Managing remote employees effectively

When managing remote employees, you need to strike a balance between your need for oversight and employees’ desire for freedom and flexibility.

December 23, 2020

The rise of a remote workforce might already be playing out in your company, including both full-time remote employees and those who work from home at least some of the time. You’re in good company, as more U.S. workers are joining the ranks of telecommuters.

According to research by Global Workplace Analytics, “50% of the U.S. workforce holds a job that is compatible with at least partial telework and approximately 20-25% of the workforce teleworks at some frequency.”

Factor in that 80% to 90% of all employees express the desire to telecommute at least part of the time, and you’ve got a mobile, distributed workforce that poses advantages and unique challenges in managing remote employees.

Are remote workers right for your company?

You might already be having discussions about implementing a work from home policy. Or perhaps you’re considering expanding your current policy. You might be trying to figure out if a remote workforce is a good fit for your organization.

This requires you to think about the culture and work environment that currently exists within your organization. What is the nature of your work? How do remote employees fit into your current structure? Are there are any prohibitory factors to implementing or expanding your work from home policy guidelines?

On one hand, you might find that shifting your policies to offer flexible work arrangements helps attract and retain top talent.

After all, the combination of a highly connected business world and a tech-savvy workforce often means that the physical office presence of some employees isn’t always needed. Plus, it can cost your business almost nothing unless you need to provide or maintain additional technology employees need to work from home.

On the other hand, it requires certain skills, mindsets, habits, and personality traits to successfully work at home that, frankly, doesn’t come naturally to everyone.

The great work ethic some employees had in the office might disappear once they’re working at home without physical oversight from a supervisor. Or they might lack the motivation or self-discipline needed to move forward on a project without the in-person collaboration with (and gentle nudge from) their colleagues.

Challenges of remote workers

The pitfalls of including remote workers on your team can make you think twice about offering a flexible workplace. If not done properly, managing remote teams can be challenging. You need to find new ways to build trust with a distributed workforce, as the face-to-face interactions either no longer exist or are few and far between.

Some employees might abuse the freedom of working from home without the in-office accountability. Plus, you must communicate effectively when managing remote workers, ensuring they’re in the loop every step of the way.

Motivating remote workers and encouraging collaboration between dispersed teams can also prove challenging. And the kicker? Through it all, you must ensure productivity doesn’t suffer.

Benefits of remote employees

Without the wasted time and frustrations of commuting to work, virtual employees can dive right into work.

That might mean they start earlier and work later than they normally would if they worked in the office. And tapping into technology enables your remote workforce to easily collaborate and effectively communicate, allowing projects to stay on track.

The same can be said for boosting the efficiency of meetings and even reducing the need for them. This often translates to increased productivity and financial savings for the company, such as no longer needing to supply office space and furniture for remote workers.

In fact, one study found that “in comparison with the employees who came into the office, the at-home workers were not only happier and less likely to quit but also more productive.”

10 ways to improve managing remote teams

When managing remote employees, you can boost your chance for success by having a solid plan in place to address the unique challenges mentioned above. You need to strike a balance between your need for oversight and employees’ desire for freedom and flexibility.

If you’re wondering how to effectively manage remote employees, consider following these best practices for a telecommuting workforce.


1. Communication

At the heart of managing remote teams lies a solid communication plan. Just like in-office employees, remote workers need to know what’s going on with the company, their department or division, and any tasks or projects they’re involved in.

You should be engaging with them every day in some form to keep them in the loop. And don’t rely on just one channel, such as email. Call them on the phone, use video chats, conduct small group videoconferences, and take advantage of collaborative project management tools to stay in touch.

On the flip side, don’t get so caught up in connecting via technology that you fail to plan for regular face-to-face meetings. These can occur weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually, depending on the needs of both your business and your remote employees.

These in-person interactions can take the form of one-on-one discussions, training workshops, coaching programs, small group meetings, and skills development sessions.

Communication in the workplace is already complex and challenging, and poor communication issues are magnified for remote employees.

2. Set clear expectations

Since you don’t have direct oversight and see people face-to-face, you need to know specifically what the expectations are and how to succeed.

Issues related specifically to working from home, for example, include the need to know when these remote employees are available, how quickly you expect them to respond to emails or calls, and how you plan to track and report their progress on tasks and projects.

Plus, you will need to clearly set specific expectations on the assignments, goals, and performance of your remote workers. Just like workplace communication issues, problems setting expectations are magnified when you don’t see your employees every day. Having a good work from home policy in place helps mitigate these problems.

3. Transparency and trust

Managing remote employees requires building trust and transparency, and this goes both ways. Managers need to have transparency into the work that remote employees are producing and trust that these workers are meeting the expectations.

