can optimize their work from home environment or home office to promote productivity and reduce distractions.
- Support team members’ access to professional mental health resources to help them learn healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety.
- Be a good role model. If team leaders are failing to exhibit healthy habits, chances are that other employees will follow suit.
Remote work is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean the transition will be easy for every business. Hiring remote employees comes with a unique set of challenges and pitfalls, but with some planning in advance by leadership and a few adjustments to current onboarding processes, most potential issues can be identified or avoided altogether.