The global workforce has certainly been moving toward telecommuting in recent years, with 5 million employees (3.6% of the workforce) working from home half-time or more, according to Global Workplace Analytics (GWA).
The COVID-19 crisis forced even more business owners and their entire organizations to start working remotely. This transition means managers have had to adjust and recalibrate quickly to manage a remote workforce.
Whether your company recently had to jump into remote work mode, you’ve been transitioning that way for a while, or you’re considering making the work-from-home thing permanent, there are several benefits, challenges, and best practices to consider.
Read on to learn what steps you can take to manage a happy and productive remote workforce.
Benefits of Having a Remote Workforce
There are several reasons why so many organizations are opting for either part-time or fully remote workforces. The main perks include:
- A much larger talent pool of diverse candidates
- Increased employee engagement and morale
- An improved company culture that focuses on innovation, skills, contribution, and teamwork
- Increased employee productivity and employer savings
Of course, these are great benefits that only come into play with proper management of your remote employees!
Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce
Many of the challenges concerning remote work have to do with communication and relationships. When managers are aware of these common struggles, they can prepare and take action to ensure employees are happy, healthy, and productive.
Loneliness and Isolation
Sure, telecommuters get to hang out in their pajamas or yoga pants and can even work in bed if they want, but working from home can be a lonely endeavor.
When you don’t have an office full of people and regular daily human interaction, it can take its toll. Socialization is vital to both our mental and physical health. Extreme cases of prolonged isolation can lead to things like anxiety and depression.
Managers should keep this top-of-mind and make regular efforts to engage remote employees with the whole team whenever possible. Encourage healthy practices like getting out of their house and working in coffee shops or coworking spaces.
Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction
Remote workers don’t have the luxury of running down the hall to ask a manager or coworker a question or even to share regular chats and laughs.
When most of your communication is electronic, there are bound to be miscommunications. We all know it can be tough to gauge intent in emails or texts, especially if you don’t know the person on the other end very well.
Someone who is normally friendly and pleasant in person may shoot off an email that sounds curt and rude. They could just be in the middle of a hectic project, or perhaps they’re having a bad day. But if you don’t know what’s going on with them and you can’t hear their tone or read their body language, you may be offended.
This one mainly applies to companies with a mix of onsite and remote workers. The remote employees may feel left out since they miss out on everything from daily face-to-face interaction to holiday parties to weekly happy hours.
Many also report that they feel like their teammates and managers don’t hear them or value their opinion the same. In a survey of remote employees by Indeed, the job search site found that 37% of those surveyed believe that working remotely can lead to reduced visibility and less access to company leadership.
9 Tips for Managing Remote Employees
Now that we’ve discussed some of the benefits and challenges, let’s dive into some simple tips for managing remote employees that any supervisor can use.
1. Provide employees with all the equipment and tools they need.
Make sure your employees have the computer, phone, and software they need to perform their jobs. This might include a file-sharing system like Dropbox or something even more secure, depending on your company’s needs and security requirements.
Also, be sure to provide alternate communication methods—you’ll certainly need more than just email! Your team may need a video conferencing platform like Zoom, chat software like Slack, a company intranet, or a combination of the above.
Remote employees need ways to get creative and bounce ideas off one another, too. Provide methods and tools for employees to collaborate and brainstorm. Whether you opt for digital brainstorming and whiteboard tools like Mural or Miro or keep it simple with Google Docs and Hangouts, make sure your team has a way to easily share ideas.
2. Set expectations from Day 1…
…and reiterate them often, particularly if things change. Managers need to:
- Provide remote workers with guidelines, inform them of work-from-home policies, and set boundaries.
- Define hours and productivity standards.
- Note their availability and the best way to reach them.
- Discuss expectations about responding to after-hours correspondence.
- Let them know about your availability and the best way to reach you.
Discussing all of these factors upfront and on a regular basis will help employees balance work and personal life.
3. Be flexible.
Don’t expect all of your remote employees to work a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day. It shouldn’t matter when employees get the job done, as long as they meet deadlines and deliver high-quality work. Many choose to work from home because of the flexibility to work around other commitments. Some people simply find they’re more productive in the mornings or evenings.
If a certain role requires the employee to be available for specific hours, discuss this right away to determine if remote work makes sense for that position.
4. Trust and empower remote employees.
Trust that your telecommuters are doing their jobs and getting the work done. This is one of the trickiest tips for employers new to the remote workforce world! To ease your mind, check out these stats:
- Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report found that remote workers put in an average of four more hours per week than their on-site equivalents.
- A study by Stanford economist Nicolas Bloom found that stay-at-homes did 13% more work overall.
Avoid micromanaging remote employees. You wouldn’t in the office, so why do it virtually? Use one-on-one meetings to keep track of their progress and performance, and to give and receive feedback.
5. Schedule regular check-in meetings.
Set regular meetings with your whole department as well as one-on-ones with your remote employees. Depending on the roles and needs of your employees, these meetings can be daily, weekly, or biweekly and should be at least an hour long.
Use the department meetings to make sure your team is on the same page regarding roles and current projects, particularly for highly collaborative work.
Use the one-on-one meetings to build rapport, discuss performance, and address any concerns the employee may have. Ask questions about their remote working experience, daily working routine, and any challenges they may be facing. This will help you know how to support them as their manager.
6. Listen to your remote employees.
Good listening and communication are keys to a successful remote workforce. Let your employees know they are seen and heard, even from a distance.
Use pulse surveys or an employee net promoter score (NPS) on a monthly or quarterly basis. This will allow you to get a closer look at employee feelings and attitudes. HR Technologist says that the employee NPS is an indicator of how likely an employee would be to promote his or her organization to other job seekers.
When you do get feedback, act on it! Collecting feedback and having it go nowhere definitely won’t help boost morale.
7. Keep your remote workers’ career development in mind.
Remember that your remote workers are not contractors or freelancers, so treat them like the full-time members of the team that they are.
Discuss their career development during their one-on-ones and consider them for promotions. As we noted earlier, remote workers are often more productive and more engaged than onsite employees, so they certainly deserve consideration for advancement opportunities!
8. Give recognition and celebrate wins.
It can be easy to forget to give shoutouts and celebrate successes with a virtual team. Look for opportunities to acknowledge milestones and recognize your staff, just as you would in the office.
How can you celebrate workers’ contributions? Get creative with visuals or videos. Give them props on your next company-wide call, or send it out in the company newsletter. Make it personal and let your telecommuters know that you appreciate their contributions.
9. Create social interactions.
Right now, this means virtual hangouts. Set aside 10 to 15 minutes at the beginning or end of team calls for non-work conversations. Host regular virtual happy hours or office parties and play games that are Zoom-friendly.
While it may be difficult at the moment, we also recommend scheduling an event for the whole company to get together at least once a year—especially for those with fully remote teams. It’s a great way for everyone to meet and bond in person in ways that video calls just don’t allow.
Although this can be a significant cost, these types of company retreats are more than worth it for virtual workforces.
Preparing for a Remote Working World
No matter how many remote employees you have or what stage you’re at, the most important practice to emphasize is frequent and regular communication. Encouraging open, transparent communication between your managers and employees—and between employees and one another—will prevent isolation and foster positive relationships and morale, even from afar.
Remote work is rapidly becoming the norm and many candidates are searching for companies that allow it at least part-time. Companies with relevant practices and policies in place will be prepared for the future of the business world. These tips are a great place for managers to get started.Are you looking for guidance on establishing work-from-home policies and procedures for your small business? BlueLion will be happy to help you manage and maintain a proficient remote workforce. Contact us at 603-818-4131 or [email protected] to learn more today!