Welcome to the world of managing remote employees.
Even if you had an occasional remote employee, you might never have expected our current reality. As a manager in a traditional workplace, you developed a personal management style, and got the job done. Your staff knew what to expect, and you knew what you need to communicate, when, and how. Things progressed smoothly, or as smoothly as one can expect in business.
A possible few days offsite blossomed into an indefinite exile. Your staff is now out of sight except possibly for Zoom, but they are definitely not out of mind. Tracking progress on a project is no longer a quick trip down the corridor touching base with a handful of people. Petty bickering is less obvious, but so too are the jokes and laughs that used to punctuate the workplace.
The whole definition of the workplace and workday have shifted. Is the workday still nine to five or some variant thereof? Do you expect an immediate response to a text or call or Zoom meeting during those hours? What do you expect if the staff has to “work late” on a project? And are you concerned that you’re getting “a full day’s work for a full day’s pay” if you can’t see people or track their location for the full day?
Life Change, Mind Change
There is no one right answer to managing remote employees, just as there is no one right management style. The type of task, organizational structure, and the training and personalities of staff and managers all play into the equation.
But it is very likely that what was most effective in a conventional workplace might not work as well remotely. And things which were not feasible onsite might not only be feasible, but might offer new opportunities. It’s time to consider alternative options, and maximize the benefits from managing a remote workforce.
Seven Key Issues for Managing Remote Employees
- What communication channels are going to be most effective for your team? Do text messages, emails, phone calls, messenger apps or teleconferences fit your needs and style? Confer with your team and set expectations. Perhaps general, non-time sensitive items are sent via email, teleconferences are scheduled in advance, and really urgent items are communicated via a phone call.
- Is the work day set or flexible? You might set expectations for responsiveness, with an expectation for immediate response for text messages and calls during work hours. But are you comfortable with staff working flexible time? Some individuals might be more efficient and productive early in the morning, or in the evening, or late at night. Explore options.
- What is a professional environment? On voice calls, what level and type of background noise is acceptable? On video conferences, what interruptions are a problem, and which ones are not? You may need to preserve the sterile, corporate appearance in voice and visual communication, but consider the possibility of relaxing expectations. Seeing pets, spouses and kids occasionally adds a human element and can go a long way to creating connection between staff members or staff members and clients or vendors.
- What backup systems do you need to create? On the plus side, snow storms or flooded roads are less of a problem with remote employees, however you are more vulnerable to power outages or software glitches. Create systems and procedures to address potential remote communication issues.
- How do you measure productivity? Is it putting in a full 40 hours, or do you base expectations on output? Some tasks can take significantly longer in a home-based setting, while others can be accomplished in a fraction of the time. What are your expectations and are they shared by staff members?
- How can you nurture teamwork and camaraderie? In the office setting, casual conversations and shared coffee breaks build connections between co-workers. While this can sometimes get out of hand, friendships and familiarity can help bridge stressful circumstances. With remote staff members, consider holding brief “coffee hour” meetings, which have no agenda other than touching base with everyone and learning more about each other.
- How do your employees feel about this? Poll your staff. What are their concerns? What ideas do they have to make this a positive and potentially profitable change? Take advantage of their suggestions, and respect and address their apprehensions.
The remote workplace, like any new development, has its challenges and its opportunities. Managing remote employees is a related but different world. Recognize the differences, address the challenges head on, and explore the potential for new opportunities new efficiencies, greater effectiveness and enhanced employee satisfaction.