Working remotely has become the new normal in many businesses. Many managers are now faced with the task of providing a work environment that encourages growth and collaboration. Some businesses that are new to managing remote employees are discovering that the traditional in office style management is not compatible with their remote employees. Management processes must shift and adjust to this new work environment to keep remote teams productive and effective. Managers must also become familiar with setting best practices for telecommuting workers and experimenting with techniques helps to determine the management style that best fits their employees.
While remote work provides benefits to the employee, the business and the environment, companies must create and exercise best practices to make it effective. We suggest the best practices and essential tips below for managing a remote team.
1. Set expectations early and reset often
The first step to managing remote employees is to set expectations. These expectations identify the boundaries and behavioral guidelines for remote employee conduct. The most common rules to set are:
Availability hours – When will the employee begin and end work? Establishing a clear understanding when an employee will be working will allow managers and team members to know when the employee can be contacted should questions arise, when they will be available for a conversation or when to expect a response.
Response Timing – When will the employee respond back to an enquiry? Setting different response times for each communications channel is acceptable. For example, emails may have an end of day deadline, however; voicemail or phone messages may require immediate response because they are more urgent.
Attendance Notification – How will the employee notify everyone regarding their availability? For example, if they employee is at a doctor’s appointment, will they simply notify the manager or will their status be shared on an instant messenger app such as Slack or blocking out time as in Microsoft’s Outlook Calendar?
Milestones and Quotas – Productivity standards may be set for each employee. For instance, a call center customer service employee may be required to process five client calls per hour or a sales center representative may be required to take ten sales calls per day.
Expectations are not set in stone and may be adjusted when necessary. What is important is the manager must establish expectations and ensure the employee has a clear understanding.
2. Establish regular communication
Communication is key for successfully managing a remote team. Communication keeps employees aware of deadlines, company changes, advising of company resources, coaching and direction. The most common communication methods for remote workers are:
Daily Status – At the end of every day, each employee sends a list of tasks they have accomplished that day and a list of tasks they will be working on the next day. Any tool may be used such as a standard email or project management tools such as Basecamp.
Weekly Team Meetings – A weekly team meeting allows all members working on the same project to sync up, review company changes and upcoming events.
One-on-One Meetings – A one-on-one weekly meeting provides each individual on the team the opportunity to ask questions, prioritize projects and present new ideas.
3. Invest in the proper office tools
Be prepared to provide remote employees with the necessary hardware and software to keep them effective. Employees working in uncomfortable furniture, struggling to hear conference calls and/or having accessibility issues can negatively impact productivity. A little investment in office tools can go a long way.
Hardware – Office chairs, work desks, ergonomic keyboards, monitors, etc. can keep remote employees comfortable and productive.
Software – There are several software apps to improve productivity for remote employees. Here is a small list to get started.
- Instant Messenger tools – Slack provides employees the ability to chat online instantly and quickly. There are status settings to see when a user is online, away offline.
- Project management software – Basecamp, Asana or Wrike allows managers to monitor the tasks assigned to each employee, delegate task and oversee entire projects.
- Video Conferencing – Zoom has become the go to video conferencing application for most businesses. It allows video conferences to be recorded and viewed again at a later time, allows users to share their screen and host meetings with multiple attendees.
4. Use Video Conferencing effectively
Video conferencing provides your team with face to face interactions and encourages attendees to participate in the meeting. This is important because humans communicate with visual cues. When a conversation takes place in a verbal or written setting only, a great deal of the message may be lost or may be misconstrued. When managers have the opportunity to see hesitation or discomfort in their team members, they can immediately address the issue which can go a long way for the employee.
5. Build Trust
In a traditional office setting, managers can see their employees working at their desk. When businesses shift to remote work, a subconscious effect on trust may emerge. Managers may unexpectedly change their managing styles. This could cause or lead to disengagement and fatigue for everyone involved.
The best method to build trust among coworkers, managers and employees, is to be reliable, responsive and transparent.
- Employees rely on their managers to provide them with direction and the resources they need to get their job done. They also rely on their managers to be their advocate in their absence. Good managers deliver on their promises of resources, provide clear direction and advocate for their employees.
- Managers rely on their employees to complete their projects on time. If employees are lacking a resource or running behind on a deadline, they must notify their managers immediately.
Responsive – Being responsive is important to both the manager and the employee. When either party needs an answer to a question, they need to know they will get one at a reasonable time.
