Tips for Managing a Remote Team
Remote work is an increasing part of normal business life. Depending on which survey you read, anywhere from 24% to 43% to more than 70% of employees work outside the office at least part of the time! And that’s to say nothing of the 462 million business trips U.S. travelers take.
Whether they’re checking in from their couch or a business trip, remote employees look to company leadership to feel like valued members of the team. These are some of our favorite strategies for success.
One pitfall of remote work is that employees feel left out compared to onsite peers, a Harvard Business Review study found. Managers need to be proactive to prevent physical distance from turning into a cultural workplace divide.
Your work processes will determine what schedule makes the most sense. What’s essential is giving your whole team regular chances to connect. For some workplaces, dialing in for a progress check every Tuesday morning will meet this need. For others, connecting over an instant messaging channel throughout the day facilitates spontaneous problem-solving or collaboration.
Set Clear Expectations
If you have the right people working remotely, they can get the job done without someone watching over their shoulder. This works best when you share a clear understanding of what successful work looks like.
Remote employees traveling in a different time zone, or at-home workers following an unconventional schedule, may not always be working at the same time as local colleagues. As much as possible, focus on outcomes. When you need a remote worker’s time to mirror headquarters, make that clear. A few sample guidelines could be:
- I need a 3-5-page draft of the proposal by COB on Thursday. Make sure it includes a cost breakdown, the proposed timeline, and a short list of vendors.
- While on your trip, please check your work email before 12 p.m. EST and make an effort to respond to messages within 24 hours. For clients X and Y, respond on the same business day.
- For the 2-3 weeks leading up to the demo, I need you to be available at least between 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. EST to work with the rest of the team.
Practice Proactive Communication
Erring on the side of overcommunication is better than realizing you’ve gone weeks without hearing a progress update.
One way to keep methods fair is to hold local employees to the same standard as remote workers. Try to minimize team meetings where some people are on the phone and others are face-to-face.
Making a point to respond promptly to remote employees can also be good for morale, especially since local employees can pop their head into your office for a quick question. You want to avoid the risk, or even the perception, of “out of sight, out of mind.”
Some virtual “water cooler” chit chat can be good for communication, creativity, and problem-solving. Remote workers depend on supervisors to keep them included and provide clues to how much socializing fits your culture.
Chatting about sightseeing plans with business travelers, or sharing solidarity with a remote worker whose baby isn’t sleeping through the night, keeps a human connection with people you don’t always see face-to-face. A non-work messaging channel or a few minutes of friendly catch-up on a conference call can go a long way.
Address Concerns Directly
Offering constructive feedback and addressing problematic behavior is critical for effective management. This becomes much more delicate when you haven’t had a chance to witness reported behavior for yourself.
If you hear about issues with a remote worker, try these steps to stay as informed and fair as possible:
- Use eyes and ears if you can: Another senior employee might be in an appropriate position to keep tabs on a junior worker’s timeliness or preparation and share observations with you.
- Have the awkward conversation: It’s not fun to say, “I heard you were late and distracted during your presentation. What’s going on?” Keeping conversation open, even when it’s uncomfortable, can shed light on whether a traveling employee got caught behind an accident on the way to a client meeting or whether there’s a more serious preparation issue to address.
- Meet if you can: Remote work connects talented people all over the world. Still, sometimes there’s no substitute for in-person connection. It may be worth it to plan a trip every year or two touch base with remote employees.
Integrating remote workers into office culture takes a deliberate approach. Establishing strong, supportive practices is absolutely worth the effort to keep your whole team engaged, wherever they happen to be.