While there are many advantages to working remotely, managing employees who telecommute presents unique challenges. Creating trust, open communication, and the connections necessary for collaborative work relationships requires specific strategies and tools to be successful.
The modern workplace is rapidly changing, and with it, your role as manager. Teams scattered across the country or even the continent are the new corporate normal with nearly 70% of the global workforce telecommuting at least once a week.
Whether it’s for a flexible schedule, better work-life balance, diversifying the talent pool, or cutting the cost of overhead, employees are increasingly joining a remote workforce to drive performance at a distance.
Best Practices for Managing a Remote Workforce
While managing and motivating a remote workforce takes a proactive approach, its goals are not remarkably different from what you’d do to support employees in a traditional workplace.
That’s because whether you’re working from home or in an office building, you’ll still require the same things to be successful. Strong relationships and a positive culture can be more difficult to foster at a distance, but both are still vital aspects of employing and retaining a talented and engaged team.
Here are eight tips for keeping your remote workforce dialed in and focused on achievement, improvement, and supporting one another—no matter the time zone.
Set clear expectations
A flexible schedule is an advantage for remote employees, but if you need your workforce responsive and engaged during certain hours, communicate that expectation clearly. Encourage employees to allocate and calendar time when they’ll be online and available.
Periodically check in to ensure schedules align with any persistent challenges like time zone differences or client needs. If your team has critical commitments such as team or department meetings, hold employees accountable for attending and follow up on absences.
Stay connected and communicate
Collaboration is a crucial ingredient of a successful team, but you can’t communicate effectively with employees who aren’t connected. Make sure your team has the right tools for the job, including internet access and potentially a company cell phone for employees whose responsiveness is valuable to your organisation.
Establish regular check-in calls to help your remote workforce feel included, but also encourage the use of platforms for instant messaging and chat that allow informal conversations between colleagues to flourish.
Pick up the phone when you can, especially for situations which might be emotionally charged or stressful. Your tone of voice is a much better communicator of emotion than email. It’s also time to practice and get comfortable with your onscreen presence because video calls and virtual meetings are a telecommuting necessity.
Foster a growth mindset
Even if you have an incredibly talented team with a dazzling skill set, they still need to stay challenged. One way managers can motivate a remote workforce is by focusing on both personal improvement and performance goals.
This approach relies on a growth mindset, and it encompasses the idea that no matter where you are in your career, from the front lines of service to executive leadership, you always have room to stretch for more. As a manager, when you focus your team on their potential and not just their performance, it opens both yourself and your remote workforce up to new opportunities.
Part of a growth mindset, however, is also embracing failure as a learning experience. When we operate within our comfort zone, we usually succeed at what we’re already good at and fail to widen our skillset. Managers should support team members who take risks to stretch their confidence and grow professionally.
Manage accomplishments, not activity
Working from home can be a distraction for some, but micromanaging seat time is one of the least effective ways to keep your remote workforce on task. Instead, zero in on whether your employees are meeting collective and personal performance goals.
Encouraging achievement through accomplishment rather than emphasising activity is vital, and it keeps the spotlight where it belongs—on the contributions your team makes to a successful, thriving business.
Create a visual scoreboard
Even if your team regularly communicates and has a culture of accountability, they still need a way to capture shared goals. Creating a visual that represents progress not only motivates employees with a competitive streak but also clarifies key performance indicators and priorities for the entire team.
Whether you invest time in a spreadsheet that tracks progress over time or produce a PDF of fancy graphs that represents quarterly goals, choose a consistent method easy to digest for your entire team. Set aside a dedicated time during weekly or monthly meetings to update the scoreboard and periodically realign to be sure the data you’re measuring reflects your business’s initiatives.
It’s never been easier to build a virtual community and stay connected. Many high-quality solutions to support online collaboration and teamwork are free or relatively inexpensive. Choose tools that are easy to use, with an emphasis on the basics.
Remote employees need email, video conferencing tools, a direct messaging platform, and a way to share and download files. Make sure that specialised roles like project managers, designers, and others also have access to the software they need to be successful.
Every remote role depends on technology first, and anything that gets in the way of that will only set your productivity back. Budget for updated, reliable technology—nothing kills your team’s motivation faster than a laptop crashing or slow programs that trudge through daily tasks.
Also, encourage your team to invest in high-speed internet connections for their work (or have your company fund it) since few things are more frustrating than a video meeting where one or two employees’ devices glitch or delay when trying to discuss projects and goals.
While you don’t want to seem invasive or breach respectful boundaries, it takes a little more effort to help your remote workforce feel seen as individuals. After all, they aren’t running into each other in the bathroom or on the way to grab a cup of coffee and chatting about the unbelievable plot twist in that latest HBO episode.
As a manager, you’ll need to be intentional about creating those opportunities for interaction online.
Consider celebrating milestones or making announcements about achievements and recognition part of your daily managerial approach. Even using GIFs or the occasional emoji in informal chats can create comradery within your team and personalise communication.
Trust your team
At some point, once you’ve defined responsibilities, expectations, and deadlines, you must trust your team to follow through. Certainly, as a manager of a remote workforce, you need to go the extra mile to provide the right tools and support at a distance. But a great deal of the formula for success with a talented workforce is simply to motivate and then get out of the way.
Many remote employees choose jobs that offer telecommuting because that flexibility is critical to their quality of life and they’ll follow through to make sure that opportunity pays off for everyone involved.
Managing and motivating a remote workforce requires the same basic approach as a traditional office environment. However, the tools and strategies you use to create connection, keep the lines of communication open, and manage performance will need an upgrade to keep up with the challenges of the remote workplace.
Overhaul your approach with these tips to ensure you’re aligned with your team to maximise their talent and potential and catapult productivity to the next level.