How to manage remote employees effectively
Managing a remote team brings many challenges. Figures across the globe show that the number of remote workers is increasing. In the UK, the number is estimated to be around six million, while the US has around five million – of course, this depends on your information source.
Right now, many millions more have added to these numbers as they have no option but to work from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. For managers and team members who work in the same location, this is bringing new challenges. However, these are the same challenges faced by any manager that has a remote team.
Managing remote workers brings a sharp focus on your leadership, personal and emotional skills that are required to get the best from your team.
Identifying the challenges facing both you and the individual members of your team is a first step, identifying solutions to overcome these is next. For those that are new to remote working, providing the right leadership from the start is key.
What is certain is that remote working is here to stay. The numbers increase year on year and it there will be much interest to see what lasting impact the coronavirus outbreak has on the future workplace with millions more getting a taste of home working.
There are definite advantages to remote working as Buffer’s annual State of Remote Work report identified. While it brings advantages such as flexibility, more family time, less commuting, less stress (in some cases), it also bring challenges, and this is where strong remote managerial skills are required.
The Buffer survey identified these challenges.
Managers need to be aware of these issues and the problems they raise. The top three challenges managers should be easing the burden on their team members.
Unplugging after work: It is imperative that team members can switch off when they turn the laptop off. Managers can assist by ensuring that the team members only work for a set number of hours and insist that colleagues – including the manager – do not communicate work outside of certain hours.
Loneliness and isolation are a huge issue amongst remote workers, especially those that have been used to working with colleagues. Most remote workers, while working from home, break up the monotony by using shared co-working spaces or coffee shops and ensuring there is some social interaction. A lack of interaction can, in extreme cases, lead to anxiety and depression.
Communication: Remote team members identify communication as a source of frustration – especially if not all of the team work remotely. Firstly, communications via text or email can be misconstrued, especially with a lack of non-verbal cues, which play a huge part in communication. Secondly, remote workers feel distanced, out of the loop and feel less significant to colleagues that are not remote.
However, there are positive actions managers can take to overcome these challenges and be an effective leader for your remote team.
1 – It begins with you
As the team leader, you set the example. From a professional perspective, the working culture, ownership and accountability for tasks starts with you. As the boss, you need to adapt to make the situation work for everyone.
2 – Build rapport with every member of your team
When you communicate with your team members, don’t just talk work. Get to know them, their family, their interests and build this into your regular catch ups. This shows you care about them and builds rapport. The advantage of this is when you hit problems as a team, they will trust you more and give you the benefit of the doubt.
3 – Schedule long one-on-ones
As you don’t see your team members, make sure you pencil in a set time to speak to them. There should be ample time to cover off a range of topics and not just in a snappy five to 10 minute chat. Also, don’t ever cancel this meeting – reschedule by all means – but never let the member of your team down. It would reinforce the issues of isolation and poor communication.
4 – Regular team meetings
Though you may all be remote, it is crucial to bring the team together to encourage inclusivity and togetherness. No-one feels isolated. Be mindful of time zones – if you have remote workers across the various parts of the world, when scheduling meetings.
5 – Enhance your communication skills
If you’re having one-on-ones and team meetings, then use video. Non-verbal communication is key and using video communication tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom, delivers this.
Also, look to use collective tools for project management (Slack or Trello) or brain storming meetings (Mural or Miro) that ensures everyone one in the team – no matter where they are – can feel included.
6 – Set clear expectations
Ensure everyone in your team knows what they are doing. Set clear tasks, deadlines and that they are also aware of the consequences if they don’t deliver. Structure is a key element of remote working, despite the advantages of flexibility.
7 – Remote workers have career goals
Just because they are remote, they are still employed by the company. They are not freelancers and so have career goals and ambitions. It is important that they are aware that their careers can strive and secure the benefits of achieving and delivering for the business.
8 – Reward your team members
Being remote should not exclude team members for being recognised for their efforts. A simple way to do this can be using emojis and gifs to express achievement. However, take this a step further by sending team members gifts to acknowledge your appreciation. Remote workers also miss the ‘end of week drinks’ or other collective work activities – consider hosting – and paying for – drinks or a pizza party with all team members online.