Best Practices to Successfully Manage Remote Employees
Recently, I had an opportunity to speak to a group of industry leaders about the best practices to manage remote employees. As we well know, our clients are currently evaluating their workforce strategy, deciding how to structure their teams, and implementing what return to work looks like for their unique situation. The fact is, all businesses are facing these tough decisions right now — and at the center of this discussion is how to manage moving forward, especially if managing remote teams is a brand new practice.
Managing remote teams can be difficult for many business leaders to answer, because they’ve never been faced with this challenge before. Throughout my time in leadership positions over the last 15+ years, most of what I’ve done is manage and lead remote teams — and let me tell you, it’s not always easy. I’ve made more than my share of mistakes, but at the same time, I’ve had great success as well, and I want to share those successful practices for remote teams with you. So, in this column I’ll share some of my thoughts and provide some insights from what’s worked with my remote teams that might help you.
Some form of remote work is here to stay forever, there’s no doubt about it. Notice, I’m referring to it as remote work and not “work from home,” because if you have an employee that does not work in your physical office, then they are working remotely — which could mean a co-working space, a home, a coffee shop, a library, or many other productive locations. There are a lot of benefits to having remote workers and embracing this as part of your core business strategy moving forward.
The biggest benefit is your ability to level up your team by hiring talented rock stars that may not live in your city, or even your state! Outsourcing talent can be a game changer for some businesses. Remote work is becoming widely acceptable and popular, especially with the younger generation, as they’ve been “working from home” since junior high and high school, completing “remote” projects through schooling and into the start of their careers.
Prior to the forced work-from-home status of 2020, you were limited to a talent pool that was located in your geographical area, because that’s what we do — we hire people who live nearby, so they could be in the office every day. But now, that’s no longer the case with many employees preferring the home office or remote work to the everyday office. As a leader, your reach just got a lot bigger, and as an employee, your options and choices just got a lot bigger, too.
However, before you race off to hire someone that lives 500 miles away, I’d like you to consider these questions to ensure this is the right decision for you and your business: (1) Can this job function be effectively performed as a remote position? (2) What's the impact to your organization and team if this position / person is remote? (3) What’s the impact to your customers? (4) How will you manage this person? And (5) Are remote employees right for your organization?
Only you know the answers to each question, and only you can make the decision that’s best for your organization knowing the ends-and-outs of what the position should accomplish on your team. I believe the benefits far out way the challenges when it comes to remote work. Great talent can be hard to find and I don’t want you to miss out on that rock star employee you’ve been waiting for, simply by limiting yourself to local resources.
In reference to the challenges that exist with remote workers, most of them revolve around our ability to manage and lead people from afar. The fact is, most managers are not experienced or even trained on how to manage remote workers. They simply don’t understand the differences in the work style, and this can be a difficult thing for leaders to adjust to — we’re accustomed to seeing our employees on a daily basis and when we don’t, we tend to become micromanagers, which is the worst thing you can do to stifle talent. So, what are some best practices in managing remote employees?
Well, after working with leaders on this very topic for the past year, and leveraging my (many) mistakes in managing remote employees over the years, I developed a simple framework to help you. And since we love acronyms so much in our industry, I created one for the best managerial practices for remote work: R.E.C.C. Relationship, Engagement, Communication, Commitment
Relationship. Build a relationship with your remote employees, just like you would if they were working in your office. Just because they work remotely doesn’t mean you don’t need a relationship with them, because you do, but they need it more. One of the other challenges remote employees face is the feeling of isolation and loneliness — and a relationship with you and other team members is the way to change those feelings and emotions. Happy, fulfilled teammates work better, more creatively, and more productively than lonely, depressed employees. Now, be sure to focus on building trust with your new remote employees, both for your benefit and theirs. Again, just because they are remote, doesn’t mean that you treat them differently. Build trust with them, just like the person 25 feet away.
Engagement. Be engaged with them when you are together. Weather by phone, zoom, or similar technology — they need you engaged, face to face. This means being actively present — and if you follow me, you know I write about being present because it’s a big issue in today’s world. Your team members, both in-office and remote, need you focused and actively involved in the day-to-day happenings of your organization. Basically, as I’ve suggested before, remove all distractions and focus on them — focus on the person in front of you right now! Set your phone to mute, turn off your notifications, shut down your email, and choose to focus. Your team member needs the gift of your presence in the moment. Don’t miss this, because If you do, the impact to them is greater than you realize.
Communication. It's critical that you communicate with your remote worker, in fact, I’d encourage you to over communicate with them. Make sure they know and understand exactly what tasks are expected of them, deadlines, customer commitment, and every other touchpoint you expect them to be responsible for. Most remote workers understand what they need to do, how to do it, and hold themselves accountable. As a leader, you have to communicate your expectations in a clear and concise manner.
Commitment. When you make a commitment to your remote employee, keep it! This is another area where I see leaders make costly mistakes. They assume that because the employee is not in the same office, they can cancel a meeting, postpone phone calls, and “do it later.” But lack of consistency alone causes remote employees to feel unvalued, isolated, lonely, and maybe not even needed. If you schedule a meeting or call with them, make them a priority, and keep that appointment — just like you would prioritize a customer meeting. Look, I know furniture emergencies happen, and there will be times you need to reschedule meetings, but don’t make it a habit and make sure your remote team members know you are committed to them.
Embracing the R.E.C.C. framework can help you build a great relationship with your remote team members and boost your confidence and skills in leadership. However, if you’re like most leaders and prefer to have more day-to-day knowledge of what keeps your remote people busy, you should consider using a technology platform that provides insights on the projects they are working on and allows you to be up-to-date on every project in their queue. As the work-from-home lifestyle has become a go-to for many modern employees, many online tools have become available to help you manage every project your team is working on and gives you just the right amount of information in a snapshot. We use Monday.com and it helps my team and me manage our workflow, stay on track, and remember what’s coming down the pipeline, and I always know the status of every project we are working on — in real time!
Additionally, if you really want to develop and hone-in on your leadership skills and how to manage remote teams, I’d recommend you check out the many on-line courses available to you. Many useful trainings and resources are available on LinkedIn Learning and Utemy.
Managing and leading remote teams is different, but if leaders can embrace this and understand how to leverage off-site talen, your ability to level up your team’s skillsets can impact, change, and grow your business in so many positive ways. Be sure to join the conversation, and visit my blog at www.sidmeadows.com/blog!