The quickly evolving coronavirus pandemic has forced many businesses to shift gears to a work-from-home environment. However, many managers don’t feel confident they have the skills to manage employees from a distance. And yet managers play a significant role, especially in terms of uncertainty, to help their team stay connected, collaborate, and work through change.
First, during the outbreak, if remote work is new to your organization, employees may be hesitant to work from home. They may fear their manager may view them unfavorably or fear they will miss out on opportunities because they are not physically in the workplace. To help promote a culture where remote work during the outbreak is truly supported and encouraged, the manager should also work remote - at least on occasion. This is a great way to lead by example and allows the manager to experience remote work first-hand.
Managing remote employees shouldn’t be something feared and avoided. In fact, most of the same principles of good management apply whether your employees are across the hall or across the country. One of the keys to successfully managing remote employees is to build mutually trusting relationships. This often happens casually over time when you see employees face-to-face on a daily basis—they get to know you and you get to know them.
With remote employees, development of these relationships can’t be left to chance. To achieve success your approach needs to be deliberate and communication is the key. You need to develop methods of individual communication as well as a team approach. Check in frequently and regularly with remote employees to ask how they are doing. Find out if something is getting in the way that is frustrating them, such as slow technology or lack of response from co-workers. Keep in mind that working from a remote location is different than being connected in the office where it’s easier to pop your head into someone’s office for a quick question.
Whether you are new at managing remote employees or the employee is new to working remotely, it is necessary to have a conversation to share both your and your employee’s preferred style, method, content, and timing of communication. This discussion will ensure the right balance is established between keeping each other updated and not becoming a communication burden. By taking the time to do this with your remote employees you not only let the employees know you value regular communication, they know it’s expected to ensure success.
The many options for remote group communication today are conducive to maintaining a sense of teamwork and collaboration between remote employees and between remote and traditional employees. Video conferencing, chat rooms, and collaborative project management tools are a few ways to allow remote employees the opportunity to stay involved by brainstorming new ideas, discussing pressing business issues, and contributing to the long-term success of the organization.
One of the most common questions managers of remote employees ask is "How do I measure performance when I don’t see them?" The general answer is "results." This, of course, is when all the hard work you put into building a trusting relationship with your remote employees comes into play. You are trusting they are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.
To avoid problems, it’s critical to first mutually determine a well-defined and specific list of objectives that the remote employee needs to accomplish in a fixed timeframe. Then, when the result is presented it is important to take the time to provide concrete feedback and evaluation. Were all the objectives met in the appropriate timeframe? If they weren’t, take the time to discuss how to avoid problems in the future and redefine expectations. If results were as expected or better, be sure to acknowledge success.
Remote working arrangements can be successfully managed through a little extra effort, a lot of communication, and mutual respect.
For more quick tips of the trade when managing people from a distance, check out MRA’s article Leading from Afar: How to Be Successful With Remote Teams, and download our sample Remote Working Agreement to get everyone on the same page with expectations. MRA also has an excellent virtual classroom session on Managing and Engaging Remote Workers.