Management is not an easy task, plain and simple.
Every manager is different and therefore practices unique management styles. Whatever your style may be, the whole practice of management becomes a new ballgame when managing remote employees.
For many reasons, a new wave of remote employees has shaken up the trajectory of the way people work on a global scale.
However, employers are seeing that employees are more capable than ever of handling their respective workloads when working from home.
How We Got Here
At the onset of the pandemic back in March of 2020, the world had to adapt to a new way of life and work.
While many employers feared that their employees would not be able to keep up with the demands of their jobs from a comfortable work-from-home space, employees stepped up to the plate – often, too much.
While many employees showed their capable hand of cards, the pandemic proved to be an even tougher hill to climb for managers. After all, how do you manage remote employees?
Better put, how do you effectively manage remote employees?
These are the questions that managers, different and alike, have been plagued with since that dreaded time back in 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the working world many things – some bad, some good.
The important thing to note is that after reading this article, as a manager of remote employees, you will be perfectly capable of managing a remote team.
It’s important to understand how remote employees operate to get a better understanding of how it will affect your management style, which very well may change and adjust as working remote becomes commonplace.
The State of Remote Work
While remote work has been a topic of interest for a long time, the curiosity for it has been expedited by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So, what is the future going to look like in terms of remote work?
In Buffer’s “The 2021 State of Remote Work”, over 97% of surveyed workers stated that they would prefer to have the option to work remotely, at least part of the time for the rest of their careers.
As much as some companies across the globe have pushed back against the necessity of working from home, employees have shown that they would rather quit their job than go into the office, as there are so many available remote jobs in today’s world.
Meaning, employees have the confidence that they can find remote work if they want to or are being forced to work in an office.
“The Great Resignation is real. For the fourth straight month, over 4 million Americans voluntarily quit to accept new employment (BLS),” President of Recruiting at Insight Global Lawrence Dearth said. “Companies are reeling to hire and retain talent, and job openings continue to remain north of 10 million, despite continued unemployment of over 5%.”
In other words, for the first time, possibly ever, there are more job openings available, yet unemployment remains high.
How is this possible? Because employees are starting to really care about the work they are doing.
Why Employees Prefer Remote Work
After being forced to work remotely for over a year, employees in many cases have lacked the sense of collaboration and face-to-face interaction they once had exposure to and are realizing the reality of the work they are doing.
If not that, they are realizing that they value independence, flexible work arrangements and work-life balance, and if that is not offered by their current employer, they have no problem finding somewhere that does.
There are advantages for employees who are looking to work remotely, which are the same reasons they are pining after the opportunities.
Remote employees have the benefit of flexibility – in their work schedules and physically in locations where they work. With video conferencing and comfortable home offices, employees can be successful just about anywhere.
Additionally, employees have learned how to create and run their own processes, as the world is becoming a place where output matters much more than how you got there.
For employers, the talent pool is vastly larger. Instead of looking just within one metropolitan area for someone to fill the job, and someone who is looking for the job, employers can look anywhere in the country and even anywhere in the world if they please.
All of a sudden, the whole globe becomes a talent pool and the chances of finding the best person for the job, regardless of time zone, increases dramatically.
Better Work-Life Balance
Lastly, employees who work remotely can strike a better work-life balance.
Sitting in a physical office location from 9-5 made it much more difficult for working parents and singles alike to tend to midday commitments, such as appointments, day care, and before and after school drop-offs and pick-ups.
If employers trust that the work can be done no matter where the person is, they can also have faith that with all of technology’s advantages, they’re going to get the work done. Therefore, they no longer must worry about the time it takes to deal with other commitments or arrangements in the normal eb and flow of life.
When work-life balance becomes something that is owned by the employee versus the employer, there is a high value set on that independence and flexibility at the end of the employer, further influencing them to stay remote.
Potential Downsides of Remote Work
But, with every advantage, there certainly are disadvantages.
While there are so many wonderful aspects of working remotely, there are many challenges for both employees and managers of remote employees.
No In-Person Interaction
While technology can prove to be very helpful in the grand scheme of things, with phone calls, video conferencing and instant messages, it takes away from the moments of face-to-face interaction that human beings value so highly.
In essence, it brings about a sense of isolation, as working remotely is by nature less interactive. Collaboration and the feeling of work culture dissipate easily.
