What makes remote workers more productive than in-office employees? Research has shown that flexible hours can increase an employee’s motivation to perform better and increase output. But that’s not the entire story. Remote management has a huge role to play because the WFH model comes with challenges that can reduce productivity.
Remote workers struggle with miscommunication, ineffective online communication channels, and unproductive video call meetings. It’s also difficult for team members to successfully transition from in-office communication cultures to remote work environments.
What’s more, domestic distractions can cause workers to multitask, leading to costly errors and reduced performance. That said, a good remote management system can deal with these issues and allow workers to leverage the benefits of remote work.
So, the true secret behind the productivity numbers of WFH employees is management. This article will talk about remote work management, its best practices, and things to avoid.
What is Remote Management?
Remote management involves supervising and overseeing the work of other team members from a remote location. In most cases, you’re also managing employees who work from home.
It’s a nuanced role that comes with challenging responsibilities, especially for managers who are transitioning to the WFH model.
You’ll have to support other workers who may still be adjusting, learn how to use new remote work tools, and encourage team members from different locations to work together.
What are the Advantages of Remote Management?
Despite its challenges, remote management comes with various perks. Let’s unpack them.
Avoid the Tedious Office Commute
What mostly defines morning hours for most workers is the office commute, which can be hectic, depending on the distance to the office. Sometimes, dealing with traffic and blazing horns means you have to take your time to settle into work.
You don’t get all that with remote work. You’re ready to go once you complete your morning routinel, which means you can kick off your day with a more relaxed mindset.
Work Flexible Hours
Remote work offers you the opportunity to iron out the best schedule for your work by factoring in personal activities so that you can maintain a great work-life balance.
Since you have your tools on the go, you can always take a break from domestic chores to deal with issues as they occur. That said, it’s more advisable to maintain a strict work schedule when you work from home.
Use Remote Work Tools
You can leverage remote work tools to make management easier. For example, you can always check multiple task progress and monitor what employees are doing from a project management tool’s dashboard.
Workers Are Easier to Manage
Remote workers are generally calm and comfortable with work. That means you’ll often have less to do, especially when you have tools to monitor them.
Less Physical Activities
Remote work management removes the need to walk from desk to desk or office to office to collect information, share updates, and even attend meetings. You’ll have more energy to focus on the work that matters.
7 Best Practices for Managing Remote Teams
Here are 6 key management practices that you should favor when working remotely.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Working without clear expectations and objectives makes remote work harder than it should be. Employees in virtual environments need some form of guidelines to inform and steer work behavior, processes, and decisions.
Work expectations are tasks, behaviors, performance levels, and outcomes that companies require of their teams and employees. They’re always designed to help the organization meet its broad goals and objectives.
There are different aspects of remote employees’ work that require defined expectations. They include:
- What channels of communication should be used for what?
- How are project updates communicated?
- How often should workers communicate?
- How do workers handle emergencies and strict deadlines?
- How many working hours should workers log each day?
- Are they free to be flexible or is there a strict schedule?
- How should employees log their working hours?
- When are employees in different time zones required to work?
- How will workers tell other team members when they’re available and unavailable?
- What performance level do you expect for each job role?
- What does the company consider unacceptable?
- How many mistakes will be tolerated?
- How often should they produce the expected results?
- How should workers interact, share information, and cooperate?
- How much should remote employees depend on their colleagues?
Setting Clear Expectations for Teams and Individuals
You can’t just drum out broad expectations and expect your remote workers to run with them. Being specific helps you idealize those expectations and make them useful.
One way to make expectations more nuanced is by separating team and individual guidelines.
Team expectations outline how you expect each team or department to work, perform, and behave. It details the outcomes you expect when employees work together. If there are consequences, they should be shared equally. What’s more, team expectations are anchored on the team’s objectives and the projects it handles.
Individual expectations are more focused and targeted. They outline everything each employee should achieve, the outcomes required of them, and how they’re expected to behave at work. Another thing about individual expectations is that they vary from position to position.
Tips on Setting Expectations for Remote Workers
It’s one thing to know what you expect from employees, and it’s another thing to know how to clearly set and communicate those expectations. These tips will guide you:
- Set expectations for each employee right from the hiring stages.
