As technology makes it easier and easier for employees to work from home, coffee shops, and airplane seats, fewer employees are finding it necessary to commute full-time to their office.
Co-located, distributed teams are becoming commonplace, and employers are smart to increasingly offer remote opportunities to their employees to reduce real estate costs and attract top talent. Given that millennials will soon comprise 75 percent of America’s labor force, and technology continues to develop exponentially, the trend of remote employment shows no sign of slowing down.
But with these perks comes challenges, specifically that remote employees tend to feel undervalued compared to their onsite counterparts. When these feelings of under appreciation go unresolved, deadlines, company morale, and all-around productivity are negatively impacted.
The health and success of any team is determined by the quality of communication between colleagues. For organizations and employees to reap the rewards of remote work, a culture of open communication must be sustained in the workplace, which is led by management.
How to manage a remote team
As a leader in the modern-day workplace, you need to know how to manage remote employees. Although it can be tricky, we’ve narrowed it down to 14 strategies you must implement.
1. Set clear expectations
Everyone has a different idea of what doing something “quickly” or “well” means. Whether it be syncing your calendars with those working onsite and remotely or showing specific examples of what you expect to be done, making sure you have communicated your expectations to those who work remotely will only ease the transition from a fully onsite team to a hybrid one. This will keep all employees on the same tier of expected productivity, no matter where they are.
2. Establish roadblocks beforehand
As you adjust to managing your remote employees, you’re going to encounter some roadblocks that make communication and collaboration difficult. Do your best to establish those ahead of time.
Take things like adjusted schedules and different time zones into account. You wouldn’t want to join a video conferencing call promptly at noon to be a full hour early or late because your remote team is in a different time zone.
Conduct a test run for all the technology your remote team will be using to communicate with you and your in-office team. If something urgent comes up, it’s definitely better to have that all squared away beforehand.
3. Use technology to build community
Building and sustaining community is crucial to maintaining an engaged remote workforce. Use the technology available to you to create a space dedicated to celebrating special days (employee birthdays), company milestones (months or years of service), as well as community recognition.
Whether it's a celebration-only shared calendar or a hump-day newsletter, being intentional about creating community helps develop a corporate culture that inspires connection, which results in increased productivity and a boost in team morale.
4. Centralize information
To do their jobs, all employees, remote or not, need easy access to information.
Make sure that the information employees require during their day to day (processes, customer data, collaborative documents, etc.) is easily available in a centralized location. If permission is required to access a certain piece of information, make sure that it's granted from the beginning.
While there are plenty of things connecting remote employees to their in-office teammates, there is still a distance. Not being able to access relevant information is an added level of frustration you can relieve for your remote team.
5. Implement a communication strategy
Managing a productive team remotely begins with a strategy for communication. First, arrange for the appropriate number of weekly formal report-ins. Second, set guidelines about daily needs. Some people work better with a shopping list of tasks while others need more freedom. An understanding of what is urgent will further mitigate inefficiency, leading to ultimate productivity.
Remember: not all remote workers are built the same.
Trial runs for communication strategies are not to be feared. In the long run you’ll be glad you took the time to adhere each means of communication to individual employees instead of settling on a blanket strategy that could stifle the productivity of your otherwise brightest workers.
6. Focus on goals rather than activity
When transitioning from exclusively in-office employees to remote workers it's important to manage your expectations and stay focused on the big picture. Train yourself to worry less about what's being done on a micro-level, and instead, concentrate on what's being accomplished.
Workplace flexibility is dependent on consistent performance from your team members. If your team is meeting the goals you have set, then great. If not, that's when you can look closer into what exact aspects of your remote team are lacking. More often than not, it's a communication issue that can be solved with an open dialogue between you and your remote employees.
7. Connect their goals with yours
The world is shifting quickly to a workforce more interested in learning and skills advancement than stability. This is especially true in regards to companies with a high percentage of hybrid or remote employees.
Take a personal interest in your team’s learning and life goals while connecting them to the goals of the company. Employee engagement, performance, and remote productivity stay much higher when your team believes their work for your company is directly associated with their personal goals.
