Working remotely is becoming increasingly common in just about every industry today. Thanks to technological improvements, employees can now work from anywhere.
While working remotely has many important benefits, such as increased productivity and better employee retention, managing remote employees isn’t always easy.
If you’re an HR manager from a company that’s used to an in-office setup, some may find the transition to online work difficult – but there are many proven techniques that can help. This article will cover some best practices for managing remote employees and building an engaged and collaborative remote team.
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How do you manage remote employees effectively?
Pandemic or not, an increasing number of organizations today invest heavily in remote team management. Working remotely has become a norm, even for companies with physical offices. Some well-known companies that switched to hybrid remote work include Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Dropbox, and even Facebook.
However, remote work doesn’t come without some drawbacks. These difficulties include management challenges and establishing effective communication for staff and teams.
It’s crucial for managers to help keep employees engaged and on task. While this is sometimes easier said than done, there are many established practices that can help your firm thrive in today’s business environment.
Challenges of managing remote employees
Let’s cover some of the challenges your employees are most likely to encounter, why they happen, and how your managers can help workers handle them with ease.
Distractions at home
Working remotely undoubtedly has its advantages, but there are also some common challenges remote workers need to overcome. One of these problems results from distractions at home.
While your employees might get an extra hour before work because they no longer need to commute to the office, they still can lose that hour dealing with their kids or finishing household duties. Likewise, they may complete their tasks faster but lose precious time watching Netflix series or streaming YouTube videos.
If managers want to get the most out of remote workers, they’ll need to identify the most common distractions that steal employees’ focus from their tasks. It’s best to help your employees create a plan to avoid these distractions.
While it’s easier said than done, people can never control everything going on around them – but managers can always help workers control how to respond to unexpected events.
Children and pets
Regardless of how much your employees love their families, they can be a big distraction. Workers can’t ignore their kid crying or tune out a spouse when they ask something or keep away a pet that decides to join in on a conference call.
Whether your employees are living alone with their spouse or have a house full of kids, expect family-related distractions every single day.
But don’t blame it all on the family. According to a recent survey, 29% of remote workers find it hard to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Many remote workers are distracted because they want to spend more time with their families.
The distraction comes naturally from the opportunity to work from home. Nothing is wrong with that as long as your employees accomplish the tasks that need to get done.
Basic household chores
Many workers go to the office and, from time to time, think about the chores waiting for them at home, such as vacuuming, cleaning the bathroom, doing the laundry or cleaning out the fridge. These tedious tasks become action items for later. However, now employees can do them right away if they’re working remotely. But they really shouldn’t.
Doing chores while working can distract your employees from accomplishing their tasks. Before they know it, the hours of daylight disappear.
In fact, one study identified that 20% of employees admitted to doing chores during their work hours. So, how do you keep your employees from doing chores while working from home? Help them with pre-planning and scheduling. If they have time set aside later for specific chores, they can focus on their work.
According to a survey, 93% of workers spend chunks of their work hours shopping online and running personal errands. Since 2011, the number of workers shopping online during work hours has increased by 63%.
Typically, employees do their errands in the first and last weeks of any given month. That’s also the same time when most companies are usually at a peak period. If employees are distracted or absent during this period, it can affect business flow.
As a manager, you can address this issue by granting flexibility to your employees and instilling stricter monitoring during work hours. These options need strategic planning, adjustment, technology adoption and time to address them effectively.
Affirmation in employees is vital for teams dispersed across different locations. More and more businesses are starting to change their priorities from hiring to employee retention, and maintaining recognition plays a critical part in this effort. HR pros and managers can make a big impact here.
Promotions, work anniversaries and other important occurrences are opportunities to show employees you value them and to create good impressions on them. The small things, such as a work-from-home setup, can be opportunities, too.
Creating a game plan for employee recognition is crucial. It may be a good idea to reevaluate your success metrics and adjust them as necessary and to reconsider how to affirm and reward your employees.
Many employers, whether they wanted to or not, adjusted expectations throughout the pandemic to help soothe employee stress. As we readjust to regular life, employers are finding that remote work remains a viable option, so managers need to straddle the line between remote and in-person workers, and maintain an accurate overview of both sides.
If your team is dispersed over a great geographical distance, you can find ways to boost visibility by using other platforms on top of your conventional Zoom meetings.
Lastly, it’s important to create a clear definition of affirmation and why it matters to your team. Otherwise, there will be inconsistencies in your commitment to affirming and rewarding your remote employees, making it less effective.
Working remotely can make workers feel more isolated. Often, their productivity will suffer as a result.
