Managing remote employees
Management Style

Managing remote employees
Catering to the unique needs of a remote workforce

Good managers are flexible. Well, a new situation has presented itself. According to global workforce analytics, 50% of the workforce is already engaged in some form of remote work, and about 80-90% reported that they would like to work at least part of the time remotely__¹__. These numbers have blown out even further since COVID-19. While the pandemic may have accelerated the shift, it was a change that was steadily increasing regardless. In fact, there is a 159% growth in telecommuting over the last 12 years, with 44% of this growth just between 2015-2020.

It is times like this that require flexibility in management practices. Remote workers have unique needs and therefore, cannot be managed in the same way as office workers. It is important to know what these needs are before you can begin to implement a strategy to cater to them.

First and foremost, clarity is essential. Remote workers often lack context regarding what is happening in the office and how this might impact their responsibilities. Your job as a manager is to ensure that the parameters, deadlines and metrics of their tasks are crystal clear. If you require weekly progress reports, for instance, or prompt replies to emails, you must specify this and hold employees accountable.

The biggest challenge remote workers face is engagement, and engagement is strongly linked to productivity. An engaged remote worker has an increase in productivity equivalent to an extra day per week. Now, managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores__²__. This is where you, as a manager, can make a substantial difference.

There are a variety of things you can do to keep your remote employees engaged, starting with taking time-out for them. Your local workers see you in the hallway, have lunch with you and can just pop into the office for a quick chat if they are facing a problem. Your remote workers do not have the same luxury. So try to be as available to your remote workers as possible. This can include; taking time out to focus solely on them, setting up a channel for them to communicate with you if they are struggling with something, responding to them as quickly as possible, and making the office workers set appointments if necessary. Another way to support your telecommuting team is through daily check-ins. This can be done through various channels, whether it’s something quick like a text, or something more in-depth like a video call. Set up multiple channels of communication and rules for when each one is useful, e.g. emails for documentation, video calls for check-ins and texts for urgent situations. If your remote workers are in the same city, it might be worth considering setting up face-to-face meetings regularly such as bi-weekly or monthly etc.

The second biggest problem remote workers face is isolation. According to a 2020 survey, 20% of remote workers cited loneliness as their biggest struggle__³__. Humans are naturally social animals. This is why activity-based workspaces produce better results than the old-school cell-based offices. This is also why remote workers are at risk of loneliness and depression. But there are ways you can help. remote management work from home

Remember the daily check-ins? An effortless way of helping remote workers avoid isolation is using just 5 minutes of those meetings to catch-up. Perhaps start the session with some small talk like "how was your weekend?". It's those little things that can make a big difference.

Another approach you can try is to provide opportunities for remote social interaction. Again, the easiest way is to leave room for some non-formal banter at the beginning of team calls. Other options include virtual pizza parties (in which pizza is delivered to all team members at the time of a videoconference), or virtual office parties (in which party "care packages" can be sent in advance to be opened and enjoyed simultaneously). While these types of events may sound silly or artificial, remote workers report that virtual events help reduce feelings of isolation, promoting a sense of belonging.

Lastly, as a manager, you need to trust and build trust. Your employees were hired because they possess the skills required to get the job done. You need to build a culture of support so that they are fully able to do their job. Constantly questioning what your remote workers are up to, or stressing over their deadlines, is not only bad for your mental health but it also destroys the confidence of your employees. While you might be right to be worried, there are more appropriate ways to deal with this as well.

Rather than focusing “are they putting in a solid 8-hour day”, you, as a manager, should be primarily concerned with three main issues; 1) was the task completed? 2) was it on time? And 3) was the quality of the work up to scratch? If the answer to all three questions is yes, why should you care whether the work was completed beside the pool with a cocktail in hand???

Focus on measurable outcomes, not the voices in your head questioning the work ethic of remote employees. For you to be able to trust your employees, they must communicate with you openly. Remote work can be stressful, and as managers, it is important to acknowledge stress, listen to employees' anxieties and concerns, and empathize with their struggles. It might seem annoying but ask them how they're doing. Even a general question such as "How is this remote work situation working out for you so far?" can elicit valuable information that you might not otherwise hear. Let the employee's stress or concerns (rather than your own) be the focus of this conversation. Additionally, set up work-from-home guidelines, such as emails must be responded to within 24 hours, use text for urgent matters, and no calls between certain hours to make sure teammates are not working around the clock.

Adapting to the needs of your employee can be difficult. Still, it is worthwhile, not only in terms of productivity but also in terms of building long-lasting relationships with your employees. While the situation may seem daunting given that you cannot keep checks on remote workers as often as office workers, new challenges such as these lead to both, personal and professional growth.

Management Style