Running a small business today means having access to skilled employees all around the world. Sometimes you’ll find that someone in a different state or even country can bring the most to the table and is more passionate about your business than other job seekers in your local area. Maybe you’re offering remote work to your in-house team to help increase employee retention. Either way, working with remote employees can present unique challenges to you and your business.
Follow these steps to boost morale, increase productivity, and create a more unified team.
Common Challenges of Remote Work
Among some common challenges that small business owners like yourself may face with remote work include:
- No face-to-face interaction and supervision . Although successful managers avoid micromanaging their employees, they do swing by their employees’ desks once in a while to see how things are going or share a quick thought. The key word there is see – in remote work, you won’t have that kind of quick, spur of the moment accessibility with your team.
- Employee social isolation . Your employees might also feel the effects of your team members not seeing one another. The lack of in-person interaction can make workers feel isolated and detached from your team, in turn possibly leading to decreased motivation and work quality.
- Different access to information . Since remote teams often use cloud tools to access their work materials, they’ll still have some amount of information readily available. However, without sitting in the same room as you during work, they won’t overhear important conversations or be able to receive your input as quickly.
- Distractions . An employee who works from home reports to you from the same space where they live their life outside work. This means that your employees work while surrounded by theoretically infinite distractions from the tasks in front of them.
16 ways to manage remote employees
When managing your remote employees, follow these steps to boost morale, increase productivity, and create a more unified team.
1. Get to know each other
First thing’s first, take some time to introduce yourself and get to know your employee. Even though you won’t be seeing them in the office every morning, you should still connect on a personal level so that your relationship isn’t purely professional. Learn about their interests, their hobbies, and their personality traits, and be open to sharing your own story as well. Especially without the opportunity to chat when you bump into each other, you’ll want to form a connection from the start so you can create trust and work together more closely going forward. Building rapport is all about understanding your employees as complete individuals and caring about much more than just their work performance.
2. Set expectations
There’s no one definition for work well done. That’s why it’s important to designate clear metrics and benchmarks to measure success and to share any necessary resources as early as possible. And just as you set these expectations early, you should restate them often – and if you change them, you should clearly alert your team. In doing so, you make up for the communication gap that can result from not sharing the same physical space.
Whether you set expectations through sending over examples of the expected deliverables, granting access to your calendar, or answering questions when they arise, you should give your remote employees a good idea of their expected workflows. Then, they can be more focused on the work itself instead of on the right ways to interact with you.
3. Explain your rules of engagement
As you set expectations, you should explain how you prefer to receive deliverables and questions from employees who work remotely. These rules of engagement can encompass telling employees to ask quick questions through instant messages and longer ones through video chats. You can also add a daily team check-in via video conference to your rules of engagement so that you only need to answer questions shared among employees one time.
4. Align on values, mission, and goals
Remote staff members might not be exposed to as much information about your company’s overall mission as their counterparts in the office. Make sure that your remote workers feel included by looping them into those key discussions. For example, if you’re hosting a team meeting to review results, give your remote workforce a chance to listen in and participate. Making an effort to create a welcoming environment can keep your team become motivated, excited, and empowered. Staying aligned on goals means that everyone on the team is working together to accomplish the same milestones.
5. Follow an onboarding process
A remote employee is just like any other, which means they should complete the same onboarding process you have in place for all other employees. During that time, they should get to know the ins and outs of your business, the resources available to them, and the requirements they’re expected to meet. With a smooth transition into your company, they can also get to know the culture, the tools, and the pace your business operates at.
6. Track your remote employees’ progress
When managing remote employees, you should set objectives and key results and track all progress toward completing deliverables. You can use project management software to make your remote employees’ tasks obvious when they log into your platform. If your company is small enough, you can also supplement your daily team check-ins with weekly video calls between you and each individual employee.
7. Treat local and remote employees equally
One of the main challenges when it comes to hiring remote employees is making sure they’re treated, valued, and appreciated in the same way as local workers. Rather than feeling left out or like outsiders looking in, they should be well integrated into your company culture and feel comfortable actively contributing to it. For example, if you’re working across different locations, be accommodating when it comes to time zones: do your best to find times that work for your whole team and encourage all your employees to do the same. It goes without saying, but you should treat remote employees with respect. Don’t take the help for granted—make an effort to show your gratitude. Don’t forget that positive feedback can make a big difference!
8. Encourage employee socializing
You might not realize how often you engage in casual, “water cooler” conversation when you’re in the office, until you hire a remote employee. Consider that if a team member is working remotely, they’re probably not in tune with the spontaneous coffee runs, the inside jokes, or the daily chats you share with your local workers. That doesn’t have to be the case though.