And unfortunately, feeling disconnected can quickly become a norm for remote employees. Working remotely forces many to rethink their jobs because of detachment resulting from the lack of contact with colleagues and management. There are myriad reasons why they feel this way, including:
- Remote employees spend more time working than those in traditional work setups. According to a survey, 66% of remote employees reported a significant increase in their workload, while 50% mentioned they spent an average of five extra hours each week when they started working remotely. Many employees can feel that there is no disconnect between work and personal time when working from home.
- No physical visibility and interaction with colleagues. Feeling disconnected and physically distant from coworkers and clients can cause remote employees to question their impact on the company. They often ask themselves questions like, “Am I making a difference?”; “Am I needed by the company?”; “What are my significant contributions?” These troubling thoughts can be particularly difficult for workers who live alone.
- Remote working is stressful. Remote work can mean putting in more hours, resulting in more stress for employees. Fifty-seven percent of employees mentioned that they became more stressed when their remote work began. Seventy-two percent agreed that while new collaboration tools make communication faster and less stressful, the reality is that they give employees more notifications to attend to.
Employees remaining remote
Most employees who are working from home want to remain remote. According to a survey, approximately 30% say that they may quit their job if they’re prohibited from continuing remote work. Almost 67% mentioned they prefer to work for companies offering a work-from-home setup. If they can’t work from home, they’ll quit.
A recent survey found that some workers love working remotely so much that they’d rather leave their jobs instead of going back to the full-time office. Only 2% mentioned that they wanted to go back to the office full-time.
The survey also reported that the main advantages of working remotely include cost savings and avoiding the commute. Over 33% said they save at least $5,000 annually by working remotely.
That’s why many companies worldwide embrace the hybrid work model as employees start to go back to their offices. Even finance giants with formerly strict company cultures have now adopted flexible work models, and some redesign their workplaces to promote collaboration and keep individual tasks for remote working. Other companies even plan to eliminate their office space entirely.
Transparency and accountability
The pandemic forced millions of people worldwide to shift to remote work. As a result, many workers now face problems of transparency and accountability, which they didn’t typically deal with before.
In-person conversations and interactions are few and far between, affecting building relationships and information sharing. Now, employees can’t easily stop by a colleague’s desk to clarify something.
Companies have added several communications platforms to compensate. However, the result is that workers may be overwhelmed with message alerts and emails while focusing on the tasks at hand.
When workers get bombarded with notifications, the line between work and the rest of life becomes blurred, resulting in burnout. However, employees are afraid to miss vital communications if they mute their notifications.
Aside from transparency, workers also face accountability problems. Employers may find it hard to hold employees accountable because of the lack of tools, skills and training. Managers also might struggle to adopt an effective leadership style in managing remote teams.
If there’s no proper and frequent communication between managers and remote workers, there may be problems with transparency and accountability.
The good thing is that more employers and managers recognize these difficulties remote employees face, and they seek to understand these challenges and look for viable solutions.
Best practices for managing remote employees
As businesses and HR leaders continue to shift towards remote work setups, managers and leaders have the task of managing their remote teams effectively. Even though it’s viable, it has some unique challenges because traditional practices may not work effectively in a remote environment.
Let’s look at some of the best practices for managing remote employees.
For an organization putting importance on the emotional wellness of its workers, practicing empathy within teams is an excellent place to start. Empathy fuels the workers to be open to different perspectives, needs and intentions of others and the company.
When managers have empathy, it allows employees to establish better relationships and improve emotional well-being. It also paves the way for better collaboration of remote teams.
When HR leaders and managers practice empathy, remote workers feel heard, understood and appreciated. This way, remote employees are more likely to be open in discussing their challenges, allowing managers to help address issues and concerns.
Practicing empathy in remote teams can be done in many ways, including non-verbal communication and practicing humility.
Sharing information with others isn’t limited to verbal communication. Many social scientists find non-verbal communication and wordless interactions to be powerful factors in communicating with others.
It includes body posture, hand gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, speaking style, vocal intonation, talking speed and tone. All of these affect how you communicate with others.
Compared to verbal communication, non-verbal communication is more subconscious. You can always compose your words and language before speaking, but non-verbal communication is unplanned.
Managers and leaders should be observant while they’re talking to employees. They should notice their body language and facial expressions. Observing these clues can tell if the employees are distressed, overstressed, concerned, confused or burned out.
If you notice that employees face challenges, take time to follow up. The fact that you acknowledge an employee’s situation through non-verbal communication lets them know that you are concerned about their well-being and that their health is also your priority.
When managing remote teams, it’s necessary to understand the language you speak and how it’s presented. Learning the various functions of non-verbal communication can help make your remote team more productive and collaborative.
