Just a few months ago, managing remote workers wasn’t as common as it is now. Most of our waking hours were away from home in the workplace. Enter COVID-19 and the workplace dynamic changed dramatically, with many more people now working from home or another remote location.
What’s interesting, though, is that remote work was already on the rise before the pandemic. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 4.7 million American employees worked from home at least half of each week, pre-pandemic. That’s about 3.5 percent of the total workforce.
While that doesn’t seem like much, the number of people who were working remotely at least once per week, even before the pandemic, has grown by 400% in the last decade.
With so many people spending at least part of the time working away from the office, there’s no better time than now to learn more about how to effectively manage a remote team. Our team at WorkHound — where we’re navigating this new dynamic along with you — has some suggestions.
Since you can no longer walk down the hall to check in with your employees, it’s important to walk down the virtual hall often. Build-in regular touchpoints that allow the entire team and/or individual departments time to talk through projects and the work on their plates.
“Managing remote workers effectively really comes down to two factors: communication and transparency,” says Max Farrell, CEO and Co-Founder at WorkHound. “Having regular meetings to touch base is important because it gives you a good opportunity to talk about obstacles, whether home or work-related, in the work you’re doing.”
Don’t rely on one way of communicating with your employees. All too often, we can fall into a routine of sending emails to ask questions and seek clarification. While email can be an important method of communication, it shouldn’t be the only one.
Email can be very impersonal, and it lacks the human interactions that other methods offer. Mix in methods such as video conferencing that allow you to pick up on visual cues from your employees when something is wrong or they don’t quite understand a project’s goals or expectations.
Other communication methods, such as messaging systems like Slack, can also help you communicate effectively when it’s an easy or simple message or question.
This is an important one! When you’re working from home, it can naturally become more difficult to separate your work and your home life.
It’s important to establish expectations about when work should be done — and to let employees know that they won’t be expected to be “on the clock” around the clock.
“Something else that’s really important for keeping the train rolling is encouraging time off,” Farrell says. “Set an expectation for your team that they don’t have to be online after the end of the workday. Being ‘on’ all the time leads to burnout and really causes our work quality to suffer. Our bodies and brains are programmed to need rest.”
It’s also important to remind employees that it’s beneficial to take time for themselves.
“Without being able to travel, it’s really easy to fall into a habit of not taking time off and not taking PTO,” Farrell adds. “Even if you’re not going anywhere, it’s important to step away from work for a while.”
When employees aren’t working in an office space, it can be much more difficult to pick up on clues that they aren’t at their best. You can’t see their faces — and aren’t even hearing their voices quite as often as normal.
That makes it even more important to have built-in tools for employees to share feedback, concerns, and what they’re thinking and feeling. A continuous feedback tool like WorkHound allows employees to provide perspective whenever and wherever they need to, allowing you to keep a good finger on the pulse of how they’re doing.
“In times of transition like this, it’s especially important to solicit feedback, because that’s when turnover is most likely to happen,” Farrell says. “Times of transition and change tend to be the most sensitive to workers of all kinds and this is also when rumors and misinformation pop-up.”
Beyond simply allowing for feedback, it’s especially important at this time to ensure you’re either responding with empathy or taking action related to the feedback. Employees want to know that they’re being heard and that their voices matter.
We’ve outlined some good best practices for managing remote workers, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. These practices are a good place to begin.
As we navigate unusual and challenging times, though, with many parents taking on responsibilities as “at-home teachers” on top of all their other responsibilities, flexibility is the name of the game.
Recognize that no matter what processes you have in place, they will sometimes need to bend a little to allow for individual employee circumstances. And that’s OK. It’s all a part of being an effective employer for a remote team.
Gauging how your remote employees are feeling is easier with a tool like WorkHound! Sign up for a free demo to learn how we can help your business.