Ninety-two million workers across various industries can work from home for all or part of the week. For some leaders, managing a remote or hybrid workforce is a new challenge.
Some have adapted to the remote environment, while others struggle to make remote work… work.
If you’re in this boat, it’s time to learn best practices for managing remote employees effectively.
What Are Remote Employees?
Remote employees are workers who work off-site, either part time or full time. Some opt to work from home, while others complete their tasks in coffee shops or shared coworking spaces with other remote workers.
Still, their employer must offer them a productive work environment regardless of location. That’s where many fall short and end up with increased burnout and turnover rates.
Managing remote employees
Managing remote employees is becoming commonplace at companies around the world. The pandemic forced many to adapt to remote-work life. For many workers, it wasn't a fad but a new standard.
Today, employees demand flexible work schedules, including working from home some or all of the time. A McKinsey report found 87% of people opt for flexibility in their work schedules when given the option. Roughly 23% already work from home between one and four days weekly.
Based on the trajectory and sentiment toward working remotely, managers must learn how to lead workers, remote or otherwise.
Challenges of Remote Work
Many employees vie for remote work — but to many leaders, remote work is a hindrance to innovation in the workplace. According to Gartner, 41% of HR leaders feel this way.
Some employees also admit that remote work isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. According to McKinsey, 55% of employees 18-34 years old say working remotely full time led to mental health issues that negatively impacted their work performance.
It’s also more common for remote employees with children to report issues with physical health or hostile work environments that moderately or majorly impact their job, compared to workers without children.
Yet, McKinsey’s report shows 80m people still participate in flexible work schedules, and many state that flexible schedules are a significant motivator when looking for employment.
Looking away from remote work isn't an option for employers — especially if they want to attract the best talent.
Common Roadblocks With Remote Work
The key to overcoming remote work obstacles is understanding why they exist. Here are some of the reasons:
- Lack of communication: Remote workers and leaders may struggle with effective communication due to the absence of face-to-face interactions, which can lead to misunderstandings and missed information.
- Time-management issues: Remote employees may have difficulty managing their time, especially when working across different time zones or without clearly defined work hours, leading to decreased productivity and missed deadlines.
- Unstructured work processes: Organizations with poorly documented work processes or lacking defined structures struggle with remote work, making it difficult for employees to collaborate effectively.
- Burnout: Remote workers may be less likely to take breaks and not get enough rest, which can lead some to becoming overworked — and it doesn’t help if managers send emails, texts, and DMs at all hours of the day.
- Home distractions: Unstructured work environments (i.e., not having a quiet, private workspace) can lead to distractions (e.g., household chores and family members), which can slow down work and affect productivity.
- Time zone barriers: Challenges in coordinating work schedules across multiple time zones can lead to difficulties in communicating and collaborating effectively.
- Social isolation: Remote work can become lonely for some, especially those used to working in an office environment. This may lead to stress and depression.
- Missed growth opportunities: Remote work can limit growth opportunities when workers can’t access the same training and networking opportunities as they would in an office environment.
- Lack of promotion opportunities: It’s easier to overlook remote workers for advancement opportunities since they’re less visible and less likely to build relationships with co-workers outside of their team.
Tips for Managing Remote Employees
Creating a strategy for implementing remote work policies requires collaboration between leaders and teams. This is the best way to ensure everyone’s needs are understood and met.
Meanwhile, here are strategies to make managing remote employees more effective.
1. Learn what your employees value
Every employee has unique needs, especially when they take their work home. Find out what your workers need to be successful and engaged with remote work.
This way, you can avoid creating policies that unintentionally hurt your employees. For example, if a remote worker has children at home, requiring meetings after school hours may not work for them. Meanwhile, others may value autonomy to work independently and make decisions for themselves.
2. Be truly flexible
Some employers allow employees to work from home, but treat them like they’re still in the office. The desire for remote work isn’t just about working away from the office, but having more flexibility in when and how they work.
So avoid creating rigid schedules that require employees to be “logged in” at specific times each day. One option is to assign tasks with deadlines — as long as projects are completed on time, remote work is working.
3. Nurture connections
Remote workers don’t get to chat and eat lunch with co-workers from various departments and levels of the company, decreasing their ability to build meaningful relationships that allow networking.
It also makes adopting the company’s culture a challenge. Avoid this by having regular in-person meetings and on-site work with leaders so that they can connect.
4. Trust your workers
Micromanaging benefits no one. Not only does it annoy and burden workers, it also drains energy from management. Trust your team and allow them to work without excessive supervision; expect mistakes and help your workers learn and grow.
Set your workers up for success by providing the information and resources they need to complete their goals.
5. Have an “open door” policy
Make it easy for your team to reach out to you by creating a venue where they can connect. For example, you can create a Slack channel where workers can send a public or private message whenever they need to without disrupting your workflow or home life.
When establishing your open-door policy, set boundaries so that everyone knows when you’re available and when to expect replies.
6. Assign accountability partners to teammates
Thanks to chores, children, and other household responsibilities, it’s easy to get carried away with home life. Your teams must keep their eyes on the prize to ensure they reach goals and complete projects on time.
By assigning an accountability partner, remote employees will have someone there to keep them focused, cheer them on when things go well, and motivate them when they’re in a slump.
7. Use synchronous and asynchronous models
Some companies have a 100% asynchronous collaboration model, which means they only communicate using channels that don’t require an immediate response (e.g., an email, text message, or DM on Slack).
This works well for remote teams that live worldwide and are rarely online simultaneously.
However, it’s also worth considering synchronous models for those that thrive on face time. In this scenario, you can hold virtual meetings and one-on-ones via Zoom, or weekly group chats on Google Meet.
8. Equip your teams with the best technologies
Remote work requires using the right technologies and tools to enable everyone to collaborate, communicate, and stay productive. Start by assessing the tools you already have to see what worksy or needs upgrading.
Then, do a gap analysis to see what technologies are missing that could make remote collaboration easier.
For instance, if you have endless email threads between several team members, it’s time to upgrade to a communication platform where everyone can converse more visibly. This will ensure that no one misses a message.
9. Check in with employees using surveys
There’s a lot you can learn from your teams if you ask them. Conduct regular feedback surveys to understand how your team feels about remote work and what can be improved.
Using qualitative and quantitative data is necessary to get a full picture. For instance, you can capture information using questions with scored answers; then, based on the score, determine how well workers and leaders are doing with remote-work life.
Ask open-ended questions for deeper insights on unique challenges, perspectives, and desires that might otherwise be overlooked or missed.
Use this data to improve your leadership and remote-work policies.
10. Onboard remote employees adequately
The onboarding process for remote workers is critical, whether for a new hire or an existing employee transitioning to working from home. Make sure they understand their roles and responsibilities, and train them on company collaboration and communication tools.
11. Create a work-life balance
Leaders should strive to balance teams’ work and home life; this means not overloading employees with work. Be realistic about what can be done within a specific time frame, and communicate with teams to ensure they feel their workload is reasonable.
Help employees set boundaries by allowing them to schedule availability based on personal and family commitments. For example, some may not be available on Fridays because of religious observances.
Building a remote workforce requires leaders and employees to be on board with how everything is running. Be transparent about new policies and get ongoing feedback to ensure everyone is satisfied.