Difficult Time Management
Aside from feelings of isolation, time management can be difficult when working from home.
While there is a newborn sense of freedom and flexibility when working remotely, people are forced to be near the “office” at all times of the day.
It’s not seldom that people feel the urge to hop back online after dinner or to simply work late, just because technology at home has provided convenience to them. Often, it’s hard to say “no” when those few emails you left unread are calling your name from just a few feet over.
Lack of Communication and Productivity
When it comes to managing virtual employees, there is the struggle of transparency and lack of visibility.
Additionally, it’s more difficult to get in touch with people who can help resolve an issue or simply to ask a quick question.
With the working world in different time zones, with different schedules, it’s not the same as just turning to the person next to you or walking into your manager’s office for a quick debate about something.
Communication is tough in a virtual space.
How many times have you read a message that you interpret differently than the way it was intended?
It’s impossible to know someone’s tone behind a text message or email, which can cause undue pressure, nerves and miscommunication.
And haven’t you noticed the amount of time we spend on forums like Zoom?
Communicating on video calls can be overwhelming and exhausting. They say it’s as taxing to be on a video call as it is to be stuffed in an elevator with a bunch of people.
The feeling is overcrowded, too close for comfort and the same energy you need to have in that intimate of a setting. Imagine your whole day in an elevator with other people – it would be exhausting. And it is.
Tracking productivity is another one of the challenges of managing remote employees.
How do you know that your people are doing what they say they are, when they are?
Technology provides plenty of tools for us to share platforms, but it doesn’t provide the same experience as meeting with your boss in person or having them look over your shoulder in the office to ensure you’re on track and staying productive.
All things considered, working from home has become an added layer of complexity in the grand scheme of career building, career shaping and career searching.
Job seekers are looking for benefits and opportunities in their job search, employers are exposed to a larger talent pool and must then have the means and technology to accommodate those who may be in another time zone, let alone, another part of the world, and managers are wondering how to manage work-from-home employees.
Throughout this article, we will be sharing tips and best practices for managing remote employees.
So, whether you’re a new manager or you’ve been a manager for years, the landscape for managing employees has totally and completely adjusted itself to the ever-changing world around us.
As a manager, if you can take what you now know about remote employees, the advantages and disadvantages they face, and apply these tips and practices into your overall management style and strategy, you will be effectively managing your virtual team.
Set Expectations with Your Team
Setting expectations early on with your team is important, but it doesn’t end there.
It’s necessary to continually share expectations with your team so they know how to perform and operate, especially in a new environment.
Not only is it important to set your expectations of the team as their manager, but this also includes keeping them up to date on what’s happening in the business.
In a remote setting, it’s a good assumption that your employees are far removed from what’s going on in the bigger scope of the business.
Are there new policies or changes to the status quo of the business?
For example, some businesses announced extra paid time off opportunities, extra holidays and even time paid time to volunteer. Updates like that should be something you pay attention to as a manager because you’re likely going to hear it directly from who is implementing the policy, with the task of passing on any information to your team.
It’s important to keep a keen eye on what’s happening from the top down so you can continue to pass the information to those for whom you’re responsible.
In terms of setting expectations with your team, do you have an idea of how you want the flow of your team to work? What are your high-level processes going to be that need to be understood by your team? Do you have goals and marks to hit in a certain amount of time?
At the end of the day, the only way you’re going to have a successful team of remote employees is by setting clear expectations often.
Just as is the way of the world, things change and fluctuate and so will your expectations at times. Be keenly aware of the circumstances around you and be ready to adapt.
Overcommunicating your expectations will help keep your team on par for what they need to accomplish, and when.
Expectations go beyond the duties of the job, though. Especially if you had a team of people in person that had to shift to remote work, they’re going to need to know what you expect of them when they are working from home.
For instance, they’re probably wondering what the expectations are of you keeping in touch with them.
Are there frequent check-ins that need to be had? Should they be giving frequent status updates, or do you trust them to complete their work without it?
Do you expect your team to be at the desk working from 9-5 or can the 40 hours a week be more flexible? Is the expectation that they should just get the job done whenever they can or however it fits into their schedule? Or is it mandatory that they are getting their work done in the hours of 9-5?
