10 Keys to Managing Your Remote Workers

By Kailey Walters on June 24, 2020

With COVID-19 causing many disruptions around the world in people’s everyday lives, including in the workplace, there has been a great deal of change in the ways companies and businesses are functioning. Namely, many transitioned to working from home a few months ago, and many may still be trying to figure out how to best navigate this new terrain.

As an employer or manager, you have the responsibility of managing your remote employees — which may be a little different than what you’re used to. However, there are plenty of opportunities for you and your company to grow and learn together in order to best adapt to the changes occurring in the workplace. Read on for a few things you should know about successfully managing employees who work from home.

1. Understand the challenges of working remotely.

For a lot of people, yourself included, working from home on a regular basis is probably a very new and different part of daily life. In that aspect, many employees are bound to come up against teleworking challenges. Since everyone is new to this, you as the manager should be able to show some compassion and understanding for those who may be struggling and are trying to figure out how to use the new technology and adapt to this new lifestyle. After all, many of your employees most likely have other stressful things going on in their personal lives — worry over friends and loved ones contracting COVID-19, stress over having to take on extra household and childcare duties, etc. — which means that one of the best things you can do during this time is to sympathize with them and be compassionate in light of the many challenges that everyone is facing.

Beyond that, it’s also important to understand the initial difficulties of adjusting to remote work. For example, working from home may make it difficult for employees to communicate with each other the same way they were able to in the office. They can no longer quickly stop by someone’s desk or peer over a cubicle wall to ask a question or clarify something. And with many people communicating through email and/or text message, there are bound to be some things that will be lost in the shuffle — for example, someone might not get their question answered, which can cause confusion and resentment and possibly back up work on a project. To counteract potential miscommunication, you can focus on effectively communicating with your employees so that you can serve as a model for how they should communicate with others and with you as well.

infographic, managing, remote workers

Another challenge of working remotely is the distraction of being in a different environment from the office. For some people, a new environment may not be a big deal and may even help their productivity and focus, but for others, working from home can be a huge distraction — especially if they have to also take care of children and/or are surrounded by many other family members who are trying to do their own things throughout the day. While there may be little wiggle room for the employees working in a distracting environment, you can do your best to be understanding of their situation and assure them that you know they are doing their best given the circumstances.

Ultimately, being an understanding manager will show your employees that you care about them and that you are aware everyone is being impacted by the transition to remote work.

2. Be open to virtually communicating in several different ways.

While email may be the predominant way employees in your company communicate, don’t shy away from all the other communication tools and platforms out there. Changing things up can help keep everyone on their toes, and what’s more, you may even discover that some people prefer or communicate best using a specific tool or platform.

So instead of using email all the time, try phone calls and video conferencing, which can feel more personal and real. And if something less formal needs to be communicated, consider using mobile individual messaging platforms, such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc., so people can get their points across quickly. Being open to different channels of virtual communication can prove to be very helpful for you and your employees so that everyone is able to communicate in the most appropriate and effective way.

3. Establish the best way and time for employees to reach you.

You have your own schedule and responsibilities, which may have shifted now that you’re also working remotely. As a result, you should let your employees know of the best way that they can reach you, such as by email, a phone call, a video conferencing call, a Slack message, etc., and during what times of the day you’re available. That way, your communication with your employees will be as streamlined as possible so that everyone can avoid unnecessary hiccups.

4. Have regular check-ins.

Along with communicating effectively with your employees, you should establish regular check-ins with them. Work with your team and with individual employees to figure out what works best for everyone. Some employees may prefer to have check-ins with you every day, while others may prefer to have them once a week. Depending on their preferences, you can set up consistent check-in times with them, both individually and in teams, to see how they’re doing, how they’re adjusting to this new remote work situation, and the progress they’re making in their work. And of course, during these check-in sessions, make sure to keep an open mind and open ears so you can listen to what they’re saying, offer constructive feedback and support, and answer any questions they may have.