It’s vital to not only practice empathy but also humility. One way to try to understand the employee’s situation is through communication.
Ask questions and, most importantly, listen. This way, you encourage the same behavior within your team.
If your employees notice you’re empathetic and understanding of their situation, they feel a sense of acceptance and inclusion. They also perceive that their company is concerned about them as an individual and cares for their well-being.
Even after the pandemic ends, one of the many things that may continue is the shift toward work schedule flexibility. Workers become wiser in using their current remote work time to reimagine what the future looks like.
Future work options might be tailored to benefit companies, employees and public health. Some of these considerations include the following:
Remote work options
Given the rise of innovative technologies, cloud-based management systems and video conferencing, physical offices have become less important than workers’ ability to work effectively and efficiently.
Since remote working eliminates public commutes, it’s a more appealing setup for workers with disabilities, family commitments and other responsibilities.
Alternating daily schedules
Flexible work schedules give workers the freedom to adjust their time according to their needs. Having a flextime approach allows employees to choose their schedules, with each having a core period when all workers are on the clock.
Many organizations have implemented various technologies for communication and collaboration to facilitate more effective remote working among teams.
For example, Zoom, Microsoft® Teams and Skype provide video conferencing technologies to help managers maintain one-on-one contact with team members. At the same time, Slack offers instant messaging with organized conversations and channels.
These options allow businesses to create systematic communication among teams ensuring remote workers are heard and seen.
Boundaries are necessary for remote workers, especially employees with other responsibilities and commitments. For example, employees with kids may struggle with their own jobs and childcare. Thus, creating boundaries between work and other matters and setting reasonable expectations for remote workers is critical.
Today, the “always-online” mentality is increasingly common, especially since technologies encourage employees to have round-the-clock access.
It’s important to foster a healthy work-life balance by respecting your workers’ complete separation from their work when their work hours are over or while they are on sick leave.
Giving them flexible work options can help improve efficiency and productivity, retain employees, maintain good business flow and create a strong brand reputation.
Leaders and managers can help remote employees achieve this balance by creating flexible policies and work schedules that foster healthier, more balanced lives.
Set clear expectations
Setting clear expectations is necessary when managing remote teams. Managers should ensure that remote employees know what is expected of them. It includes thinking about their goals for the upcoming week, the workload to be completed and to whom to go when issues arise.
Additionally, it’s essential to let them know your availability if they need to reach out to you and their availability if you need to talk to them.
When remote employees know your expectations about their job, they become more focused on getting their job done. If you want to monitor the status of their tasks, you could use a work management platform, such as Asana or Trello, so that you can track their work and progress.
By setting clear expectations and assigning tasks to your remote team, you make them accountable for finishing their assignments.
Establish consistent communication
Communication is key, whether this is with your team members sitting next to you in the office or those working remotely from the other side of the world.
However, it’s more critical to have consistent communication with your remote team. Otherwise, your team members are more likely to feel disconnected and ignored.
According to a survey, over 25% of remote employees reported that communication is their ultimate challenge in remote working.
Leaders and managers can implement some simple rules and tools to build a solid base for effective communication among team members.
First, ensure an internal system is in place for instant messaging to allow your employees to talk easily with each other. A good example is Slack.
Additionally, holding regular virtual meetings such as Zoom calls can help your team members get engaged and stay updated on what their colleagues are doing. While promoting effective communication, you also help maintain team spirit.
It’s a good practice also to ask your employees about their preferred communication platforms, and whether they like discussing ideas via group chats, private messages or short calls.
Generally, team members need to understand that their manager supports and trusts them to do their tasks. Managers can help support remote work productivity and efficiency through effective communication while promoting their sense of belonging and creativity.
Focus on outputs
People working remotely may be juggling work and other responsibilities at home. It’s HR’s challenge to support your team members to get their jobs done in the most productive and efficient way.
You may have to adjust the system and focus on outputs instead of processes. When you measure a worker’s productivity based on their hours, it only tells how successful that worker is at showing up.
The outcomes matter more, and managers should evaluate remote workers based on their outputs. After all, the work outputs determine the business’s success regardless of the number of hours spent on the task.
As a manager, the first step in focusing on outcomes is establishing the foundation for a transition in management style. It’s also necessary to develop a culture of trust and give the employees the autonomy to finish their work.
When employees feel that their managers trust them, they go the extra mile to provide excellent work. Additionally, giving flexibility to your team members empowers them to finish their job in their own way.
Having the right tools
Having the right tools is critical in managing remote employees. Without these tools, your team members may find it hard to deliver outputs with the same productivity and efficiency as those working in the office.
