If you suddenly find that you're managing a remote workforce or you are ready to take the leap and give your employees the flexibility, autonomy, and space to be productive that they've been asking for, here are some guidelines to help you manage remote employees in a way that will allow you to gain the benefits while mitigating the risks. This is broken down by communications, culture, feedback, goals, and process. The bulk of this is simply good management practice with the addition of updated communication strategies and expectations.
Communicate more and with varied methods. People learn in different ways. It's worth repeating important messages to remote teams in different ways.
Without in-person cues, empathy and meaning get lost. Use video whenever possible. Assume positive intent. Be lenient or forgiving when someone seems short or impersonal in a message, remembering that you might be implying a tone that isn't there.
Write clearly and succinctly so that your team has all the information they need. Sending a brick wall of text is a great way to push your audience away (attention is limited even when it's your job to read it) and holding on to intel removes transparency and a sense of inclusion. Think brief commented threads vs. email blast that follow with frustrating Reply All’s.
Set expectations about when communications and replies are expected. With varied working hours and time zones, be clear to allow everyone to succeed.
Be forgiving of the normal distraction, such as the dog barking or the lawnmower kicking into action just as a meeting starts.
Pick the right arena for communications. Have message channels that don't require a quick response and those for urgent responses. Have phone calls when the back and forth on messages is piling up, and video chat during one-on-ones or whenever feedback, concern, or urgency is a factor.
Make sure that every voice is heard and that everyone has a chance to speak. Don't let the quickest, loudest, or most extroverted dominate a conference or video call. Build in process to get everyone involved.
Foster a sense of community with social activities and time set aside to just connect. Social connectivity and personal relationships are highly correlated to engagement and productivity. And, it's just more fun to feel a sense of belonging and togetherness.
Listen to your employees. What's going well? What isn't? What do they want more of? Less of?
Create a great onboarding experience. This might include some time in person to build relationships and rapport and gain a deep understanding of culture and expectations. Create context for the job, goals, and the business in general. Have a mentorship or buddy program. Gather strengths, weaknesses, learning styles, pet peeves, preferences, communication styles, defaults, and other personality dimensions. Share those same factors for the entire team. Demonstrate that you were ready for this person to start and invite them into your culture. Have a full agenda for the first day.
Communicate your values. Remote teams can't rely on the reminders that we have around the office about who we are and why we are here. They don't get to see values exemplified by leaders throughout the organization. Find ways to communicate your values and push them in to your systems and conversations.
Meet in person through retreats, launch meetings, strategy sessions, or conferences. Face-to-face interaction is incredibly valuable as a driver of social connection. This was written during the 2020 COVID-19 lock down, so obviously don't do this when it's unsafe.
Have perks and benefits that you would have in a normal office. Send snacks, host virtual happy hours, and do virtual yoga or fitness classes. Send swag to your remote workers to build a sense of we / us.
Fight loneliness. Have employees share what they do to connect to community within the organization and outside of it.
Encourage people to be themselves, share their story, and show their personality.
Don't be lenient on standards. Correct bad habits and poor performance with video to minimize lost meaning.
Have a standard for one-on-one meetings. Choose the frequency of these meetings, delivery method (video / Zoom), and agenda. Include personal connection, progress on goals, performance feedback, and an opportunity to clarify anything. This needs to be consistent across managers.
Review performance, but not once a year in a stressful big bang. You don't have to have an actual performance review to manage performance. As an example, you could have every fourth one-on-one focus on performance feedback. This needs to be consistent across managers.
Provide plenty of recognition. It doesn't have to be a cash bonus. Public praise, small tokens of appreciation, and low-cost perks work well too.
Focus on Goals. Be clear of what is expected. Make sure standards, expectations, and measures of success are clear.
Give time to just get work done. You might be tempted to fill time with connections, but high frequency degrades the value of those connection and removes the opportunities to get actual work done.
Trust your people and focus on results. Trust that your employees are working even if you can't physically see them doing the heads-down work. Remember that you hired capable adults to get the job done. If you can't trust their intentions, then you should be training, coaching, re-onboarding, testing, or moving on.
Champion the successful traits such as accountability to results, empathy, helpfulness, communication, writing, proactivity, transparently sharing results and progress, and successfully providing of mentorship and coaching.
Set boundaries, limits, rules, and standards to ensure that the program isn’t being taken advantage of and, importantly, to avoid overwork and burnout. Be clear if someone is expected to answer an email that comes in at 10 PM.
Have office hours that allow employees to pop in for a quick question. Leave time on your schedule and be clear that it's for them.
Remember that remote employees are people with aspirations of growth and promotion. They are not worker merely those who complete tasks. Map career trajectory, provide feedback on progress, give them stretch assignments, and offer training programs. Expect remote workers to own and lead cross-functional and collaborative projects.
Invest in productivity and communication tools, but remember they are only effective when everyone is onboard, trained, and adapted. Think of these tools as an augmentation of your remote management process, not a replacement or fix to remote management. Be all in or all out on any system or tool.
Have a document with the Do's and Don’ts of how your organization works. Update it regularly and refer to it. Set rules and standards for system use, communications, accountability, giving and seeking out feedback, reporting issues, meeting schedules, and communicating time off.
When making decisions, have everyone show their position with an audible and physical vote. Use thumbs up and thumbs down to avoid anyone going unheard. Ask the thumbs down people to explain their position. Work to resolve issues and ask that everyone behave in a unified way, despite their feelings or position at time of vote.
Find ways to report productivity among your team. Leave no one wondering what your team has accomplished or what each member is focusing on. Help team members create a reputation as productive and trustworthy.
Make sure your remote team has access to supplies, materials, templates, system folders, and software.
Survey your employees. A frequent pulse survey followed by action or feedback will let your employees know that you're willing to listen and act to improve their experience.
Seapine was launched to help companies and talent get the most out of the experience of work. Our consultants would be glad to help you manage this transition process. Contact us even if it's just for some free advice.