- Make sure the expectations are realistic.
- Set expectations that can be attached to metrics and numbers.
- Regularly review each worker’s and team’s performance.
- Expectations should be tailored to the position, not the individual.
- Always include the “Why” whenever you share expectations with teams and workers.
- Allow employees to ask questions about their expectations to make sure everything is clear.
- Review and adjust expectations whenever the responsibilities attached to a position change, increase, or decrease.
- Make sure expectations are well documented.
- Collect feedback.
2. Encourage Communication
Communication remains one of the top challenges for remote workers. Employees are deprived of the convenience of physical presence when they have to work from home. According to Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work report, 20% of respondents said they had difficulties with communication and collaboration.
That said, great remote management involves fixing communication problems. There are different ways to encourage remote team communication.
Use the Right Tools
Tools are the building blocks for remote work communication. But we must identify and use the right tools for your organization.
There are numerous online resources designed to help remote workers communicate via text, video, and audio. It’s up to you to choose the tools that align with your business processes, budget, and staff preference.
Set Up Clear Communication Channels
Don’t expect everything else to come together once you solve the problem of choosing the right tools. There’s no ripple effect in remote work communication.
You should establish guidelines on how often you expect workers to communicate and designate different channels for communication. For example, workers can send progress reports through a specific Slack channel and urgent requests through email.
You can also define other communication processes, like when to send broadcasts and team updates.
Scale Up Asynchronous Communication
Remote work environments lack the physical elements that enable synchronous communication. Communicating synchronously involves sending messages and requests and receiving instant, real-time replies.
Remote workers use video and audio calls to achieve that type of communication. However, regular remote meetings and calls are not sustainable because they disrupt work and cause fatigue.
So, it would be best to encourage workers to rely more on asynchronous communication where responses to messages and requests come later. That way, workers on the receiving end of messages can reply at their convenience without dropping urgent work.
Organize Effective Meetings
Sometimes, companies overcompensate for the absence of physical communication with virtual meetings. Most of these meetings end up being unproductive and waste workers’ time. You can solve that problem by making meetings productive and reducing the number of unnecessary video conferences.
Allow Easy Access to Leadership
Communication doesn’t only happen between workers. It should start from the top.
So, make sure employees have an open line of communication with you and others in leadership positions. That way, they’ll feel more comfortable providing feedback about work and expressing ideas and opinions.
Practice Active Listening
Active listening is a powerful element in communication and collaboration that can help leaders and managers achieve more.
Your role as a manager isn’t all about creating and enforcing work policies. Instead, it involves making life easier for your subordinates, and you can only do that by listening to and understanding their concerns. That’s what active listening is about.
Indeed, listening can be more challenging in remote workplaces where you don’t have as many opportunities to read facial cues and body language. However, you can leverage remote work communication tools.
Opting for video calls during high-stakes meetings is a great way to make up for the lack of physical presence.
3. Strengthen Teamwork
Teamwork is another hard nut to crack for remote managers. But you’ll find that it cracks wide open when you employ the right strategies.
Indeed, effective communication can get you halfway to strong teamwork. That said, you need a collection of activities, tools, and policies to ensure your remote workers can truly understand each other and work as a unit.
Identify and Use the Right Collaboration Tools
Communication tools aren’t enough to help remote workers collaborate. They still need to share files, understand workflows, work on documents, share ideas, share schedules, and send updates.
Online resources such as file-sharing platforms, project management tools, and task management applications can help them achieve those collaboration goals.
Your job as a remote manager is to find the right tools for your team and business.
Organize Virtual Team-Building Activities
Virtual team-building activities are social instruments that can help remote employees to strengthen their team bonds and break down communication barriers. These activities range from online games and virtual workout sessions to online workshops and meeting icebreakers.
Set up a Virtual Break Room
It will be unwise to completely remove the break room experience, even with the legitimate excuse of remote work. You can help remote workers to recreate “water cooler” conversations online by leveraging virtual break rooms.
