A Guide for Managing Remote Employees: Tips and Best Practices

Updated 8/31/2023

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the way we work changed. The world experienced a shift towards a remote workforce, and the traditional boundaries of the office evolved beyond brick and mortar. The rise in remote and hybrid work policies created an era of flexibility and collaboration. And even in a post-pandemic world as things have continued to evolve, many companies have opted to stick with a remote or hybrid work policy.

Because of this ongoing evolution in the future of work, remote management is now a valuable skill for leaders to cultivate in may industries. And while leading others can have its challenges in any work environment, remote management comes with its own unique set of them.

Whether you’re a seasoned manager or brand new to the art of leadership, here are some tips and best practices to help you tackle the challenges of managing remote employees.

The Importance of Remote Management Skills

Remote work was once viewed as a perk offered by a small number of companies. But now, it’s more common for many corporate employers. According to Forbes, As of 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home, while 28.2% work a hybrid model. And according to a study by Upwork, these numbers will continue to grow. It’s estimated that 32.6 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025, which equates to about 22% of the workforce.

In this digitally connected world, traditional management skills may not be enough to lead your team. Since managing remote employees requires a nuanced approach to delegation, progress tracking, and performance evaluation, honing that skill set can pay off in increased productivity and connection to your teams.

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Benefits and Challenges of Remote Work for Managers

Unlike in traditional office settings, remote workers rely heavily on virtual communication and project management tools. Managers leading remote teams can benefit from an understanding these nuances and adapting their processes to make sure their teams are empowered to work efficiently and drive results.

Benefits of Remote Work

Access to a larger talent pool: A remote work environment gives managers access to virtually interview employees located anywhere — not just those who live close to the company’s physical location. This can lead to a more diverse workforce, which can promote creativity and innovation.

Flexibility: 22% of respondents in a study from Buffer reported that they’re favorite part of remote work is being able to choose how they spend their time while another 13% said it’s that same fluidity in choosing their work location.

Productivity: Some studies have shown a 13% increase in productivity from remote work while a study from MIT and UCLA in 2023 showed an 18% drop in productivity. A takeaway from this is that remote work is great for some employees and not so great for others. Know your team and set them up for success no matter where they get the work done.

Higher employee satisfaction: Employees who work remotely spend less time commuting and may have more time to do the things they love outside of work. They may have a greater sense of well-being, balance, and overall satisfaction. And higher employee satisfaction leads to higher retention and better outcomes.

Challenges of Remote Work

Work-life balance: In 2023, there’s an emphasis on wellness and work-life balance. While remote work can help you find a greater work-life balance, depending on your management style, you might find that you struggle to set boundaries for yourself. This is especially true if you’re managing employees in different time zones and feel like you need to be available while they’re online. It’s important to learn how to prioritize yourself so you can show up for your team during working hours.

Isolation: Remote work without much collaboration can lead to feelings of loneliness, and it’s easy to feel like you’re on your own island and disconnected from your colleagues. As a remote manager, it’s important to maintain regular communication with your team in order to keep morale high and drive employee satisfaction.

Distractions: While some of us might thrive away from the distractions of the office, others may struggle with distractions at home. Kids, pets, and household tasks can easily pull your focus away from the task at hand. To stay focused and productive, create a working environment that minimizes distractions.

Return to work vs remote work. Companies are posting far less remote roles, but job seekers are still applying for mostly remote jobs. How can we bridge the gap?

How to Build a Strong Remote Work Culture

Building a strong culture becomes especially important in a remote working environment. And as a manager, much of that work falls on your shoulders. A great culture isn’t something that comes naturally—great culture is built intentionally.

As a manager, you’ll want to have regular one-on-one calls scheduled for your team members as well as time to connect, ask questions, and get support. Make some time for fun, too! Keep in mind that an effective meeting should always have a purpose and provide value—no one likes having meetings for the sake of having meetings.

Make sure that new employees have a smooth onboarding process and have access to the resources they need. Get to know your new employees and understand what excites and motivates them so you can ensure they have the best experience possible.

Effective Communication Techniques for Remote Managers

It’s important to encourage frequent communication and collaboration when managing remote teams. By communicating regularly with your employees, you’ll get to know them on a more personal level. When your employees feel like they’re just a cog in a wheel, they don’t have much incentive to collaborate with their peers.

Use tools like Slack to help break down communication silos and enable your employees to check in with one another. Email and instant messaging are usually the primary communication channels for remote employees, but it can be beneficial to provide alternative options for your team so you’re covered for various time zones and workflows.

Setting Clear Expectations and Goals for Remote Employees

It’s important to set expectations early and often for remote employees. By setting expectations from the beginning, you’ll alleviate some of the common problems that can come with remote work.

Establish working hours—employees need to understand when they’re expected to be online. And be sure to define clear goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) that you’ll use to measure success. Give your team realistic targets with attainable timelines to keep them motivated.

Providing Support for Remote Employees

Even if some of your employees eventually return to the office on a hybrid model, you can’t have an “out of sight, out of mind” mindset when it comes to supporting your remote employees. Regardless of where they’re located, all employees should receive the same level of support.

Keep in mind that just because someone works remotely, it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be included in all team meetings. In virtual meetings, be conscious not to go off in conversations with those who are in the room with you.

Work to keep your remote employees top of mind and show that you’re invested in their development. Find out what values are important to them and look for creative ways to honor those values. For example, if they’ve identified “transparency” as being most important, keep that in mind when you’re communicating.

Trust and Accountability in Remote Teams

Sure, you trust your team. But you may also worry about their productivity and wellness when they’re working from home. Building a culture of accountability will help to keep your remote employees operating efficiently and happily.

“For employers, one of the hardest things can be 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.”

Creating a strong culture with leadership, empathy, and accountability built into the process can help you get ahead of challenges.

Final Thoughts

Managing remote employees comes with challenges, but since remote work is here to stay, it’s important to develop your remote management skills. As the world continues to shift toward remote work, the chances that you’ll eventually manage remote employees are high. In fact, one-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.

By setting clear expectations, communicating often, and cultivating a culture of trust and accountability, you can lead a successful, productive remote team of happy, engaged employees.

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