With the cost of office space on the rise, working remotely is shifting from the exception to the norm. And, it's no longer limited to freelancers as employers are beginning to recognize the benefits of hiring a remote workforce.
For starters, you have a larger pool to draw from, and you don't have to pay rent for office space. Your employees are more productive and for longer periods of time. In fact, one study found that work-at-home employees can focus more than employees in an office. And, a better work-life balance leads to higher employee retention.
With all of these benefits, it's no wonder why more businesses are going remote. However, managing a remote support staff is a different challenge altogether.
Remote support staff needs to communicate clearly and efficiently with each other and with management. This challenge is amplified since reps are living in different time zones with varying work schedules. They also need to feel unified as a team, even without face-to-face communication. This means your remote support staff must include independent self-starters who take ownership of their work without micro-management.
In this post, let's review some tips for managing a remote support staff. This includes creating a system and culture that helps your agents communicate effectively, respond to support requests, and build a strong, customer-forward business.
How to Manage a Remote Support Team
1. Use a messaging platform to communicate internally.
More than likely, your employees might be overwhelmed by the prospect of receiving additional emails on top of support requests. When a quick note or question needs to be asked, a text message may be sufficient to communicate efficiently.
Still, conventional texting creates its own set of problems. Text communication is difficult to track, and can't be viewed by a manager. Additionally, depending on how you text, texting is reliant on a strong network connection. Finally, text messages may get mixed in with your staff members' personal messages and get lost or forgotten.
A much better solution is to use an instant messaging platform like Slack. Your support agents can communicate instantly across channels that are carefully categorized by topic -- such as "General Support," "Tech Support," "Shipping," or "Payment."
Most importantly, all messaging communication can be instantly viewed by support staff and managers, offering key visibility and accountability into how and when issues are being resolved.
2. Adopt help desk software.
To stay self-sufficient and independent, your remote agents need tools to help them stay organized and efficient despite "email overwhelm." They need strategies that help them address support requests and communicate clearly. Ultimately, your support staff needs to be heavily supported, too.
A help desk can help support your remote agents in a few ways.
Manage email overload.
Sorting through a messy inbox that's receiving a continual influx of emails can be overwhelming and disorienting for agents. An effective help desk software provides multiple inboxes, keeping communication streamlined and organized. It can also turn email exchanges into trackable conversations that make it easy to communicate with customers that require ongoing support.
Filter and tag requests.
Depending on the product or service you provide, your support requests may fall under several different categories, or be generated from different subsets of customers. Being able to filter and tag requests makes it easy to view tickets by category, customer, date range, support agent, and more.
Report on trends and data.
Good help desk software provides reporting on support request trends, making it easy for agents to give managers high-level insight. And, this data can be passed along to marketing and product development teams to create a better long-term experience for your customers.
3. Document all processes and protocols.
One of the challenges of successfully onboarding remote support agents is the lack of onsite training. Without in-person training – which gives the opportunity to immediately ask questions – remote staff may feel unequipped to succeed in new positions.
By carefully documenting all processes and protocol, you'll give your support staff valuable reference material. This documentation can address different types of support requests, payment and vacation, expectations for communication, and more.
Providing this information in an organized, easy-to-access cloud drive helps remote support staff troubleshoot issues independently, answer their own questions, and "self-train." Plus, documentation provides an ongoing reference point for all staff members and management, reducing the risk of miscommunication.
4. Develop a strong company culture.
One of the most significant challenges faced by remote business owners is creating a strong company culture. Without in-person meetings, spontaneous conversations, and after-work hangouts, your remote support staff may find it difficult to a) identify the core values of your company, and b) feel as if they are part of a team.
While there's nothing that can quite replace the camaraderie of developing in-person relationships, you can create a strong company culture even with a remote team.
Below are a few ideas for how you can build team rapport.
Share personal news and information.
Your messaging system can include a channel for fun updates and spontaneous chats. Communicating about non-work-related news certainly takes intentionality–especially with people you've never met.
But, at the end of the day, doing so communicates a core value of your company: you care about your employees as people, not just workers. That's one reason you offer the opportunity to work remotely.
Draw up a statement of values.
A statement of your values, or mission statement, doesn't have to be long and complex. In fact, it shouldn't be. But, clearly communicating your values can help support staff identify more strongly with your company.
Offer benefits and perks.
Think about ways you can offer remote support staff benefits and perks. Perhaps it's a free online subscription to a tool or content platform. Or, maybe it's a bonus for the staff member who has helped the most customers. This can be a great way to keep remote employees happy and motivated over time.
Host an annual meet-up.
You might consider hosting an annual meet-up or even group trip for your remote workers to get to know each other, and feel supported. Even if they're meeting online, host remote-centric events where employees chat in via video. For example, try hosting an online party and show employees in your office what it's like to communicate remotely.
5. Host regular 1-on-1 meetings.
While many people find that working remotely helps boost their productivity and focus, many remote workers also find that their jobs can feel isolating.
Having regular 1-on-1 meetings with employees can significantly alleviate any feelings of isolation while offering you the opportunity to monitor and review your staff's performance, level of work satisfaction, and underlying concerns. A personal meeting offers a chance to connect, which is important for both relational purposes and maximum efficiency.
Using a video chat platform, you can plan a 15-minute call with each support staff member regularly. Depending on the culture and capacity of your company, you can hold these meetings on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.
Is going remote worth the effort of installing systems, tools, and strategies to make it work?
Our answer: Yes.
Managing a remote support staff not only offers your agents a better work-life balance and potential for productivity, but going remote can increase the overall efficiency of your company. Relying on tools such as a messaging system and help desk software can ultimately help you provide better, more efficient support for your customer base, producing loyal customers and happy, organized support staff.