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8 Tips for Managing Remote Employees

8 tips for managing remote employeesIf you’re used to having a mainly in-person team, it is a whole new management challenge when you need to deal with remote employees. Remote employees are more productive, working an equivalent to an extra day per month, according to Business News Daily. However, they may also feel distant, overworked, and distrusted. It can be a struggle to assess what remote employees need, as their feelings can be so different than on-site employees. Here are eight tips for managing remote employees.

1. Communicate Your Expectations

When you work with someone in person, they get a clear sense of your expectations from every little interaction you have. Remote employees don’t have the benefit of consistent interaction. Plus, because they have a higher degree of freedom, they need more clarity about what it is you need from them, not less. So, be explicit about what you need from them. Send an initial email about:

  • What hours the employee needs to keep, and where there is room for flexibility
  • How soon you need them to respond to your communications
  • The deadlines for projects, both minor and major
  • The specific parts of the project the employee is responsible for

As you go, you’ll find that you have more expectations that you need to keep clear. Plus, you will also need to keep your remote workers updated about policy and staffing changes.

2. Be Consistent

Adjusting to working from home is a big change for managers and employees. It will be easy for employees to develop bad habits unless the manager is consistent (and not fearful) about their expectations. If you have clear expectations, enforce them by following up with the employee when they fall short. Schedule your one-on-one meetings at the same time, send reminder emails at the same time, and generally try to act as predictably as possible.

Although too much contact with your remote employees can make them feel that you don’t trust them, and this can erode their productivity and your relationship. Be sensitive to feelings of over-management, and scale back.

Remote employees gather for an in-person meeting

3. Make Up for Missing Tone

Most of your communication with a remote employee will be through email or a chat service like Slack, where a lack of tone is voice is a huge problem. In-house employees understand how you speak better than remote ones, so they are less likely to misinterpret your written communication. To make things simpler for your remote employees, use emoticons and gifs to help convey tone. If that feels unprofessional to you, consider whether it’s so unprofessional in your context that you’d rather risk insulting or slighting a co-worker accidentally.

However, gifs and emoticons can’t make up for everything. If you need to express concern about a mistake or failure on their your remote employee’s part, do it over the phone or video messaging.

4. Build Rapport

In-house employees have the benefit of hundreds of small interactions with you that reveal who you are. Similarly, you get to know them and what’s going on in their life. Remote employees can go through major changes in their life without you even realizing it because there are few opportunities for them to chat with you.

It’s important to make an effort to build rapport with remote employees, and you can do that over email, and not just with praise. Send along little snippets about your life in your emails to encourage employees to open up in response. Make sure you have dedicated one-on-one time, and use it to discover more about the employee, not just handle work.

5. Allow Hour Flexibility When Possible

Most employees crave remote work because it can give them more control over their hours. However, some managers quash these dreams by insisting remote employees keep identical hours from home. You want to have your employees available when you are working, of course, but rethink if you need a complete 8-hour overlap with them. Could they do 2 or 6 hours when you’re not working?

That said, where possible, encourage your employees to keep regular hours, even if they are unusual. If an employee wants to do a few hours of work at midnight, ask them to do that on a consistent day per week, or every day per week. Regular hours help prevent burnout, and many remote employees underestimate how susceptible they are to burnout without them.

6. Provide a Project Overview

Remote workers may understand their place in the project very well but may struggle without a sense of the rest of the project. They also typically don’t have your bird’s eye view and don’t understand what has been done on the project or what hasn’t. Using online tools such as Trello or Asana will give remote employees a sense of the whole project. It also serves as a quick way to check on what has been done and not done.

7.Tell The Employee Where to Go for Help

Remove employees often struggle to reach out to the right person for help. They may also get frustrated at asking you who they should check with and end up trying to solve problems on their own that would be much faster to accomplish if they asked for help. Ensure that your remote employees understand who their contacts should be, and which employees are working on other parts of the project, so it is simple for them to reach out when they need to.

8. Meet Face-to-Face Occasionally

At first, you may find that remote employees want to come into the office as little as possible. However, their feelings of isolation and loneliness often grow overtime. You can also learn what kind of tolerance they have for working alone by how soon they seem eager to come back into the office. Some employees may be itching to see people after a month. Others are pleased with only a yearly face-to-face.

Manage each employee’s need for face-to-face connection by offering or insisting upon a regular in-person meeting. Even if your team is primarily remote, you can always meet at a third space like Starbucks.

Managing remote employees can be challenging at first, but once you adjust to their specific needs, you may find that you’re dealing with happier, more productive employees.

Further Reading

Harvard Business Review’s guide to managing remote employees

23 Best Software For Remote Work and Remote Team Management [2023 Update]

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