8. Conduct video-based coaching
It’s incumbent, especially with remote employees, to schedule a time to look at one another while you’re speaking. If you do not schedule time to talk with one another face to face, silence can become very loud and remote employees might end up wondering how they’re doing. Also, video conferencing is 30% more effective for communication than audio-only setups.
Since these are remote employees, the meeting need not be in person. Your remote employees are already comfortable with the video conferencing technology necessary to communicate with you effectively without driving to the office. Allow them the freedom to meet you on their turf. That is to say, remotely.
9. Reward achievements
When you’re in an office, it's easy to give a shout-out and recognize the hard work that a team member does. But if your team is scattered around the country, or even operating out of different time zones, it can be difficult to find the appropriate time to do so.
However, finding a way to acknowledge a job well done is important. Whether it's by sending out a company-wide email or notifying your entire team on a work messaging service, remote employees need to feel valued in the same way they would if they were working exclusively in-office.
Try using employee engagement software that allows your employees to send signed or anonymous “job well done” recognitions to anyone else at the company. You can then use this system to reward those who go out of their way to help others and who consistently get great feedback from colleagues.
10. Treat your remote team as a local team
And treat your onsite team members as remote while you’re at it! Make sure your remote employees have as much access to you as the ones you pass in the halls, sit with at lunch, and see at the water cooler. When remote employees feel like they are barred from having the level access to you that is allotted to on-site workers, they can feel distant and their work can suffer.
11. Trust your remote team
Some companies are hesitant to embrace a remote workforce because they are uncertain about whether or not the work will be completed at the same level as if they were in-office. However, a two-year Stanford study showed that remote employees were twice as productive than their in-office counterparts.
To combat this fear, set up remote work guidelines that you feel comfortable with, such as emails must be responded to within 24 hours and texting for urgent matters. These can also be incorporated into a remote work policy. Once these guidelines are communicated with your remote team, you will feel more comfortable with their absence from the office.
12. Prioritize relationships
Team building and camaraderie are important for any team, and remote teams are no exception. The best managers go out of their way to form personal bonds with remote employees, such as checking in to ask about employees’ families and hobbies.
Allow time at the end of video conference meetings for open, casual conversations that the whole team can use to create, strengthen, and sustain those personal connections that are necessary to keep a company functioning at the highest levels.
13. Have impromptu conversations
There’s nothing like being able to simply turn to your right or left and have a conversation, work-related or not, with a coworker. Remote employees miss out on these unplanned, spur of the moment conversations that form a sense of camaraderie with their colleagues.
Make a point to engage in watercooler talk with your remote team. Only so much can be discussed using instant messaging software, and people tend to leave out details simply because they don’t want to type it out. Encourage the use of video conferencing tools so the interaction is face to face, and so small but important things, like tone, aren’t left out.
14. Show empathy
As you manage and implement all of the above strategies, remember to always show empathy to your remote employees. While they might be doing the same job as someone in the office, their situations are still different.
Being far away from their team might make them feel disconnected and not like an active member of the team. Depending on the reasons why someone became a remote employee and where they are in the world, they might be dealing with some things in their personal life that are going to require some attention. Whether it be because they want to be closer to family or they are dealing with a health problem, remote workers are looking for some added level of flexibility.
Whatever the case may be, show empathy and emotional intelligence by doing your best to put yourself in your remote employees’ shoes.
Managing remote employees doesn't have to be difficult
Given the ease and rapidity of modern communication, remote employment is progressively alluring to both employers and employees. Unless managers make extra efforts to connect and engage in dialogue with their hybrid team, remote workers can quickly grow unproductive. However, if managers employ the above skills they stand a good chance of fostering collaboration, commitment, and cohesion.
The competencies required for successfully managing remote employees do not differ significantly from those in on-site management roles. As long as you maintain a strong level of communication and are comfortable providing feedback and supplying recognition, managing your remote team should be as easy as turning on your computer’s video feed.
Want to keep learning how to maintain morale and employee engagement throughout your virtual team? Download our free employee satisfaction questions to see how everyone feels about their connections to fellow team members and managers.
Sophia Bernazzani is the Content Marketing Manager at Owl Labs, creator of the Meeting Owl, a 360° smart video conferencing camera. She lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts, and when she's not writing about leadership and remote work, you can find her doing yoga or taking pictures of her cat.