Remote work is becoming the norm, as the number of employees working from home 4 to 5 days a week has increased from 24 percent to 31 percent. As such, more and more managers are finding themselves in this potentially precarious situation: managing an online workforce.
You may be worried about managing people outside the four walls of your office, but you don’t need to change your management style to cater to remote employees. With a little reframing and improvements in communication and availability, you’ll find yourself managing a united workforce that’s scattered around the country—and maybe even the globe.
Focus on the End Product
It’s hard to know when and where employees are working when they’re remote. While you can put rules in place—be online at this time every day, work 8 hours each day, etc.—you can’t control that 100 percent. Instead of trying to, and frustrating yourself and your employees in the process, focus on the end product, rather than what it takes to get there.
Manage better: To be effective, you’ll need to set goals, be clear with objectives, request end-of-project reports, and use employee evaluations as necessary. All of these factors keep employees on track and make it easier for you to know exactly what each employee should be working on and where they should be in the project when checking-in.
“This is not about advocating death by micromanagement; rather, it’s about being a proponent of periodic checkpoints to reassure both the employer and employee that expectations are being met. In between those checkpoints, both parties will experience less angst that things are coming off the rails,” explains Billie Hartless, with ATD.
Working remote is the dream for many employees, but it can make co-workers feel disconnected if leaders aren’t focused on uniting from the top down—starting with themselves. “There’s nothing that disconnects us more, whether you’re down the street or across the world, than being inaccessible,” says Ted Rollins, global entrepreneur with employees and offices around the world.
This is a personal focus for him and his business partner: “We practice this and we preach this. We routinely get up in the middle of the night to work with our various teams schedules. We try to put them first and work within their time zones when possible.”
Manage better: If waking up in the middle of the night for meetings is out of the question, make it a priority to take calls whenever requested and chat with remote employees during the day, ensuring that you’re available via video call as often as possible as well.
Extend Your 1-on-1 Meetings
An open door policy makes employees feel heard and gives them a chance to get help whenever necessary. With remote employees, however, this open door policy can be challenging to maintain: “Your ‘open door policy’ fails when it’s, “Call me at a time that works….without our time zones conflicting….when I might be at my desk…,” explain experts at Get Lighthouse.
Not to mention, as Lighthouse points out, “…you don’t have all those moments in the office to build rapport and talk about issues ad hoc.” To combat this issue, extend 1-on-1 meetings with remote employees so they have the time they need to get help, ask questions, suggest ideas and more. This is your time to build rapport, while connecting on work-related issues, so having time to bring up a wide range of topics is necessary.
Manage better: Set a monthly meeting with each remote employee for at least one hour, and remember to invite them to all in-house meetings as well.
Don’t Share Docs via Email
There’s nothing more frustrating, for you and your remote employees, than needing something from someone when they’re unavailable, or having to dig through emails to the find the right doc or folder. This is why you need a way to share and store docs in the cloud, making them accessible to everyone 24/7, no matter where you are.
“…Many companies rely on email to send and share documents, which creates numerous problems. Documents get lost. Senders forget to attach. No one knows which version is the latest. And, because emailed docs exist only in the accounts of the sender and receiver, anyone else who needs access must rely on one of them to forward files,” explains Tim Eisenhauer of Axero.
Manage better: Move all document storage to Google Docs, Dropbox or build a proprietary document sharing dashboard where everyone can access as necessary. Microsoft offers secure online document sharing and storage, along with products like inSync.
Know How to Communicate
We are lucky to have a wide variety of communication tools, making it easy to stay in touch with remote employees throughout the day. However, how you use them allows you to be a better manager. Hubstaff explains with the following breakdown:
Email: short, neutral exchanges of information
Chat: informal talk; group discussions; general announcements
Skype: long, detailed, or potentially difficult conversations
Phone: long, detailed, or potentially difficult conversations (if you can’t Skype)
Manage better: Using this ideology, you’ll be more productive by keeping short conversations online and taking long conversations to video or phone. You’ll also make it easier to connect with employees during hard discussions by choosing video or phone, where you can hear their inflection, adjust your tone and more.
You’re Ready for Remote Management
With these tips, you can take your remote management skills to the next level, boosting unity and productivity while improving your leadership skills. Keep these ideas and guidelines in mind moving forward, modifying them for the specific needs of your employees and organization.