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9 tips for managing remote employees

In: How To

Lead your new remote team like a pro

Have you been ready for a new reality of work as dictated by coronavirus pandemic? Both new and experienced managers have suddenly found themselves adapting to managing their teams remotely. And, if you’ve never supervised remote employees or freelancers before, this can feel overwhelming. You may feel completely out of control over what your employees do and puzzled over making the processes run smoothly.

Leading a remote team may feel unusual and scary. Still, it’s possible to keep your subordinates productive and engaged – even if you didn’t have much time to prepare for a new capacity. Today, our career experts will share practical tips on the most challenging aspects of remote leadership, including:

• What is so challenging about remote work,

• How to set your mind to the new working conditions, and

• How to manage your team and keep them effective.

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What makes remote leadership so challenging?

Remote work isn’t better or worse than onsite one, it simply has its specifics that you should consider. Among the factors that disorganize both managers and their employees, the most common are as follows:

Social isolation. Working from home goes hand in hand with weakened social interactions, feeling of isolation and loneliness. People may feel less belonging to the company, which inevitably affects their productivity.

Lack of remote work policies. Successful remote work requires a set of rules covering working hours and schedules, software and tools people should use, frequency of meetings, etc. Without clear companywide directions, putting the entire team together becomes a real struggle.

Stress caused by uncertainty. A coronavirus-specific feature, this stress is caused by news, total lockdown and other similar events. Employees feel frustrated because of the events or uneasy about the future of their job, and thus less focused on working tasks.

Interruptions and distractions. Employees who start working from home for the first time often feel powerless in the face of constant home distractions – family members, pets, domestic tasks, social media, etc.

Interpersonal issues. Turns out, one cannot drop by a colleague’s cubicle to grab the needed document or discuss the client’s suggestions. Obtaining information, scheduling a call or waiting for a file with correction can take unexpectedly long, slowing down the other processes.

How to manage your remote team and stay in control?

Unexpected transition to remote leadership abounds in challenges and uncertainties. To stay on top of everything, grab these practical tips you can implement right now:

1. Schedule daily check-ins

Ideally, these check-ins should be in place first thing in the morning to set up an agenda for the day and in the evening to check the process. But one call per day will work as well. Depending on the scope of the responsibilities of your directs, you might want to opt for a one-on-one call or a group call. This online meeting is meant to set goals and tasks, provide your team with information and resources, and handle any setbacks. With these check-ins you’ll also know that everyone is busy and feel more in control of the processes. Moreover, people will feel more present and not left to their own devices.

2. Set expectations as clearly as possible

Remember that you don’t have an opportunity to step by your employee’s cubicle to discuss their work briefly and set the right direction. The only way to get deliverables you expect is to set very, very detailed expectations. Set specific tasks, explain the reason behind them, outline the scope of work and deadline. For example, instead of telling your remote copywriter to “write a longread on benefits of exercising”, say that you expect “2,000+ words that list 10 benefits of aerobic exercises with videos and examples”, and other details you deem sufficient. By giving detailed instructions, you’ll get better outcomes from your newly remote team.

3. Watch out for signs of stress and burnout in your employees

The rapidly changing working conditions, as well as the style of life in general, cannot help but affect the mental state of your subordinates. People may experience interpersonal issues, isolation, stress and anxiety. So, when doing a daily check-ins or discussing working matters, be sure to ask about and listen to their concerns. Effective management is not only about setting goals and controlling, but also about showing empathy and interest. Understanding what the person is facing will help you find a solution collaboratively, for instance, introducing a change in the schedule for coping with job stress or providing emotional support. Thus, you’ll help the person to prevent burnout and increase their loyalty.