Giving your employees access to communication channels can help them maintain a sense of camaraderie. Use a company-wide messaging platform? Create a separate space just for non-work, off-topic conversations. For example, with many popular collaborative messaging tools, you can create separate messaging channels for social or non-work conversations.
Alternatively, you can take the first few minutes of group meetings to catch up before launching into the tasks at hand. If this approach feels too unrelated to work for a meeting, then try hosting a virtual happy hour for your team at the end of your workweek. This way, your employees get to bond with one another and enter the weekend more relaxed.
9. Engage remote workers on a daily basis
If you manage a remote employee, you need to be aware of their daily (yes, daily) progress. How are they progressing, where do they need a helping hand, what new ideas did they come up with? This doesn’t mean you have to schedule an official meeting on their calendars every day—that would just take time away from your busy schedules. Even though a weekly check-in is a reliable way to stay up to date on an ongoing basis, a quick message or call will help you stay actively engaged. Not only will your remote employees fill you in on their progress, but you can share the latest news from the office.
10. Create a communication strategy
Be strategic with your communication so you don’t have to leave it up to chance. Even during an especially busy week, staying in touch shouldn’t be put aside. If you have a system in place, communication can become a no-brainer. Decide early on how your remote employee should connect with you and other team members so you both know what to expect every day. Make time for getting acquainted with the process, whether that mean acknowledging and answering questions, sharing best practices, or conducting trainings. Even though you shouldn’t expect this new knowledge to come naturally from the get-go, you should facilitate learning in the way that makes the most sense for each employee.
11. Leverage technology
There’s an endless number of virtual platforms and business apps out there that can help close the gap between local and remote employees. Beyond email threads and phone calls, you can take advantage of intuitive, real-time features that bring your entire team together no matter where in the world they’re located. That way, a tap on the shoulder becomes a chat notification and a break room joke is right at your fingertips.
Whenever possible, use video conferencing to sync up with your remote employees. Even though virtual communication is incredibly convenient and effective for increased productivity, there’s nothing like human interaction to build relationships. It’s no wonder gifs and emojis are so popular—they add a non-verbal element to online chat that’s definitely missing from conversations that are based only on text. Video can help you gauge reactions, pick up on changes in overall mood, and brainstorm ideas together.
12. Get together face to face
If you have the opportunity to meet up in person, grab it! There’s nothing like connecting face to face. It might be a solo trip or a company-wide event. Either way, you might be surprised by how much energy and motivation you create. Remember though that bringing your team closer usually helps form a tighter knit group.
Is one of your remote employees in town? Make sure to give them a tour of the office, introduce them to anyone they haven’t met yet, and organize a team-building event if possible.
13. Be responsive and available
All of your employees should feel totally comfortable approaching you to ask a question, make a suggestion, or just catch up. This “open door” approach goes for remote workers too: if they reach out to you, you should be there for them.
Whether your employee conversation is spontaneous or planned, make sure to actively listen to the employee’s questions and concerns no matter how much else is on your plate. Yes, while on the phone, it will be tempting to check emails or balance your current conversation with other work, but employees can often sense a distracted boss. And a distracted boss may appear uncaring, which can, in turn, make less motivated employees.
If you’re worried about getting calls from employees when you’re not quite ready, d on’t forget to make your availability public to the company—otherwise, your remote employees won’t know when your door is actually open. This is where your regularly scheduled one-on-one can help. At the very least, you have a designated amount of time set aside to connect. Do your very best not to cancel those meetings, even if you feel like there’s not much to cover.
14. Watch for stressed remote employees
Managing remote employees isn’t just about getting your team to the finish line. It’s also about keeping an especially vigilant eye for signs of burnout, overworking, or other types of employee stress. These stresses are often easier to catch when you’re physically near your employees, but they’re not impossible to spot among remote employees. Extremely late or brief email or chat responses can signal distress, as can employees starting work late, wrapping up early, or missing deadlines.
15. Where you can’t be physically present, be emotionally present
If you do detect a stressed employee, you should create a safe space for the employee to share their concerns. In doing so, you can help the employee feel heard and collaboratively figure out how to solve the problem at hand. And even outside stressful times, you should give your employees positive feedback – the productivity of your remote employees may increase when your team knows you’re not just watching, but caring.
16. Provide career guidance
Remember that your remote employees are on their unique career paths too, which means that they’ll probably have their own aspirations beyond the scope of their current work. Make sure to provide them with plenty of employee development resources as they progress toward their goals and be transparent about their available options. If you’re regularly in touch, you’ll have time to become familiar with these goals. Don’t take that information lightly—do as much as you can to be a helpful resource for all of your employees.