Remember, just being in the office doesn’t guarantee that employees are engaged and productive. As long as the work is getting done – even if it’s not during the typical 9-to-5 schedule – that’s all that matters. (It might be worth it to invest in project management tools to monitor and track remote employees’ work.)

At the same time, remote employees also need to have transparency into what is happening in the office and trust that their work is helping meet larger goals and objectives.

4. Utilize collaborative tools

It’s no accident that the rise of remote workers and the rise of collaborative tools such as cloud-based file sharing, online document management systems, and project management software, have gone hand-in-hand.

The technology makes it possible to work faster, more efficiently, and from anywhere. So, you do need to use these systems with remote workers.

However, you can’t simply turn on the technology and expect everything to run smoothly. When you physically work in the same location, you can stop by someone’s desk to clarify a comment or pass them in the hallway to ask a question.

But when someone works remotely, you lose this check-in opportunity. Therefore, you need to make sure you are leveraging the technology in a way that overcomes the distance. In other words, use the tools, but use them differently than you would if you sat in the same office.

A policy management solution like PowerDMS can be a critical part of the technology web that holds your remote teams together. For example, our policy management software allows you to create, edit, disseminate, and publish critical content your entire team needs to do their jobs, accessible from wherever they work.

5. Ensure meetings are inclusive

Sometimes it can be difficult during meetings to include people who aren’t physically in the room.

But consider this – if someone should be in a meeting and they worked in your office, would you go get them to join the meeting? The same consideration should be given to remote employees. If their participation in a meeting is important, include them. It’s as simple as that.

Also, it’s vital that everyone on the team adjusts to someone on videoconference or calling in remotely. If you want remote employees to be fully contributing to the team, they need to be included in the right meetings and engaged with meeting participants.

6. Bring them in for face time

As mentioned in the communication section above, you need to have regular face-to-face meetings as part of effectively managing remote workers. This circles back to the question of whether or not workplace flexibility is right for your company.

You need to have a budget to fly in remote workers so they can get face time with the team and their manager. Moreover, the manager should proactively seek out these in-person opportunities.

Many companies opt to do this around holiday parties or other corporate-wide events to ensure they include remote employees. In doing so, the team can schedule meetings in the days before and after the event, making it a double win.

7. Provide extra feedback

Don’t keep remote employees guessing if they’re hitting the mark. They need regular feedback on both their work performance and, in general, how they are meeting expectations.

With remote employees, it’s more difficult for managers to give bits of feedback along the way as they might with in-office employees. Therefore, managers shouldn’t wait for formal performance reviews or completion of big projects to give their input on remote workers’ performance. Sure, you can fire off a quick “good job” email, but it doesn’t have the same impact as hearing praise in person and seeing the nonverbal communication from the manager.

While you can insert a smiley enjoy, you just can’t replicate a pat on the back or a look of gratitude and pride.

The bottom line? When it comes to remote workers best practices, you need to be vigilantly intentional about not just the amount of feedback you provide but also the way you deliver it.

When you use technology as a way to give feedback, for instance, opt for one-on-one video calls, which allow you to convey more context and emotion.

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8. Make them a part of the team

No one wants to feel like an outsider in the workplace. This is especially true for mixed teams where some work together and others remotely. It can be too easy for someone to be relegated to out-of-sight, out-of-mind stature.

While this can be difficult to do, the manager needs to look for ways to make sure remote workers aren’t excluded from the group. For example, plan virtual meetings, schedule video chats, and pair up in-office and remote workers for mini-partnerships.

9. Don’t forget about training and career development

One of the challenges of managing a remote workforce is that working from home can be viewed as a perk above-and-beyond what “regular” employees might get.

If that’s the mentality, then some managers might shy away from giving additional rewards on top of the work-from-home perk. But that’s short-sighted. Instead, managers should think of (and treat) remote employees just like they do all other employees.

Managers need to not only understand their remote workers’ need to grow their careers and increase their skill levels but provide opportunities to do so.

10. Have a plan for conflict resolution

Conflict is going to happen, plain and simple. But when you can’t just sit down with someone and talk it out, that has the potential to cause frustration and discord.

The solution? Go into it with a plan in place to handle conflict, both between the manager and employee and between employees themselves. Remember, not everyone is suited for remote work, and some team members may be less receptive to working with someone virtually.

Be aware of this pitfall and deal with it quickly so it doesn’t grow into a deeper problem.

While managing remote employees has its pros and cons, it’s a growing trend that your business might be ready to embrace. By following best practices for managing remote teams, including developing a clear work-from-home policy, you can cultivate a cohesive, responsive, productive workforce no matter where employees get the job done.

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