Fortunately, many digital tools, from communication platforms to project management apps, are now available to drive better outcomes and set your team up for success.
Here are some of the digital tools every manager should look into for their remote teams:
Project management tools
You can bring your work, apps and remote teams together using project management tools such as Wrike, Asana or Trello. These platforms allow team members to assign daily tasks, make progress updates, set task deadlines and quickly review an individual’s progress.
Additionally, project management tools automate manual tasks to help the team members work more efficiently. The employees also have the option to look and review their tasks in various formats, such as to-do lists, calendar views and Kanban boards. Furthermore, they can modify the app to meet their own preferences and the company’s needs.
Cloud solutions have had transformative effects over the years. More and more companies rely on cloud collaboration tools because they help dispersed teams communicate better and access data much faster.
The virtual spaces allow remote workers to share files, brainstorm, edit files and contribute simultaneously. Cloud solutions such as Microsoft 365, Google Drive and Dropbox benefit remote teams.
These platforms allow users to save, update and share files and folders anytime using mobile devices, tablets or computers.
Video conferencing tools allow remote employees to see and be seen. These enable them to talk about their tasks in greater depth. Even if the team is large and in different locations, these tools help build better relationships among the group.
Like messaging apps, video conferencing tools should be a part of any unified communication platform solution. With a single click, remote employees can start video conferences and find necessary information without switching back and forth between various apps.
It’s important for remote workers to easily find and access their work files as quickly as possible. At the same time, the organization should ensure that the remote workers aren’t saving project data on their home computers or in other unsecure storage options (to prevent hacks and data breaches).
Cloud storage solutions such as Google Drive and Dropbox provide a secured repository of organizational files so remote employees can access them anytime.
These platforms allow project admins and managers to set sharing permission to allow certain users to access company files, ensuring these files are only available to the right people.
Relying on reputable productivity tools can ease the pain of managing remote employees. It also helps maximize their efficiency, leading to lesser overtime and work-free weekends. From time tracking to automation, these solutions help managers maximize their time.
Managers can connect with remote employees using tools such as Slack, Clockify, Toggl, Teramind, InterGuard and Todoist to get an in-depth view of their remote workers’ workweek.
They can see exactly how and where the employees spend their time through these platforms. The insight provided by the platforms can show time drains and promotes productivity.
It’s important to note, though, that these tracking tools should be used mindfully. Such tools can give workers the impression that their managers don’t trust them, thus negatively affecting company culture.
Engagement tools are beneficial for remote employees due to the lack of face time and interactions with their colleagues. If they don’t have the opportunities to bond with others, they might feel disconnected from their team.
Although managers can address this through all-staff meetings and virtual happy hours, digital engagement tools help your employees be engaged daily. Tools such as WooBoard, Kazoo and Kudos allow your workers to feel more connected and appreciated.
Through these platforms, employees can show appreciation for each other, managers can share announcements and everyone can celebrate small and big wins.
Keeping remote workers engaged
Creating a connection is challenging when people don’t interact often, and there’s no physical space for them to meet each other. Additionally, remote employees might be working in a team with people they haven’t met yet in person.
It makes the authentic connection among employees more challenging to create, leading to employees sometimes feeling left out of the company.
If you’re managing remote employees, there are a few ways to keep them engaged, including:
Structured 1:1 meetings
It’s good to start some informal catch-ups among team members, such as virtual coffee breaks. Creating smaller groups helps in building trust and intimacy among each other. You can initiate smaller coffee-break groups and rotate the members weekly for larger teams. This way, you can also encourage new team members to allocate a buddy.
Aside from creating smaller groups, having one-on-ones with the manager is vital. So, don’t let this slip out of your managers’ to-do list. Ensure to ask your employees which channel or platform of communication is convenient for them. Doing this tells remote employees that you also care about their preferences.
Encouraging virtual social interaction
Another great way of making your remote employees engaged is by encouraging virtual interaction. Initiate planned and informal activities among team members. For example, companies conduct karaoke nights, happy hours, quiz bowls, book clubs and sharing sessions.
To get this to the next level, try to allocate a budget for these activities and encourage your team members to decide on themes. Create planned activities and promote informal activities between team members. Give your employees autonomy in how they use the budget.
Don’t forget to use communication tools to promote employee engagement and make them feel included. You can share updates with the team, promote two-way communication and encourage company leaders to be more visible through these platforms.
Remote employees aren’t voiceless. They have voices, but sometimes, their voices might not be heard, resulting in them feeling left out and undervalued. It could also give the impression that the organization doesn’t value their ideas and might miss out on innovations.
