For some leaders, managing remote staff can be tricky. It can be hard to build a positive manager-employee relationship when seeing them isn’t an option. Additionally, keeping in contact and communicating in the best way can be a challenge when you can’t walk by their desk and hold a discussion. As a general rule of thumb, you should mirror the same management practices that you have for your in-office staff for your remote staff whenever possible and be sure to avoid the ‘don’ts’ laid out below.
Don’t add more meetings to their calendar just to “check in” multiple times a week. When working remotely, especially when it is sudden and unexpected, remote employees often see a larger uptick in their meeting invites because of the inability to meander to a colleague’s desk to ask questions and collaborate. In general, unless you have information that use shared immediately, adding team check-ins multiple times a week isn’t needed, and can instead be a hinderance to productivity to your team. Using existing meetings, such as a weekly team training or status meeting, for check ins ensures that you’re able to check in with your staff without being another Zoom call that they have to make room for in their already busy day.
Do be sure to check in with your team if you notice a shift in their wellness, attitude, or productivity. Remote working isn’t for everyone, and even for those who enjoy the solace of a home office, it is hard to know when they are needing a check in since you can’t see them face to face. If you notice a drop in productivity, a change in their attitude or presentation, check in with them and ensure they know you’re there to support them in any way.
Don’t make them do anything extra you wouldn’t make them do while in the office (unless absolutely necessary). As much as possible, avoid adding any additional tasks or burdens to your remote staff. When you’re unable to pop by your staff members desks, it can be easy to add additional tasks to their plate to ensure that you know they’re still working and productive. Tasks such as daily check in emails, status updates, or tracking their time in a new way may not seem like a big deal to ask of them, but for team members working remotely it may feel as if you don’t trust them to continue their work outside of the office and can cause additional stress for those adjusting to the new environment and new expectations.
Do ask for updates as you normally would if they were in the office. If weekly emailed status updates are the norm, continue asking for them so that you can stay informed of their progress. If staff meetings are where you get your status updates, then continue on in that format if possible. Creating a sense of normalcy, especially in the small things, helps remote staff feel as if they are still a part of the team and helps them keep a consistent routine alongside others.
Don’t assume that they can work extra hours or take on more work because their computer is now 6 feet from their couch. While the travel time from home to the office no longer exists, and grabbing lunch may take less time than usual, remote workers shouldn’t have to work more hours than their in-office counterparts simply because their computer is nearby. While in emergency situations, such as when last minute projects must occur or deadlines are fast approaching, employees know that they may need to burn the midnight oil for a short time, that should not be the expectation based upon where their desk is located.
Do ask them if their workload capacity has changed because of their new remote work situation, and, as much as possible, adjust accordingly. For some, working from home can be harder than working in the office. When pandemics occur, offices get temporarily shut down, or physical needs require staff to stay at home, adjustment periods should be expected in addition to adjusted workloads for those who now may have to take care of children or other family members while they also are staying home. Check in with your staff, and do what you can to help them adjust their workload to a manageable level without placing a burden on others in similar situations.
Don’t hound staff with constant strings of emails to keep them informed. Remote employees are constantly battling to get a cleared inbox, so be sure to avoid sending a ton of emails a day or week when you need to communicate with them. While, yes, remote staff do need to be informed, they don’t need to be bombarded every day by you.
Do keep employees up to date in a quick and efficient manner. Just because they aren’t in a cubicle in the office doesn’t mean your remote staff doesn’t need to know about what is happening with the company or the office. As you hear news or important updates, send them out to staff in an effective manner by consolidating multiple important points into a short newsletter-style email whenever possible. Of course, sometimes updates of high importance occur and need to be communicated ASAP, but not every update requires a separate email, or a three-paragraph novel detailing out what to expect. Keep information short and sweet, and keep your inbox and virtual door open for any questions they may have.
As with every employee, it’s imperative to their, and your, success to manage them in the way that works the best for them. The tips outlined in this article work well for all personality types, but the best way to know how to manage your remote staff is to sit down (virtually) with them and ask.