Managing remote employees - 10 superb ideas

Managing remote employees - 10 superb ideas

Managing remote employees is becoming commonplace for many managers, especially after the last few years. I’ve been managing remote employees for years after we embraced remote work nearly a decade ago. After all, we could either hire the best people within communiting distance to the office, or hire the best people we could find. We chose the latter.

If you’re building a remote team it is super crucial to treat them the same as you would your local team, but focus a lot more communication. After all, it’s not being remote that is the challenge, it’s the effect it has on communication that causes challenges.  Remote employees need more active communications and can often feel disconnected from the main office.

To get the most from your team take your role as manager to the next level with these 10 ideas:

Here’s a YouTube video for those that like to watch. Or read on below.

1. Hire good people

If you hire good people to start with, they require less support and certainly don’t require much “management”. Simple fact is that good people do good work by default.

If you don’t hire good people expect a long and difficult time as a manager – this is the same no matter where your team are located.

Take your time and hire good people – you have to be able to trust them, and you don’t want to spend your entire time “managing” them. I wrote a book about hiring if you want to dig deep here.

2. Set expectations of “engagement” right at the start

When you hire remote people you must set out early what it means to be remote and what is expected from you and them. This is a communication essential. Without clear expectations it will become harder to manage any kind of expectation. Here we’re talking about such things as how you will interact together, what expectations there are for joining meetings, chatting with colleagues and the deliverables that are expected.

If you have remote workers working from home then you must encourage (and help) them to create a separation between work and home. It’s much harder, at least initially, for people who work from home remotely to switch off and draw a line between work and home. You must help them do this, otherwise they will be working more than they should be. You can start by setting an example and not messaging them out of hours. You’d be surprised at how many people’s workspaces are in their living space too – and that pinging of a new message could draw them back into checking work emails or messages.

3. Book 1:1s and stick to them

The one to one (1:1) is a powerful session where you both get to build a strong relationship. If you talk about work, fine, if not, that is fine too.

Once you have scheduled the 1:1 you must stick to as much as possible. It shows that you value this interaction and consider it as important as all of the other things you have to do – btw, it is probably more valuable than any other activity. By moving it, forgetting it or cutting it short you are sending a message that your relationship is not that important. So book a 1:1 and stick to it – weekly works best, especially so for remote workers.

4. Say hello every morning

When I was managaging a lot of remote employees I created a daily checklist with everyone’s name in it and a checkbox next to each of them.

Every morning I would work the list and start saying “hello” via chat to all of my remote employees. By lunch I would ensure I have said hello to everyone. For those in the office this would always be a face to face hello. For those remotely it would always be via the appropriate comms channel. This would always be a simple “text” hello, usually via our HipChat channel – no need for a conference call.

By saying hello to everyone you show that you care and that you’re there for them if they need anything. You’re also acknowledging that they exist and are part of the wider team.

It freaks people out to start with, but they soon get used to it.

5. Meet them in-person (if possible)

It might not always be possible to meet them in-person, but if you can, then do it. There is nothing like looking in their eyes and meeting someone to start the seeds (or continue the growth) of a trusting relationship. We always tried to organise a physical meeting every quarter. We didn’t always make it but we tried.

6. Invest in decent communication tools

Make sure you get some decent video conferencing tools. Try to always use video, this is much better than voice as you can make eye contact and connect, but voice also works well on its own.

Investing in good technology with good audio should mean that you’ll be up and running with a conversations quickly. No matter how much we invested though we still often had rubbish audio, or the video would get dropped, or we simply had to revert to the trusty telephone. Remote employees often have simpler setups than many offices, so double down on making sure you’re ready for any interaction and don’t spend 10 minutes of each meeting getting everyone connected.

7. Listen more than you talk

Listen, a lot. And then action what you can from the conversations. Working remotely can be a lonely and frustrating experience. Listen to remote employees and act on problems they have. Sometimes, they just want to be heard (don’t we all) and sometimes you can be a useful aid in the office to help them connect, find information or solve problems.

8. Invest in awareness of remote working for everyone who is not remote

The biggest challenge to working remotely is the lack of awareness of what it’s like to be a remote employee by those in the office. Yes, you heard that – the awareness is usually for the people IN the office.

One of the best ways to do this is to have an entire “remote working” day where everyone works remotely. This helps to build awareness of what it’s like to work remotely. If your whole team are remote then you have fewer problems to overcome, except the innevitable overloading of chat channels.

Encouraging open team dialogue about frustrations and problems helps to raise the collective consciousness of the team – a positive thing. Remote employees can then start to be included in conversations and get the information and inclusion they need.

9. Create a supportive community of interest tasked with improving the experience

Creating a community of interest lead by remote employees can help to empower those working remotely. They can air concerns, suggest improvements and make the whole experience better.

The changes that need to be made in order to make remote employees successful often has to be made with the local head office team. Include them in this community.

10. Feedback remotely

Giving remote employees negative feedback can be tricky, but if you cannot get a face to face in a decent amount of time between the behaviour and the feedback, then go for a video conference call.

Giving them feedback is no different to giving someone in the office feedback. Keep it professional, keep it calm, keep it about behaviours, keep it short and don’t turn it in to a conversation. You will lose many of the non-verbal clues which will make it harder to work out how the conversation went, but we shouldn’t shy away from it and blame the remoteness.

Don’t let days go by between giving feedback and talking to your direct report again. If they are dwelling on the feedback you want to make sure you keep dialogue open.

Trust me on this one – if you have being doing 1:1s and your relationship is strong, then giving them feedback will not be an issue.