Transparency – When a manager promotes transparency, it allows all members on a team to understand each other’s duties and their current tasks which builds trust.
6. Coaching to Improve Employee Performance
For managers working with remote teams, they are faced with the challenge to improve the performance of their remote teams. For Sales or Customer Service Call Center teams, sales training and coaching is the key to their success. To appropriately coach the members of a call center, screen capture and call recording software implementation is an option for businesses to monitor the calls and activities of their remote employees.
Versadial offers a call recording solution to enable managers to listen to the interactions between their customer service or sales teams and their clients. This provides managers the opportunity to review calls with their employees, provide instruction and improve their performance.
Versadial also offers screen capture to enable managers to view the activity on the screen of an employee’s computer. Screen capture can run in the background of the employee’s computer and record the activity like a video or capture single image shots. Triggers, such as microphone or speaker activity, may also be setup to launch the computer screen recorder program automatically and combine both call recording and screen activity into a single file.
7. Mentorship and Learning
Working in a centralized office setting naturally facilitates ease in communication among employees. When a coworker has difficulty understanding or if they cannot solve a problem, they can simply approach another employee for a quick conversation to help resolve the issue. Remote work adds distance barriers between coworkers. Managers can break down these barriers and facilitate mentorship and learning with video conferencing and instant messaging.
Video conferencing provides benefits for both the business and employee. As we mentioned in tip #4, humans communicate with nonverbal visual cues which allows the instructor in a video based coaching session to gauge the employee. If the instructor can sense the employee is not understanding the lesson, the instructor can elaborate in greater detail.
Instant Messaging provides everyone on a team quick and easy communications access. This is ideal for employees with less experience. If they get stuck or have trouble understanding, they can quickly message their manager or instructor for immediate clarification.
8. Facilitate Collaboration
Collaboration is essential for all businesses because it encourages learning, growth and development. Collaboration pools the talent and strengths of each team member on a project and speeds up the solutions to issues. It also allows businesses to break down projects into tasks and assign tasks to employees with the time and expertise to resolve each specific task.
Basecamp and Asana are both excellent project management tools. In both programs, managers can setup individual projects, assign specific tasks to employees and monitor progress. Tasks can be setup with deadlines and managers can watch the progress to ensure tasks are completed within the employee’s schedule. Project management tools allow managers to stay abreast of all projects and ensure collaboration within their teams.
Google Drive provides businesses with document collaboration. Word processing, spreadsheets, slide presentations and more are available within the program. Managers can create folders to organize projects and provide access to team members.
9. Set time aside for informal online gatherings
In a traditional office setting, coworkers may spontaneously visit each other at their desks or take breaks in break rooms, create informal lunch gatherings or drinks after work. Remote work removes these gatherings between coworkers and it may be the only source of social interaction they have. Businesses that set time aside for the employees to gather in a non-work-related setting online can improve the morale of their teams. Some activities may include:
Gaming Sessions – Once per week, a coordinator can send out an email to the team to take a one-hour break and join a virtual game. Jackbox hosts several virtual games, such as Drawful, coworkers can play together.
Dedicated co-worker coffee breaks – Daily or weekly, team members may take a 15-minute break and jump on a video conference application, such as Zoom, enjoy a cup of coffee and chat. Offer coffee/tea chats with topics unrelated to work activities.
Outdoor Scavenger Hunts – Create small groups from your team and provide an identical list of items or tasks to find or complete. Teams may divide the items in the list to each team member. During the hunt, team members stay connected with their instant messaging apps and upload photos of themselves completing the task.
10. Managing teams from different locations and time zones
As hiring employees to work remotely, talent from around the globe becomes available. A natural progression for most businesses is to begin hiring talent from different time zones. This presents a unique challenge of keeping all team members working on the same project and in sync with the project timelines. The solution is to maintain consistent coordinated communications with the team members. This may include:
Require some overlapping time for all team members. If possible, set aside an hour or more when all members of a team working on the same project are available to each other. This will allow the employees an opportunity to sync with each other daily if necessary.
Keep work hours consistent for all team members. When all team members maintain a consistent schedule and they are made aware of each other’s schedule, they will be able to anticipate when they can expect to receive a response from each other.
Be sure to understand, there is a difference between managing employees working in a traditional office setting and remotely. Employees working remotely face unique challenges and businesses need to be able to facilitate the needs of their employees. Implementation is an investment and now that remote work has become the new normal for most businesses, your company will be able to function during the current health crisis and will be ready for other challenges in the future.