Best Practices for Managing Virtual and Remote Employees
The current climate has encouraged companies to embrace employees working from home. This can be a daunting decision without polices and processes to support and manage employees from a distance. Check out our Organizational Strategies for Virtual and Remote Employees or continue reading for ways to help lead and manage virtual or remote employees.
If your company has employees working from home, here are some best practices to promote an environment of virtual engagement and to manage a culture of high performance.
Facts (Purse, N. Engaging the Virtual Team. Training Journal, 2017)
- In a sample of 1000 virtual employees, 85% felt a reduction in stress working from home.
- Home-working life can lead to feelings of monotony and being easily distracted. Specifically, 50% of the sampled 1000 virtual employees said they would work more efficiently and productively in a regular workplace.
- Overall, employees working from home report higher levels of feeling isolation, boredom and lack of motivation.
- Outline Expectations for Working Remotely
Clear expectations are the foundation to successful execution. Words like “timely” or “productive” have different meanings for different people. Give specific information to quantify expectations, such as “our work hours are 9am-5pm” or “all teammates need to participate in virtual check-ins at 8:30am CST”. Sometimes, remote employees presume they are autonomous. While it is true a supervisor is not present, leaders and managers should clearly and specifically outline an employee’s responsibilities and performance expectations to support self-accountability.
- Explore New Systems for Remote Work
When a team works from multiple locations, something must bridge their collective work to ensure clear and distinct responsibilities, alignment of tasks to person, project deadlines and sequential milestones. A cloud-based project management solution such as Trello, Asana, and Clickup, can be helpful in keeping everyone on the same page. Most businesses use Office 365 or Google G-Suite and may not be aware of their collaboration tools, communication tools, and cloud-based file storage options. Policies to ensure clear processes and expectations must then be aligned with these systems and tools.
- Establish a Problem-Solving Process for Technology
Current technology allows employees to work remotely and still be connected to both people and processes. However, a hiccup in technology can lead to communication issues, virtual meeting tardiness or absences, delays in work, or incomplete projects. Make sure your company has an IT department capable of efficiently supporting remote employees or explore third-party vendors to act as your Chief Information Officer. Lastly, outline a quick way for employees to get immediate support to prevent downtime due to tech problems.
For more detailed information on exploring new systems for remote work, including security measures, contact Ascend Technology.
- Use Different Tools for Different Managing Scenarios
Correctly diagnosing challenges related to acclimation to remote work from traditional work environments, versus true performance-related issues is important. Acclimation issues can be easily coached with the help of clarified expectations, work/home life boundaries, time parameters, technology support, more practice with new strategies and self-care measures. Performance issues such as repeated tardiness and absences, lack of communication, and poor calendar habits, can be handled in ways similar to traditional work environments using scheduled calls, documented conversations, write-ups, and performance plans.
- Create a Communication Strategy
Managing a virtual team begins with a foundation of communication. Develop a communication cadence strategy that includes an appropriate number of “report-in” calls/virtual meetings. Be specific when these “report-ins” take place and the average time length, such as 5-10 minutes. Also, start each week with an emailed report identifying urgent issues, new information and/or shout-outs. Lastly, identify when to use different communication strategies. For example, use work-related instant messaging (IM) and chat spaces, such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, for less formal conversations and quick questions to prevent inefficient back and forth email chains. Also, establish communication rules surrounding when to use “reply all” versus “reply only” email strategies. Above all, foster open communication and be prepared to hold certain times for conversations per an employee’s request or an opportunity to check-in.
- Engage with Employees Daily
Research shows remote employees may experience feelings of being isolated, bored and unmotivated; therefore, engage the team on a daily basis by using multiple channels to create opportunities for engagement. Use different techniques to promote a culture of feeling connected, such as trivia, fun games, unique facts, etc. Identify silly days where people wear funny socks and send a picture to the team or promote bad hair days with employee who are not client facing. Continuous engagement connects employees to the organization and promotes a caring culture.
- Focus on Goals, Not Just Activity
Remote work creates more flexibility, and at times challenges between a work/life balance. To avoid getting caught in the minutia and creating projecting mistrust issues, stay focused on an employee’s goals. Establish clear milestones that outline both short and long-term goal strategies. Concentrate on accomplishments and celebrate the successes. If employees are struggling to meet their goals, increase communication, explore their work environment and technology systems, and outline steps to help them get back on track.
- Maintain Professional Development Opportunities
Managing remote employees is no different from traditional employees regarding professional development. Create a development plan for each employee and refer to it during scheduled one-on-one calls or virtual meetings. This helps remote employees stay connected to their goals and explore opportunities to strengthen their skills, increase confidence, and promote leadership development.
- Make it Personal
Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other important events among employees. Set calendar reminders for these events and be consistent across the team. Also, find other ways to invest in employee relationships and celebrate successes from a distance.
For more support on managing remote employees, contact SOLVE or call 402-934-0085.
Purse, N. Engaging the Virtual Team. Training Journal, 2017.
Stoker, J.R. (2019). Successfully Managing Remote Employees, Leadership Excellence, 36(7).