Remote Management: Keeping Employees Engaged from Afar

If you’re like most people, COVID-19 threw a wrench in your organizational plans for the year. Regardless of emergency preparedness plans, no one anticipated sending their employees home with the intention of working remotely for the foreseeable future. Every organization faces a variety of challenges including lack of face-to-face supervision, gaps in communication, feelings of social isolation, and distractions in their remote setting. These circumstances have challenged many employers and managers to brainstorm new and innovative ways to manage their employees to ensure they feel valued, understand their daily responsibilities in their home office, and perform as high-functioning members of the work team. The following article provides some tips for leaders to consider as they navigate remote teams.

Set Clear Expectations and Rules of Engagement

When individuals begin working remotely, it is imperative that leaders clearly state their expectations regarding the scope of tasks, deadlines that must be met, and deliverables they expect to see on a day to day basis. Transparency is key to remote success because it is the only way that employees will truly understand what is expected of them and how you will measure their success. Consistently manage these expectations by checking in with employees on a schedule that is appropriate for the work (daily, weekly, etc.); however, be sure to refrain from coming across as micromanaging, so ensure you’re still allowing them appropriate autonomy in their work.

Use Effective Communication

Managers should provide employees with various communication options so they can select the medium that best fits the projects and tasks they are currently working on. Phone calls and email messages are a given when working remotely, especially when asking questions and addressing problems that do not require an immediate resolution; however, video calls allow participants to pick up on social cues through body language that emails and phone calls lack. Resources such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams enable employees to partake in more collaborative work with their colleagues by strengthening both their verbal and non-verbal communication.

Provide Opportunity for Social Interaction and Relationship Development

It is easy to get bogged down by a results-oriented mindset that fails to account for the emotions of employees. Managers often get ‘down to business’ when interacting with remote employees and can fail to inquire about how things are going for them. Many employees may feel socially isolated while working remotely, which can negatively impact their mental health. It is important for managers to provide opportunities for social interaction among their teams that is inclusive of those working remotely and it can be as simple as encouraging employees to make small talk with their colleagues before beginning video meetings to mirror the interactive norms that occur in the office setting.  

Offer Encouragement and Emotional Support

When working remotely, employees can sometimes feel as though they do not have managerial support in their daily tasks and functions. In the office setting, managers typically have open door policies that enable employees to voice any anxieties or concerns they may have about their work, but that can be hard to mimic remotely. To provide an outlet for remote employees, managers should consider setting up recurring meetings with their employees (at appropriate intervals) to not only set an agenda and provide feedback, but also to check in on the needs of the employee and help provide any encouragement or support they may need. Employees will consistently look to their managers for affirmation, especially during times of uncertainty for their organization. It is also important to consistently ask for feedback from employees about the effectiveness of remote processes from their perspective so that managers can take corrective action.

Be Flexible with Work Schedules

Whether it be responding to a family member’s needs or requests, taking care of a pet, or answering the door, disturbances consistently arise when working from home which can often make it difficult to work the typical schedule that managers expect from their staff. When appropriate, it is important for managers to be flexible and understanding when it comes to the schedules of their remote workers. The main focus should be on whether each person is accomplishing the daily tasks in a timely manner, but if the employee must log on and work at 10 PM to finish a project, then managers should try to be considerate and allow the modified work schedule if the work is  getting done well and it is not hindering another employee’s ability to fulfill their responsibilities.