The workforce is changing. Over 70% of white-collar professionals work remote at least once a week. Despite the upsides of having remote teams, managing them and maintaining the same level of collaboration as you see with a traditional office can be a job in and of itself.
Sometimes you need to walk to a colleague’s office to ask a quick question. You get the information you need lickety-split, and your impromptu conversation is a minimal interruption to your colleague’s day. When you manage a remote team, pop-ins and hallway conversations are impossible.
Managing virtual teams presents obstacles other managers don’t face. Challenges of managing remote employees are numerous. How do you hold staff accountable? How do you develop team culture? How do you make sure employees don’t feel like they’re isolated from the rest of the organization? Building and maintaining a productive, engaged, and cohesive remote team takes hard work, but you can do it. Follow these tips for managing remote employees.
1. Hold employees accountable
A common hang-up managers have about remote workers is that the manager can’t lay eyes on an employee to make sure he or she is working. This mindset reveals a flaw in the manager’s logic. Just because you can watch someone at his or her desk doesn’t mean that person is being productive.
Accountability is more than clock watching. Making sure full-time employees work 40 hours per week is important, but it doesn’t tell you how those hours are spent. Are your employees doing the things you want them to do? No amount of management by walking around can answer this question.
Help your remote employees prioritize their work, and use time tracking tools to ensure they put the first things first. Establish clear performance expectations to convey your timeliness and quality standards. Hold your employees to those performance expectations.
2. Stick to a meeting schedule
Since remote workers don’t participate in the casual conversations that happen in office hallways and break rooms, it’s important to maintain a regular meeting schedule. As their manager, you should hold one-on-one meetings with each employee. Instances of these recurring appointments may need to be moved around the calendar, but do your best to avoid canceling them. Keeping these appointments shows you value this time to interact with your employees individually.
Regular team meetings are essential to communicating important information and for giving teammates time together. Even if there aren’t very many work-related agenda items, use the time to foster personal connections among teammates.
3. Use video chat instead of phone calls
How many times have you sat at your desk on a conference call half paying attention while making a grocery list, texting your spouse, or scrolling through Facebook? It happens all the time, right? Voice calls allow you to do other things when you’re not engaged in the conversation. Video conferencing makes you pay attention through the influence of peer pressure. You don’t want to be known as the perpetually distracted guy. It’s a bad look.
In addition to compelling engagement, video conferencing allows for richer conversations. Speakers can read facial expressions and body language. The visual element also lends more context to vocal inflection. Teammates are more likely to understand one another by video than by voice alone.
In video chats with two or three people, it may be necessary to pull in another teammate. Don’t hesitate to loop in someone on the fly. That person will feel valued and respected. It’s the equivalent of grabbing a co-worker from his or her desk to pull them into a conference room meeting. It may be inconvenient on occasion, but it feels good to be included.
4. Be responsive
Your employees can’t walk down the hall to find you. However, you need to be just as available as if you were in the same building. Return phone calls, emails, and instant messages promptly. If you fail to do so, your employees might feel like they’re unduly burdening you with their questions. Make sure they know your main function is to support them.
5. Meet face-to-face regularly
Bring remote workers together face-to-face as often as you can. Video chats are great, but they aren’t the same as sitting in the same physical location. Your budget and your calendar both show how much you value face-to-face gatherings. Bringing your people together once a year is the bare minimum.
Mix work and play by doing fun activities that build camaraderie. Escape room games have become popular over the last few years. Teams solve puzzles together that eventually allow them to exit the room. That’s just one idea. The most important thing is to have fun. And make sure you take pictures!