Even sometimes, employees are nervous about running to the store, leaving during the workday to run errands or pick up kids from work – all things they may not have done when they were in the physical office location.
Let them know what you expect of them so they can manage their time throughout the day or make other accommodations if they must.
The entire world is operating differently than ever before and all anyone wants to know is what is expected of them on the road to success, so let them know just that.
Encourage Connection Amongst Your Team
Take Insight Global for example. We are a company that thrives on our culture, so when we switched to working from home, it almost felt that we lost a piece of ourselves.
In reality, it was just something that needed to be re-discovered in a new light and by different means.
If we couldn’t be together in person, how were we going to make it happen virtually? Don’t let your mentality as a manager let you fall victim to the circumstances in which we are currently.
With video calls, virtual happy hours, frequent meetings that share praise and positive feedback and opportunities to hear peer reviews you can continue to keep the culture alive.
In terms of recognition, that is a huge majority of what makes a great culture.
You must find ways to keep that energy frequent and alive. The last thing you want is for your people to feel isolated or without the praise and recognition they deserve.
It can be hard to keep the energy high in a virtual environment, especially when many meetings are voices silenced by mute buttons. Don’t let your team fall apart!
Whether you decide to host a bi-weekly happy hour or have projects that can be done by two or more people, encourage collaboration and connection.
Are there activities you can ask your people to participate in that encourage that sense of connection and getting to know one another?
Some people have the benefit of knowing their teammates or coworkers prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but some do not. It might feel easier for people on your team to stay in touch and get connected if they knew each other previously and worked together in person, but many employees started as remote employees and that is an intimidating start to a job.
At Insight Global, we host Compass meetings where teams in the company share a whole day, and sometimes more, getting connected, learning about one another and setting goals as a team.
To learn more about it, you can visit https://www.igcompass.com.
Compass is our culture consulting sister company that helps companies transform their culture as the result of Insight Global’s own cultural transformation at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hosting monthly Compass meetings is just one of many ways to bring connection and vulnerability into the workspace.
The best thing you can do to garner connection is to provide opportunities for social interaction amongst your team.
Whether those opportunities are work-related or not, it’s absolutely necessary to keeping your people happy and feeling the sense of fulfillment you deserve to feel when you’re doing right by your people as a manager.
Track Progress Using Technology & 1-on-1’s
Tracking the progress and productivity of your team members is no easy task when working from home.
To be a successful manager, you’ve got to learn how to track progress in a way that makes sense in a remote environment.
As a manager, you are responsible for ensuring that your team is on track, getting their work done, hitting their marks and reaching the goals you set as a team. In a lot of cases, tracking all of that is necessary because you must report it to your superior and they are the gears that keep the larger objectives of the business grinding.
But unfortunately, you can’t peek around the cubicle or call your team members into your office for a quick update on where their progress stands, which makes this a real challenge of managing remote employees.
Luckily enough, this is one of the things that is made easier by technology and there are hundreds of tools you can use to do so.
For example, using a platform like Microsoft SharePoint is a great way to see all your team members’ work in one central location.
In addition, it gives users the ability to edit, make changes, and see changes made by others who share the documents.
If you’re in a creative organization, this is a great tool for sharing in-progress work, editing written content and more. Even for the more business-oriented workflows, this is a great tool for sharing and tracking progress using excel documents.
Shared spreadsheets and CRM platforms may be the simple solution for you.
Tracking progress, though, can come in many different forms and it’s up to you to decide what’s best for your team and industry.
Surveying your team to see what works best for them may be a good starting place. Opening the discussion will allow others to share different ideas of platforms or tools they know about and then you can decide on what works best from a team perspective.
Other ways to track progress and productivity can be through the use of instant messaging tools, like Microsoft Teams. That way, you can quickly communicate with your team members within groups or individually.
To get the short run-down of where someone is in the midst of a project you can send them a chat and even see their status – either away, in a meeting or available for added visibility.
Additionally, it’s a smart idea to set weekly meetings not only for the team to get together, but also to meet with your people individually.
It provides a great opportunity to get the latest updates, see what challenges they may be facing, how you can help them hit the next mark in their progress and what is working well for them.
Again, overcommunication, especially in tracking progress, is pertinent. But don’t mistake overcommunication for micromanaging!
Set Goals and Be Intentional About It
A great tip for managing remote employees is goal setting.