4. Check that everyone has the needed equipment and software

If your subordinates haven’t worked from home before, chances are that they don’t own a computer that can be used for work such as work-related software or mobile devices. As a manager, you need to solve this issue on a company level. Once everyone is equipped with the needed hardware, make sure everyone has installed and can use the software for remote work, such as Slack, Trello, or other programs that your organization uses. If you resolve these issues early on, you’ll avoid setbacks because someone hasn’t got the needed software or struggles finding the needed function.

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5. Set up the new rules and means of communication

In the office, when you can meet everyone in person, means of communication aren’t nearly as important as with a remote team. If you don’t establish the rules, people will get in touch chaotically and use different mediums, which can confuse the entire working process. If your company doesn’t have guidelines for remote employees, you’ll have to set them up as a manager. For example, you might encourage the subordinates to use Zoom for group meetings, use Google Hangouts to discuss regular matters and call if something is urgent. And, although it’s impossible to read nonverbal cues during online communication, insist that people overcommunicate everything. Being very detailed about tasks, projects and plans will help avoid miscommunication.

6. Explain when and how you can be reached

Don’t let your being remote turn into being out of reach. Your subordinates should know that you’re assessable and are willing to assist with a challenging task or handling a conflict situation. Offer mental support and guidance as well. If you promote dialogue and are open to what your team members have to say, this will have a definitely positive impact on the quality of communication and work outcomes as follows.

At the same time, set boundaries. Clarify how often you expect the reports and through which platforms. Tell at what hours and in what messengers you prefer to be contacted. Thus, you’ll be available for urgent issues and maintain the balance at the same time.

7. Create opportunities for informal social interactions

In case when most of your employees are stuck at home, it’s twice as important to encourage interactions that have nothing to do with work. When left without the usual office chitchat, your employees may feel isolated, and thus detached from the company goals. It’s important that you as a manager curate the process of informal communication and make it a new norm. How this can look like? For example, you can finish work one hour earlier on Fridays and spend this hour discussing how everyone’s week went and how people manage their new teleworking experience. Some companies even organize virtual parties, with pizza or sushi delivery and fun outfits. The main goal is to let people stay connected and enjoy themselves, and the options are limitless.

8. Focus on results of work, not the number of hours people put in

When stuck at home, people will undoubtedly juggle work with various home activities, from doing the laundry to talking to family members or playing with a pet. As a manager, you need to get comfortable with the fact that people work from home at their own pace. And, as long as they stay in touch with other team members and deliver the expected results, this is normal. So, focus on communicating expectations and evaluating the work outcome. It will relieve you from unnecessary stress, and the employees will be free from mental pressure from your side, which will positively impact their mood. This rule is one of the most important of office etiquette list of remote work.

9. Allow for flexibility in terms of tasks and schedule

Many people have challenging times during the pandemic. And it’s important that as a manager you use individual approach to each employee. As we’ve noted above, you should focus on tracking the outcomes of work and evaluating the results, not the number of hours the person has put in to accomplish this. Similarly, if you see that one of your employees is overwhelmed and anxious, it makes sense to relieve them from highly important tasks and delegate something routine that wouldn’t cause them more stress. Or, if the person can work calmly only in the evenings, give them an opportunity to do so and discuss how they are going to keep on track with the rest of the team.

Keep calm and lead a remote team

The need to adapt to new circumstances, the attempts to stay on top of everything and the overall stress can overwhelm at times. So, how do you save the peace of mind as a remote manager?

Ditch multitasking. All the experts agree that multitasking reduces our productivity because we’re not fully concentrated on neither of tasks we work on. So, when you work on one task, put other assignments aside. This is especially true for remote communications – set hours when people can reach you, and block notifications for the rest of the day, except for urgent calls.

Practice mindfulness. Any mental practices that focus on being present at the moment reduce the anxiety and help us be more productive. So, choose whatever appeals to you – yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises – and allocate time for it every day.

Reward and recognize. Just like in-house employees, remote ones need appreciation and rewards for job well done. Be sure to reward your top performers publically during video conferences and offer rewards such as paid training, bonuses, etc.

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