1. Set immediate and clear expectations
A big part of managing remote teams is making sure your remote employees know exactly what your expectations are. For example, let them know how often you want them to check in, whether you’d like them to touch base before they end their workday and if they should track their time. While some leaders expect updates from each team member on a daily basis, others may be satisfied with a weekly briefing. By letting your team know what you want from them upfront, you can make sure you’re synchronized.
Related: How to Manage Employees
2. Document your communication strategy
In addition to sharing expectations with each team member individually, it’s also important to document your communication process so remote employees have something to reference. For example, outline what kinds of questions or issues necessitate a group meeting or video call versus a quick message or email. Provide details about timing and responsiveness, such as how soon you expect a response to an email during working hours.
3. Engage as often as possible
Take a moment to engage directly with remote employees at least once a day, whether through an email, instant message, phone call or video chat. The longer you go without reaching out to these employees, the more likely they are to feel left out and become disengaged from their work — which may lead to poor performance and turnover. Consistent interaction with each team member, whether they work on a remote basis or not, will ensure they feel motivated, included and valued.
4. Schedule regular team meetings
Whether your workforce is partially or fully remote, it’s essential to set up regular group meetings, live virtual events and virtual team building activities to foster a sense of unity and help employees bond. These meetings can help employees get to know each other, build connections and feel more inclined to cooperate and communicate with each other on a regular basis.
Additionally, team meetings give remote workers a chance to contribute their ideas and clear up miscommunications regarding project details, deadlines and expectations.
However, be sure to be mindful of “Zoom fatigue,” a term used to describe the burnout or tiredness associated with overuse of video meetings. Using alternate communication methods (e.g., email, messaging apps, phone calls), supporting transition time between meetings and making some social meetings optional are all things you can do to help combat Zoom fatigue.
5. Be transparent
Employees often look to leaders as an example of how to behave in the workplace. If you’re open and honest, for instance, they’re more likely to be open and honest with you. By making transparency a part of your team culture, it’s easier to build trust with all employees and ensure they feel comfortable coming to you with any questions or concerns.
Just be sure your transparency extends equally to all team members. For example, if you have news to share, make sure to let every team member know at the same time. This way, your remote employees won’t feel like they’re the last to hear about what’s happening in the office, or that you’re intentionally withholding information from them.
6. Build a strong rapport with each team member
When managing remote employees, get to know them in the same way as your non-remote employees, including their hobbies, interests and career aspirations.
While you may feel pressured to focus on business during a call or video chat, always set aside a few minutes for small talk at the beginning or end of your meetings — just as you would during in-person meetings. Simply asking about an employee’s weekend, chatting about their family or inquiring about their plans for an upcoming holiday can help them feel more comfortable with you and develop a personal connection. In fact, a 2018 poll found that employees who have friendships and personal connections at work are more engaged and motivated to do great work.
7. Use technology to overcome geographic boundaries
Important tools and technology that you’ll need to manage a remote workforce include chat and team collaboration tools (e.g., Slack), video conferencing software, screen sharing tools, project management systems to keep track of important tasks, time tracking apps and more.
The same technology your company uses to enable remote work can also be leveraged to build a community. Use tools for more face-to-face interactions and create spaces — such as separate instant messenger channels or online forums —where employees can discuss non-work related topics during breaks.
Another idea is to create a remote version of anything you do locally. For example, if you have an in-office tradition of singing “Happy Birthday” to employees, be sure to do the same for remote employees by gathering the team together for a video call.
8. Set aside time for regular one-on-one conversations
When you’re busy, it’s easy to cancel or postpone seemingly non-essential events such as one-on-one conversations. However, these meetings are crucial for effectively managing remote teams. That’s because remote employees often miss small updates and ad hoc meetings that happen throughout the day, and may not be as up-to-date as local employees.
Do your best to hold one-on-one meetings at the same time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and give each remote employee at least half an hour of your undivided attention so you can give feedback and they can ask questions, raise concerns or share their ideas.
9. Don’t exclude remote employees
When employees work in an office setting together, conversations happen organically. So-called “watercooler” chats can turn into critical conversations where you or one of your team members shares crucial information. When these conversations develop, be sure to pass along the message to your remote employees as quickly as possible.
If you leave remote employees out of meaningful discussions about company objectives, visions and/or plans, they may begin to feel alienated and undervalued. Send employee satisfaction surveys periodically to gauge how remote employees feel about their work environment.
10. Don’t micromanage
Part of the appeal of remote work for employees is the autonomy. But when you’re not sitting next to your employees, it’s easy to assume they’re not working or sticking to the tasks you’ve delegated. This can quickly develop into micromanaging behavior where leaders bombard remote workers with communications and continuously ask for progress reports.
However, micromanaging remote employees can be stressful for both parties and make employees feel like they’re not trusted to do their work. Instead, focus on outcomes and goals rather than visible activity and hours worked. As long as the employee is getting their work done well and on time, their work style may be irrelevant.
At the same time, it’s important that remote employees aren’t taking advantage of their autonomy by wasting time and ignoring their workload. Some employees may not have the self-discipline for remote work, and it’s critical you recognize this behavior quickly before it affects team productivity.
11. Create an “Open Door” Policy
Remote employees may feel they’re disturbing you by contacting you outside of scheduled meeting times, especially if you work in different time zones. To prevent this, create an “open door” policy where remote and non-remote employees can contact you at any time. While you may not be able to answer immediately, make sure your employees know that there’s no such thing as too much communication.
And remember: while in-office employees can see when you’re in meetings, away at lunch or otherwise out of the office, remote workers have no way of knowing whether you’re at your workspace or not. If you’re unavailable when a remote employee attempts to get in touch, try to respond as quickly as possible.
FAQs about managing remote employees
How can I monitor employees that work remotely?
While it’s important to avoid micromanaging your remote employees, you’ll still need to know what they’re up to during work hours. Monitor your remote employees by setting deadlines, asking employees for daily or weekly updates on the progress of a task or project and/or using time tracking tools and apps.
Are remote workers less productive?
According to one survey, remote employees work 1.4 more days every month (or 16.8 more days every year) than those working in an office setting. However, the productivity of your remote employees depends on a number of factors, such as the type of work, if they have a comfortable WFH setup, how many distractions they have at home (e.g., pets, children), their personality type, work preferences and much more.
Ways to improve the productivity of your remote team include: encouraging employees to take regular breaks, offering remote work stipends to pay for home office setups, setting SMART goals and creating opportunities for your team to connect through social activities.
How do you motivate remote employees?
Keeping remote employees motivated can have a direct impact on their happiness and productivity, and can boost retention rates.
To bring out the best in your remote employees, offer training opportunities on how to work from home effectively, provide clear goals and a path for career development, give positive feedback and recognition, and keep the lines of communication open.
If you’re not accustomed to managing remote employees, it can be a learning curve. However, by following these 11 tips, you can establish an efficient remote management system, facilitate communication and ensure all employees have the right tools to be as successful as possible.