Today, more and more employers are ditching traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. office setups and tailoring the work day to whatever makes workers accessible, productive and innovative. In fact, recent estimates say that half the employees in the world now work remotely at least half the week. With the ubiquity of computer access, the widespread availability of Wi-Fi and the advent of apps, like Slack and Skype, that make it easier for teams to communicate, almost anything that can be done in the office can be done from wherever in the world the best employees are located.
Managing remote teams doesn’t come with a handbook. And the physical barrier presents unique, unprecedented challenges for those used to managing employees within the same office. Building relationships require extra effort, evaluations lack the basic psychological factor of seeing them come into work every day, and overall managing employees that exist only online requires unparalleled trust. But it can be done, and we’ll outline some remote employee best practices. Fear not, the challenges of managing a virtual team can be overcome.
First and foremost, in any management position (but especially when it comes to remote workers) you have to be clear about what you expect out of an employee. No one can succeed if they don’t know what your definition of success requires. Remote employees can’t pop into your office for clarification or informal updates, so you should clearly outline how you expect them to progress over time, what deadlines you expect them to meet and with whom they should communicate.
It can be easy to put remote workers in a separate category and think of their needs as secondary to those of the employees sitting right next to you. But their work probably isn’t any less important. You should tell remote employees what hours you’re available and will be checking your email (or whatever internal communication system you use), and let them know when it might take you a little longer to respond. Encourage them to provide updates, schedule weekly check-ins or ask them how they’re doing and what help they need.
A good way to bridge the gap between traditional employees and ‘work-from-home’ ones is to match them up as points of contact for each other. This provides another person who can answer questions if you’re not available or even just a friendly face at the office Christmas party.
If in-office employees don’t know how to reach out to remote ones for help or acknowledge their work, it will only further isolate remote ones. This can be as simple as reminding in-office employees to give credit to remote teams by giving them a shoutout in an email, or as extensive as creating teams that include both remote and traditional employees.
When teams are not sitting next to each other in the office, they turn to other methods of communication. If your employee has never seen Slack before or doesn’t know how to jump on a Google Hangout, their ability to communicate and work effectively will suffer. Make sure that the onboarding process includes training for any platforms that the team uses regularly.
When your communication happens exclusively online, it’s important that you utilize the best and most effective tools possible. Do your research and figure out what your team’s specific needs are.
It can be hard to trust that people you don’t see showing up to work day in and day out are actually doing work. But time spent in an office is an arbitrary metric by which to measure success. Focus on the output of each employee, instead of when or where they’re doing their work.
Another challenge to working remotely is the blurred line between work and home. Traditional employees can more easily define out-of-office status, but when your desk is ten feet away from your couch, it can be tempting to check emails at all hours of the day. For employees, this can lead to burnout and high turnover rates. By setting hours that you and your team members are expected to be available, you make everyone’s life easier.
On a similar note, it’s important to monitor employees for burnout. Remote employees may be tempted to never log off and experience loneliness and isolation. No one wants to stay in a job that makes them feel like that. To avoid high turnover rates, keep your eye on remote workers. When you sign off, encourage your employees to do the same. You’ll get more out of them in the long run.
This might be the single most important piece of advice for remote teams. Communication will not happen by accident by running into each other in the break room. It must be deliberate and planned out. Maybe you have weekly Skype calls, daily updates, or monthly debriefings. You should probably have all three. Without adequate communication, the distance will become apparent.
The most straightforward way to build real relationships with employees is to meet them in person. This isn’t always possible, but even presenting the opportunity sends the right message. Invite remote employees to the office end-of-year party or have a remote employee meetup. It doesn’t so much matter what you do, it’s that you’re in person doing it.
If done wrong, tracking employees hours is a useless form of micromanagement. But if it’s a suggested way for employees to denote how much time they’re spending on different tasks and projects, it can provide invaluable information for you on how to better delegate work.
Learning how to manage remote teams comes with its trials and errors. But with a few simple tips, you’ll become an expert at incorporating these increasingly common employees into your plan for success. So remember this key for managing remote employees best practices, and you’ll be prepared for the future.