These are dedicated Slack channels, Skype groups, and breakout rooms in Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
4. Practice Ethical Employee Monitoring
One of the advantages of remote work is that it affords employees the good side of flexible hours. Workers may not be bound to a strict 9 to 5 schedule, allowing them to find a suitable work-life balance.
Thanks to remote monitoring tools, employers won’t have to deal with the challenge of tracking billable hours and keeping workers accountable.
These tools also help managers achieve other goals, such as performance tracking, invoicing, and efficient workload management.
That said, it’s important to make sure employees are on board with your tracking policies and systems. You wouldn’t want to make workers uncomfortable because they think you’re violating their privacy.
So what does employee monitoring involve?
Time tracking refers to monitoring how many hours workers spend on the job. Organizations use tools known as time trackers to calculate billable hours, understand a worker’s schedule, and optimize payroll.
A tool like Traqq is the best solution for companies that want to monitor employees without breaching their privacy. Workers love the app because it protects sensitive information by blurring the screen records and screenshots it sends to supervisors.
Different tools can be used to measure an employee’s efficiency and performance. For example, time trackers report how long it took an employee to complete a specific task. Also, a project management tool can analyze a worker’s work completion rate over time.
Data from these tools allow managers to accurately determine what team members can handle efficiently. That way, task assignments can be significantly optimized.
5. Provide Training
Upskilling is one of the major factors that determine employee productivity, especially in today’s fast-paced tech advancements.
Remote workers, especially those transitioning to the work model, require training to properly adjust, learn how to use tools, and catch up with emerging strategies and technologies.
It’s up to you to identify those areas that require improvement and training.
However, providing training isn’t as easy as enrolling every employee in one course. So, what are the steps involved?
Identify the Right Training Programs
Every role and position requires different skill sets, and employees may have to use specialized tools. While you need a general induction program to help workers learn company culture and policies, you also need streamlined training that adequately equips each worker for their position.
Teach Workers How to Use Remote Work Tools
We’ve talked about different types of remote work tools so far, from communication and file-sharing platforms to project management and time-tracking solutions.
Workers have to learn how to properly use these tools to make the most of them. So, ensure you provide adequate training on how to use these applications, especially those specifically designed for particular roles and positions.
Using a Learning Management System
An LMS helps make the training process easy as it eliminates the tedious work of inviting trainees and distributing learning materials. You can also use LMS solutions to track learning progress and results.
Assess Learning Results
The final step in providing training is tracking and assessing training results. This process isn’t just about checking assessment or examination scores after training is concluded. Instead, it involves long-term evaluations regarding work improvement that may be the result of the training.
With that data, you can either recommend the same training for other employees or make adjustments.
6. Organize Regular Check-Ins
Check-ins offer managers the opportunity to get task and project updates, feedback, and ongoing work status. It allows them to get first-hand knowledge of how workers are handling tasks, where they’re struggling, and how to provide assistance.
You can use this strategy to keep remote workers engaged and fine-tune your management practices. WFH employees can easily take their eyes off the ball and get distracted by domestic activities. But regular check-ins can act as reminders to keep them tethered to work.
Best Practices for Remote Work Check-Ins
Check-ins should be practiced in moderation. That’s because constant check-ins can make workers feel like you’re always monitoring them and make them uncomfortable with work.
You should organize structured team and individual check-ins, but don’t make them too frequent. You can plan them to align with each worker’s and team’s schedule so that everyone has time to prepare.
You should also clearly communicate the reasons for each check-in so that workers know what to expect.
7. Reward and Recognize Workers
There are many things to reward and recognize an employee for, from sticking with your company over a period to producing high productivity numbers.
Rewarding and appreciating workers offers every organization lots of benefits, and that’s why many companies take recognition seriously.
Workers will be less likely to leave for another job if they believe their work matters. Productivity will also increase when employees receive praise for hard work and high performance.
According to Deloitte, organizations with recognition programs record 14% higher engagement, performance, and productivity than those without these programs.
The company’s research also showed that recognition is one of the top three non-financial drivers for employee retention.
How Do You Appreciate Remote Workers?
There are different ways to express appreciation and recognize high performance. For starters, you can use verbal praise whenever an employee achieves a notable milestone that benefits the company. You can also announce that feat to other workers, especially during meetings.