Goal setting is always a great task to accomplish, whether you’re in-person or working remotely, but it’s even more necessary to the success of the team in a remote environment.
Goals help keep the team and the individual motivated, and ultimately provide great incentives that allow you to track your team members on their way to promotions, raises and bonuses.
Goals are important for the team because they can be set by you, the manager, or used to connect the team under a greater purpose
To help you set some goals, think about the objectives and the goals of the business as a whole and then work your way down to your team and the individual members of which it’s comprised.
What is the goal of the business? How does your team fit into helping achieve that goal?
What then do you need to do in order to play your part? And what do each of your team members need to contribute in order to reach that goal?
Goals can be fun because they can be more personal or based on the culture of your team
In other words, they don’t always have to be about achieving the objective of the business.
Make sure that when you’re coming up with goals, you have a good mixture of goals that are fun, far-fetched and totally achievable.
Start with the long-term goals and work your way back so that you can consider the smaller, shorter terms goals that are going to help you reach the biggest, longest-term goal.
When you know what’s at the ultimate finish-line, you can better surmise what needs to be done to get there.
Use the opportunity to set goals as a monthly, quarterly and yearly workshop where your team can get together and collaborate
By garnering a sense of support, teamwork and belonging, more people on your team will be willing to contribute and think seriously about what they want to accomplish.
And then, work to meet 1-on-1 to set goals just as frequently as you bring the whole team together to do so. You should have a keen understanding and awareness of what and how each team member contributes to the team and set realistic goals and expectations with each of them on how to get there.
Be considerate of your team members and understand that they all likely work in different ways
In other words, each person is going to have a different process to work towards their goals and each of their goals are going to be unique.
Lastly, do everything you can to help them get there, support them and champion them as they work towards the finish-line on their goals.
Use any of your 1-on-1 time to check in and remind them of the goals you set together and see how they’re doing on their way there.
Give Autonomy to Your People
Nothing is worse than being micromanaged.
You know that as a manager and as someone who still has a boss.
Maybe it was a little more commonplace while you were in the office because you simply had more visibility into the whereabouts of your people, the progress of their work, the time they spent working and how much you could pop around the corner to give feedback or even watch over someone’s shoulder.
Let’s just put it this way: you need to trust your people
Of course, there will be times when that feels tough to do. In fact, the feeling of being out of control has probably never felt more intense than it is in managing a remote team.
Nevertheless, your people will be happier and likely more productive if you let them know that you trust them.
It’s one thing if you’re constantly disappointed by their work or they’re not hitting the deadlines they’re supposed to, and that will beg for a conversation with them and likely a bit more attention to detail in tracking their day-to-day. But for the most part, people just want to know you trust them.
After all, they were hired to get the job done.
Give yourself and your team some grace
The world flipped upside down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is still finding its way back.
People’s lives have changed in so many ways. Parents are at home working remotely, and in a lot of cases, are still helping homeschool their kids.
Working adults have been tasked with making accommodations and taking care of things they never had to in the past.
In the cases of parents or caretakers, working in the office was helpful to them in the sense of having a morning routine and then getting to escape to the office without any distractions from normal family life.
It was much easier to turn off the computer at 5 o’clock and do life as needed.
Now, work and life have become meddled with one busy and at times, chaotic, way of getting through the day.
Whether your team members have families to tend to differently than before or someone has obligations during the 9-5 workday, it’s important to allow them the autonomy to get their work done when they can.
In other words, the output matters much more than the how.
Listen to the needs of your people and give them the freedom, without having to feel guilt, to accomplish what they need to get done as they can.
Meet with Your Team Frequently and Intentionally
Nothing is worse than a manager who doesn’t care.
Meeting with your team members is one of the many ways you can show an added layer of care and attention.
Be careful not to set meetings that don’t have an agenda or that don’t serve your team well. Think about what you want to ask of your people when you meet with them, and updates or news you want or have to share and be sure to always ask how you can support them.
Setting a pointless meeting doesn’t serve anyone well and in fact, ends up being a waste of time, which isn’t and shouldn’t ever be the point.
You want your people to know that you’re thinking of them, that they’re not alone and that you’re here to help them as needed.
