5 Tips for Effectively Managing Remote Employees
In an economy where it is already difficult to recruit and retain top-quality workers and upwards of 80% of workers indicating they would like to work remotely at least part of the time, companies must provide their employees with remote work options and moreover to keep their options open whenever recruiting and hiring for most professional positions. Businesses waiting for the remote workforce to arrive are late to the party and are playing catch-up. A recent study by IWG found that 70% of the workforce works remotely at least one day a week, and more than half works remotely at least half of the week.
Why the Remote Workforce Drives Positive Business Outcomes
Businesses that fail to tap into the potentials of the remote workforce put themselves at a disadvantage, often struggling to fill certain positions, missing opportunities to hire the best talent available, and experiencing high turnover rates due to the lack of a remote work policy. There are other benefits of remote work as well, including:
- Remote workers are more productive, on average, than their peers who work from a corporate office: 30% can accomplish more in less time and another 24% say they can accomplish more in the same amount of time
- Remote workers have less stress and higher morale (e.g., less absenteeism, more hours worked, etc.): 82% report less stress and 80% report better morale
- Working remotely enables organization to decrease their real estate costs and overhead
- Remote workers tend to stay with their employers longer, showing a 10% better retention rate than their office-bound peers
What many businesses discover is that some managers do well in managing their remote workers, while others struggle. The latter—or for that matter companies in general—have difficulty coming to grips with the issues of control and trust, which are requisite when managing remote workers. Of course, this is simply the starting point; there are other things that manager can do to ensure their remote workers are successful.
5 Tips for Managing Remote Employees
Having spent the past 15-plus years managing high-performing teams with a significant number of team members who were remote, often including myself, I come at the opportunity/challenge of managing remote workers with a lot of personal experience. Following are five tips that will help managers—and companies—become more effective in their management of remote employees:
1. Recruit and Hire the Right Workers
Just as it is important to hire the right employees when hiring on-site workers, it is even more important to hire individuals who will do well in a remote situation. Some attributes for remote workers that are requisite include:
- The ability to work independently
- Individuals who possess persona drive and motivation
- Someone who can communicate effectively—particularly via digital channels and over virtual conferencing services
For someone who has worked remotely in prior capacities, hiring managers need to investigate their past work and ask their prior managers and coworkers to cite specific examples where they exercised each of the above in remote work settings. If they struggle coming up with instances, then this could be a red flag. One interview strategy that hiring managers can employ as a vetting tool is to conduct some of the interviews with the candidate over virtual conferencing channels to see how they perform. If they struggle, then this is another red flag.
2. Document and Communicate Responsibilities and Remote Work Policies
While it is critical for any employee, it is even more important to clearly define what is expected of a worker. At the same time, organizations should define and document remote work policies so that remote workers have guardrails (e.g., when to take lunch and how long, how to manage their communication settings for email and communications, etc.). This helps prevent unnecessary situations where a manager has one set of expectations and a remote worker has another set.
3. Use Effective Project Management and Collaboration Tools
Nearly all professional workers are involved in project teams. This has given rise to a number of different Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) project management and collaboration tools such as Trello, Slack, Basecamp, and Asana, among others that are used to track project status, manage and assign tasks per individual team members, facilitate communications, store all relevant documentation, and much more.
In the case of remote workers, these project management and collaboration tools can be used to create accountability structures, where remote workers are assigned specific tasks and deadlines. These also enable managers to measure and track the activities of their remote workers—not on time worked but on business outcomes achieved (which is what really counts).
4. Meet Consistently and Regularly
Unlike on-site employees, managers cannot walk up to a remote employee to discuss issues. Setting a routine and facilitate regular and consistent communications with remote employees is thus important. Remote workers need to be easily accessible through email, chat, phone, and other project and collaboration tools (see point #3 above). Instant messaging and video chat are two communications tools here.
Further, a great collaboration tool with screen sharing is a requisite in most cases. This is particularly important for visual learners who grasp issues by seeing versus hearing them. In addition, managers need to remember that these same collaboration/screen-sharing tools should be employed in team meetings—so that remote employees can contribute the same as those who are on site.
5. Measure and Compare Outputs
Remote employees need to understand their responsibilities and how they are measured. Managers need to establish baseline measurements and discuss these with remote workers on a regular basis. At the same time, assuming on-site workers are also assigned performance metrics, managers can periodically compare the results of on-site versus remote workers to determine if there are any deficiencies that need to be addressed. Of course, simply achieving an objective isn’t enough; managers also need to measure the quality of the output—those from remote workers need to be as good or better than their on-site peers.