If you want to make your remote employees feel included, think of ways to hear their voices through digital platforms and traditional methods such as conducting surveys.
During meetings, try to allocate some time for remote employees to talk and share their ideas, especially if they feel disengaged. When they speak, be sure to listen attentively and give feedback and encouragement.
Listening doesn’t apply only to virtual meetings. Try to do the same when they send emails or instant messages. Giving micro-feedback can help remote employees feel validated and motivated.
The importance of management skills
Remote work requires specific skills, and both managers and employees need to learn to hone these skills to be productive and efficient.
Managers may need to adjust their ways to manage remote employees effectively. Here are some of the critical management skills that leaders and managers need to ensure their employees are looked after, engaged and satisfied:
- Communication – This one should come as no surprise. Communication is an essential skill every manager should learn and value, whether they’re managing remote employees or not. While honing communication skills can be challenging, remote communication is different. Thus, managers should be attentive to this when talking or writing to their remote workers.
- Delegation – Delegating tasks is very beneficial for leaders and managers. Delegation isn’t only about dishing out assignments to your team members, it’s also about handing over the tasks appropriately and explaining the work. This way you’re building trust with your employees. Effective management of remote employees doesn’t mean micromanaging them, but it’s creating a certain level of confidence in your workers to finish their tasks without the need to see them working at a physical desk.
- Empathy – Empathy plays a vital role in all aspects of remote working. Remote employees need empathy from their leaders and managers to help them move forward. Since there is no physical interaction, it’s more challenging for managers to see if the employees are struggling. Managers need to be aware of this and respond accordingly.
- Coaching – Coaching is different from regular employee training. It is about providing your staff with the tools and ways to help solve their challenges. When you coach your employees, you are actually guiding them in making sound decisions without giving direct answers to their own problems. Coaching skills are very beneficial for leaders and managers because they can get the best out of your employees. A solid coaching mindset allows the remote team to improve their own skills, character, motivation and confidence while working alone. Excellent coaching skills also encourage improved communication and collaboration among team members.
- Adaptability – In this dynamic environment, having solid adaptability skills is essential for managers. It means continuously reviewing the current system and structures and identifying specific areas that need improvements or changes for the better. When managing remote teams, a manager should understand that employees’ needs can change quickly, so they must adapt. Adapting to the constantly changing environment while employing communication skills and empathy is a must-have for every leader and manager. Aside from managers, remote employees also need soft skills and critical management skills for this age of remote work, including the following:
- Resilience – Employees working remotely need to be resilient to any unexpected situations. It means that they need to be prepared for any changes and know who could help them resolve these issues. It’s also necessary to create a backup plan if things go wrong. Creative problem-solving is a part of adaptability and resilience.
- Self-motivation – Aside from resiliency, self-motivation and discipline are crucial for remote work. Distractions are inevitable when working remotely, and it’s hard to maintain focus without self-discipline. To help employees stay focused at work, they can block any visual or audible distractions. Using noise-canceling earphones and keeping the workspace organized is also a great place to start.
- Communication Tools – Having solid communication skills isn’t a requirement for managers only. Remote employees also need excellent communication. Getting familiar with different communication tools such as video conferencing and instant messaging apps is very helpful.
- Collaboration – While collaboration is much easier when workers sit next to their colleagues, remote employees must make the extra effort to interact with their teammates virtually. Once physically disconnected, team members need to stay connected through virtual meetings and routine check-ins. Remote workers need to be comfortable using these platforms and working with shared files.
Training for managing remote employees
Managing remote employees isn’t an easy job. Leading a remote team is entirely different from leading employees in a traditional office setup.
Managers who are adjusting to managing remote teams need to develop and adopt a completely remote work system and guide the employees to keep them productive, efficient and engaged. At the same time, you need to ensure that they don’t feel left out of the workplace.
Remote work isn’t going away anytime soon. Over the next ten years, estimations are that about three-quarters of employees may work remotely.
Thus, your management skills also need to keep up. So, check out the on-demand webinar to learn about how to manage remote workers.
When you attend this webinar, you’ll learn the right skills to change your mindset and support your employees, and learn how to coach, empathize and identify red flags when your staff struggles with being happy and productive.
If you’re new to managing a remote team, there’s a bit of a learning curve. However, these tips and our on-demand webinar can help you establish an efficient remote work system.
HR can help managers successfully lead their remote employees as long as they learn the right management skills, facilitate communication among team members and ensure all of their workers have access to the right tools.
Remote employees can be just as efficient and productive as their in-office counterparts. As a leader, you only need to set them up for success.