Create a Sense of Belonging for Employees
Additionally, setting up meetings, both with the team and with individuals, creates a sense of belonging amongst your people, which is certainly a feeling you want to create in a virtual setting.
Meetings that are set with intention and agenda allow for more of the video call, face-to-face and social interactions that most people are craving these days – or at least as close as you can get to it in the virtual space.
Have a Positive Attitude
Part of what can make team meetings more influential and exciting is your attitude as a manager.
You should always come to your meetings with a positive outlook and attitude and do your best to demonstrate empathy, availability and transparency.
This will show your people that they can trust you and it will also make everyone feel comfortable enough to join in on the conversation, show their personality and even become a setting that isn’t all so strictly about work objectives and more about coming together as a team.
Develop a Team Vision & Purpose
It’s important to develop a team vision and purpose, alongside the development of your team goals and incorporate that purpose and vision into your meetings with your team.
Maybe even do something the same during each meeting so there’s a sense of familiarity, and if it’s something fun, it will be something that everyone looks forward to each time you meet.
Is there a game you can start the meeting with? Share photos or talk about the weekend prior?
What is a good way that you can get everyone involved that also ties to the greater purpose of your team and what makes your people such a great fit for working with one another?
Always be considerate about how you approach team meetings and use them as opportunities to bond and share connection.
Create a fun presentation for each one or even set themes for your meetings and have your team members participate by dressing up.
If you can’t bring the people to the culture, bring the culture to your people.
Create A Good Working Environment – Even from Afar
There are many things that fall under this, all of which are attainable for anyone managing virtual employees.
For starters, don’t encourage your team to work late or work too much.
The moment that idea is spoken into existence or even felt by your team members, it will be a tough hole out of which to climb.
It can be difficult to have your office in your living room or just down the hallway from where you spend all your time and live the rest of your life. It’s important that your team knows that no extra work or overtime is required to be successful or to be a part of the team.
And, for those who do work overtime willingly, let them know that it’s okay but it’s not going to put them ahead of anyone else that doesn’t.
Be an empathetic leader
As previously mentioned, people have felt a lot of immediate change in their lives recently.
There’s going to naturally be times where your team members will underperform and overperform. When addressing the times where they aren’t working at 100% with empathy is very important.
Usually, underperformance by people who usually perform well is a direct result of some other unrelated issue, stressor or pressure.
Be kind, give grace and choose empathy to try and understand how and why someone may be feeling the way that they do. Be a good listener and offer to help before criticizing.
Respond as quickly as possible when you are needed by your team or a member of your team
Of course, you have your own work and responsibilities that take you away from giving full attention to your team.
If you’re at least aware of that, you’ll be more diligent about checking in and making yourself available when someone needs you.
Be sure to foster a sense of accountability with your people
Using a project management platform that gives frequent updates and uses notification features will help you a ton.
It’s a difficult thing to hold people accountable, especially when you have the distance and restraints of working in a virtual environment.
It’s important to have some way that the team shares visibility into one another’s work progress so that each person feels a sense of accountability towards completing their respective projects and work.
Share recognition amongst your team
Provide environments with positive energy where the team can speak up and congratulate others, dole out good feedback or praise and where the person receiving the feedback or praise feels noticed, appreciated and recognized for their work.
Being seen is one of the hardest things to do when working in a virtual environment and as a manager you should look for unique ways and opportunities to share hard work and accomplishments with as many people as possible.
Managing remote employees has its obvious challenges, but it’s a test of your willingness to be a good leader for your people – an honorable charge.
In a world where people are quickly and easily in and out of different jobs, it’s important for you to create environments where people want to work so that losing people to other jobs becomes less and less likely as time goes on.
A third of all of Insight Global’s jobs are remote and those remote jobs are getting 2.5 times the number of applications as non-remote jobs.
“For employers, the hardest thing is to unequivocally trust employees,” CEO of Insight Global Bert Bean said. “And in this new world where remote working is becoming the standard, you must have trust.”
The world is quickly adapting and adjusting to remote work, so the chances of you managing remote employees becomes more likely every day.
Preparing for the future of work is the task all companies are facing right now and it’s becoming more and more of a priority to find managers who are capable of leading remote teams and employees.
Our hope is that you become the best manager you can with the above tips and best practices.
To learn more about our available jobs and remote opportunities, visit https://jobs.insightglobal.com.