Next, you can reward workers with all-expense paid trips, paid time off, promotions, and awards.
6 Remote Management Practices to Avoid
Now, here are remote management practices you must avoid.
Many workers are realizing they escaped their noisy colleagues only to be buried with domestic distractions that drag their attention. Those personal activities end up forcing them to multitask.
But it’s not a good thing.
Encouraging your workers to do multiple things at once is a sure way to drive productivity down and increase how many costly errors they make. So, ensure you discourage this work behavior and tell them to focus on one thing at a time.
How do you encourage single-tasking?
Use Effective Workload Management
It’s important that you don’t pressure your workers to multitask by assigning more tasks than they can handle. You should also set realistic deadlines and space out work schedules.
Encourage Asynchronous Communication
If workers believe they have to respond to every message and email, they’ll be compelled to respond while doing their work. However, when the company has a culture of asynchronous communication, workers will understand that it’s okay to respond later.
Tell employees that deadlines are strict and mark important tasks as high-priority. That way, workers will be more motivated to focus on those tasks.
- Scheduling Unproductive Meetings
Unnecessary meetings can reduce productivity because they prevent workers from completing more important work. So, ensure you only invite the right stakeholders to a meeting and avoid organizing meetings with unproductive agendas.
Overworking remote employees by assigning too many tasks, making them log extra hours, and setting unrealistic deadlines can affect their health and productivity. It also means your organization will have to deal with decreased output and potential turnover costs.
So, use your time tracking and project management solutions to find out when a remote employee has too much on their plate and is working unfavorable hours.
Micromanagement hurts your workers and organization in many ways.
Trying to control everything about an employee’s work will make them uncomfortable, reduce their morale, and increase their desire to leave. These issues create a toxic workplace and end up reducing productivity.
As it turns out, managers are more likely to micromanage remote employees. That’s because the lack of physical supervision triggers the need to always confirm that workers are on the job and doing things right.
When your turnover rate increases, your company bleeds money because you’ll have to cover the cost of hiring a new worker to replace every vacancy you suffer due to micromanagement. You’ll also lose revenue and profit when your workers’ productivity and creativity reduce.
So, you must take action to trust your workers more to spare your organization the ugly consequences of micromanagement. How do you do that?
Clearly Define Expected Outcomes
Again, your role as a manager is more about optimizing the team’s operations and performance than controlling how they work. This duty starts with clearly outlining and explaining what you expect for each job. Articulating these expectations instills a sense of responsibility and allows workers to know exactly what to do.
You should also leave the lines of communication open and allow them to ask questions so that everyone can be on the same page.
Focus on Results
The thing about micromanagers is that they believe their process is the only way because it’s been tested. You can avoid this style of thinking and trust your workers to use a process that best suits them.
You should focus more on the results, as employees are often creative enough to work out their own style and even boost efficiency in the process.
Assign Tasks to the Right People
Delegation is one of the most valuable management skills. Finding the ideal person for each task means the task can be completed efficiently and on time. It also means you won’t be too worried about the job’s progress and its outcome.
So, always make sure you identify the right person for any job before assigning it. You can use productivity and time trackers to determine which worker’s skills are best suited to which task.
- Sticking to the Old Ways
Because you suffered some stifling strict rules under your old manager doesn’t mean you have to carry on the work tradition. You can make things better for those that you manage so that the company can move forward and grow.
If you grew through the ranks of a company to your management position, collate those management practices that caused issues and get rid of them. You should also continue collaborating with workers to optimize your current policies.
- Collect Feedback
Collecting feedback involves getting to know what your employees think about your management practices. Ask them how they prefer to be managed and how the current practice affects their work.
You can use anonymous surveys to make sure they’re free to express themselves.
The tips in this article should serve as a guide on what to do and avoid when managing a remote team. These practices should be reviewed and optimized regularly and tailored to your team. That said, make sure you remember to:
- Keep communication lines open
- Use the right tools
- Set clear and reasonable expectations
- Eliminate time wasters
- Avoid micromanagement
- Discourage multitasking