5. Get to know employees individually.

Taking the time to get to know your employees individually will show that you’re a very dedicated manager and want to see them succeed no matter the situation. As a result, during your regular check-ins, you should gauge what kind of worker they are — for example, if they are thriving and enjoying the remote work environment or if they’re feeling challenged and work better in the office. Learning how they work individually can help you figure out how to best engage with them and build reasonable expectations for the work they are responsible for completing.

work from home, phone, laptop

pexels.com

6. Establish expectations.

Of course, when everyone is working from home, it will be a little harder to keep an eye on everyone’s work schedule and progress throughout the day. Employees are bound to be a bit distracted while at home and may have difficulty focusing; in another aspect, some employees may feel the need to overwork themselves to prove that they are still doing a good job and even go above and beyond what is expected of them. Neither of these scenarios is particularly great; as a manager, you want employees who are balanced, meaning that they can get their work done efficiently and effectively but aren’t overworking themselves to the point of needless exhaustion. As a result, it’s important that you define your expectations so your employees know what you want from them and how much they are expected to accomplish in a given day or week. Having these expectations clearly outlined will make things easier and less stressful for everyone involved.

What’s more, the remote work situation changes the normal 9 to 5 workday. There are pros and cons to this; on the one hand, working remotely allows employees to be more flexible because they don’t have to commute to and from work and may also have other responsibilities at home that they need to take care of, but on the other hand, it may be tempting for some employees to continuously check their email or work much longer hours than they need to. Set the expectations for them so they know they have permission to work flexibly, but also assure them that they do not need to stretch themselves thin.

7. Make necessary resources available.

Another important thing for you to do as a manager is to make sure all your employees have easy access to the necessary resources and tools. These may include policy and procedure manuals, presentation templates and supplies, software programs, mail supplies and stationery, and potentially a corporate credit card. When these tools are available, your employees will have a much smoother time getting their work done.

8. Give employees a chance to socially interact virtually.

One thing employees may be missing from working in the office is the chance for social interaction. To make up for that, you can provide opportunities for employees to virtually interact with one another when they can talk about informal, non-work-related things. One way to do so is to leave a few minutes of time at the beginning of a meeting for people to talk and catch up with each other. Another way to do is to hold a virtual pizza party or office party. While it may not feel the same as gathering in person, it is an opportunity for people to connect with each other outside of a strictly work-related environment and catch up with their colleagues.

9. Be open to feedback on how to improve.

Understandably, this transition to remote work is probably not easy for you, either. In that vein, you may not be perfect at managing all of your employees while they’re working from home — at least, not initially, as you’ll have a lot of new things to figure out, as outlined above. One of the best ways to show your employees that you’re listening to them and care about their input is to stay open to any feedback or constructive criticism they may have. Chances are that not every single employee will be satisfied right off the bat, and that’s perfectly okay. Use their input as an opportunity to improve yourself and your management style and strategies during this time of transition and change. You can purposely seek out feedback and suggestions from your employees so they know you are actively working on improving yourself as a manager. For example, you can hold informal question-and-answer video calls in which employees voice their opinions, questions, and feedback for you. Take the time to thoroughly look at and seriously consider what they are saying; there might be some really valuable suggestions in there.

10. Be encouraging and supportive.

Above all, it is important that you recognize this transition to remote work can be quite a challenging time for many people. As a result, you should take the time and effort to offer genuine encouragement and support to your employees so that they know you are there for them and are looking out for them. While that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be their friend, it does mean that you, as their manager, should show compassion and concern for their individual situations, recognizing above all that they are more than just an employee; they are a human being facing both professional and personal struggles. In that vein, make sure you listen to them and respond to them with utmost respect and sympathy. You may not be able to empathize with them or fully understand what they are going through, but the least you can do is offer a listening ear and a compassionate response so that they know they are heard and cared for. If possible, offer potential solutions that are within your power.

As the manager, you should be able to model confidence and the kind of worker you hope your employees can be. If they see that they have a strong leader, they are likely to follow your lead and work to the best of their ability during this unusual time.

By Kailey Walters

Uloop Writer
Stony Brook University

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