Managing employees in a “normal” office environment isn’t easy—but throw in a pandemic, civil unrest, and temporary (maybe?) work-from-home arrangements, and the question of how to be a remote manager gets a lot more difficult.

But don’t freak out yet! Managing remote workers effectively, even under the challenging conditions described above, is possible. In this article, we’ll discuss how to deal with the following common challenges of managing remote workers:

  • Lack of trust
  • Communication barriers
  • Scheduling work hours
  • Disinterest/Disengagement
  • Lack of tools

Managing Remote Workers: Best Practices & Tips

Trust Your Employees

The bedrock of successful remote work is trust; as an employer, this must be your mindset first and foremost. If you can’t trust your employees to work from home, attempting this style of work will not be successful. Everything I share in this article will be based on the assumption that you trust your employees to get their work done. If this is not the case for your organization, you need to dig deep and root out what is preventing you from doing so, and what you can do to fix it.

The bedrock of successful remote work is trust; as an employer, this must be your mindset first and foremost. Click To Tweet

Prioritize Communication

Overwhelmingly, the employees and employers we’ve talked to say that communication is the biggest hurdle they face in transitioning to a work-from-home, completely remote environment. Especially for companies who have never worked remotely, flipping the switch to a remote work situation can be jarring. If this is new for your company—or even if you’ve previously had a work-from-home arrangement—the most important thing you can do as a manager is to establish a system to communicate clearly and consistently with your team.

When you’re no longer able to pop over to a colleague’s office to ask them for a status update, share a project highlight, or even make small talk, it’s important to be strategic about scheduling these types of communication into your day with the employees you manage. Here are a couple of ways to do that:

  • As a manager, you set the precedent for communicating availability. Share your calendar, and keep your internal communication system (like Slack or Microsoft Teams) updated regarding your daily availability—and have your team do the same. When managing remote workers, you can’t physically see where employees are or what they’re working on, so you should use technology tools to provide visibility.
  • Don’t be afraid to tell employees when you won’t be available. Especially in the midst of a pandemic, employees won’t (and shouldn’t be expected to) sit at their computers for eight hours straight. Be open about sharing when you’re stepping away from your workspace to set the precedent that it is fine to do so, but be sure to communicate when you plan to return.

Keep Normal Schedules

One of the most frustrating aspects of managing remote workers is navigating disparate work schedules. To combat this, encourage your team members from the start to keep their regular schedules as much as possible.

Communicate to employees your expectations about their working hours, and then listen to their responses about what they can or can’t do in terms of their schedules. I suggest keeping working hours as close to normal as possible to make it easy for everyone to stay in touch. Employers should be willing to listen and be flexible for their employees, and employees should be willing to communicate their schedules and availability (and even over-communicate) to their supervisors and managers. If possible, employees should be permitted to work outside of normal hours. This change should be clearly communicated to managers and team members.

Keep Meeting Regularly

Just because you’re no longer in the same physical space doesn’t mean you need to clear your calendar of meetings. It may just mean you need to rethink, and perhaps condense or reconfigure, your meeting schedule.

If you have regular meetings or check-ins already recurring on your calendar, keep them (and adjust what time they occur or their duration if needed). If you don’t, start setting these up. I suggest scheduling both 1-1 meetings as well as weekly meetings with your team. Even if you don’t have a lot to cover, don’t take them off the calendar—just discuss what you can and end your meeting early. Taking meetings off the calendar completely increases the probability that you’ll stop scheduling them altogether.

If you have the ability to video conference with your employees, do that. Video keeps people engaged, and you can learn a lot from seeing your employees that you can’t glean from audio alone—you may get clues about whether or not they’re feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or sad, and you’ll also be able to see where they’re working (and vice versa). Tools like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Slack, Skype, and Google Hangouts all offer video conferencing functionality—take advantage of it!

Finally, understand employees might not have a dedicated workspace at home. If you conference with them, you may see they’re on the couch—if they’re getting work done, it doesn’t matter.

Create Opportunities For Collaboration

A very real side effect of working remotely is that departments or teams within an organization begin to function in silos, which may in turn cause decisions to be made by one area of a company without consideration of how it impacts other departments. To reduce the chances of this happening, managers and leadership should increase opportunities for interdepartmental collaboration. This may look like all-company remote meetings, projects shared between departments, or simply emailed updates sharing departmental projects.

Pay Attention To Employees

While valuing your employees’ autonomy, you should also keep a close eye on any issues that are revealed—such as decreased work performance—while working remotely and address them as quickly as possible.

For example, if you see an employee slipping in terms of work productivity, schedule a meeting immediately to help them stay on track. Try to uncover the source of the problem. Are they lonely? Are they disconnected? Do they not have access to answers they need, or access to the people they need to find those answers? Pay close attention and address any performance issues quickly.

Provide Tools & Technology Needed

A lack of appropriate equipment and technology is a common challenge for companies embarking on remote work, but it’s a pretty simple one to address. We recommend to our clients that they provide team members with company tools—laptops, access to servers and databases, etc.—they need to accomplish their jobs. One bonus to providing tools (rather than having employees use their own) is that employers have more control over their use. Your company’s IT department can also install additional layers of security for any tools you provide and monitor their usage. Similarly, you should have the same tools to manage remote employees from your home that you have access to in the office.

Recognize Good Work

As I discuss in our article, An Employer’s Guide To Work From Home Best Practices (2020), working from home makes validation from managers even more critical. Managers should allocate time each week to recognize and acknowledge individual employee contributions and successes in 1-1 meetings, email communication, and team meetings. Recognition doesn’t have to cost a thing, but it can provide a much-needed morale boost that encourages employees to work harder and gives them incentive to stay at your company.

Get Feedback

Whether or not working from home is a new adventure for your team, you should survey your employees periodically to find out what’s working and what’s not. These types of surveys should happen at least every six months, so pencil them in on your HR team’s calendar.

The low points addressed and critical responses found in your surveys, though not fun to read, will reveal great opportunities for business growth, and simply giving voice to employee frustrations and then addressing them can help improve morale. You may find that the biggest challenges your team is facing can be addressed with simple solutions—but only if you take the time to ask what’s not working and then put effort toward providing solutions.

Is your team working from home? What are your tips for success?

I hope this article has added some useful ideas to your toolkit for managing remote workers! If you have any tips we didn’t include, leave a comment below—we’d love to add them to a future article.

And if you have questions about HR issues related to working from home, ask us! Call (781) 272-4900 or complete this brief form, and we’ll be glad to help you navigate through the COVID-19 crisis and into the future.