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Five Tips for Managing Remote Employees

19 April 2017
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Employee communication becomes more complicated when those employees are working remotely. Here are five tips to improve coordination across remote teams.

Employee communication is obviously a high priority for all managers and leaders of companies. Getting the right motivations and messages across to your employees is difficult enough when they are in the same office with, but what happens when they work remotely? Recent studies have shown that up to 43% of US employees work from home at least a few hours a week. Many workers don’t have regular office space and have to remain in constant contact with their superiors and co-workers by other methods than walking over to Sue’s desk to ask a question.

It’s becoming easier for workers to stay in contact with remote employers, and even cost-effective for companies to employ more remote workers, either those who work full-time outside the office or those who spend a few days a week working from a coffee shop or in their pajamas. However, if you have a few employees working from home, you know that at times it can be challenging to communicate with these individuals. Here are five tips for managing remote employees and making employee communication as seamless as possible:

1. Focus on productivity

As a remote worker myself, I can tell you that employers trying to get me on the phone, get me on FaceTime, or forcing me to “hop on” useless conference calls is extremely annoying. Part of the reason I work from home is the independence it affords me. Most remote workers, especially those who do it every day, expect to be judged on the amount and quality of their work, not on whether they are available at all times to tell jokes or provide input on projects they aren’t working on. While your office employees may be judged, fairly or unfairly, on their candor with other employees, their punctuality, etc., remote workers should be judged on their productivity. Since you aren’t paying them to be in the office at a certain time, don’t expect them to behave like office employees. Give them clear and attainable goals and judge them on whether they reach them and deliver what they promise.

2. Don’t be a stranger

Even though constant contact and some communication can interfere with a remote worker’s productivity, it’s important to remain in the loop with your remote workers. Weekly team meetings over the phone or by web conference can be a great way to quickly and easily check in with remote workers. It’s a difficult balance to strike, staying in contact without bogging your remote workers down with unnecessary communications. As a manager, you also have to make it abundantly clear how best to contact you and respond quickly to remote workers’ questions and concerns.

3. Nurture your remote teams

Just because you have remote teams doesn’t mean you don’t have some of the same responsibilities to them that you have to your in-office teams. Good company leaders and managers check in with their employees regularly to discuss whether or not their employees are getting the support and resources they need to be successful. This is essential to employee satisfaction and success. You can’t treat your remote teams exactly the way you treat your in-office employees, but you can reach out and make sure they’re fulfilled and working toward their career goals. Maybe a few would like to move into the office.

4. If you know a position will be remote, hire employees who have the skills to work effectively in that role

That’s a long list item, but it’s important. Many positions and jobs within a company can be done remotely, but not every employee has the skills to work effectively remotely. Not everyone wants to work remotely. If you’re hiring teams for remote positions, make sure they are proactive and effective communicators—they don’t hesitate to ask for help when they need it and they can absorb information and relay it readily. Your remote workers also have to be masters of time management. As a manager, you don’t need to necessarily care if your remote employees work nine to five every day, just that they get the work done. If your remote workers are getting distracted by watching Netflix and not doing their jobs, they may not be cut out for remote work.

5. Create trust and an open employee communication line

Since you can’t look over to Jane’s desk and see that she’s crying at her desk today if she’s working remotely, Jane has to have the trust in you as a manager to tell you if something is going on. This requires trust and an easy, open line of communication. Your remote workers have to know they can contact you and be honest with you. Since you can’t have a literal “open door” policy for them, you must make communication lines open and easy for them to use.

If this list confused you, it’s okay. It seems contradictory at times. As a manager of remote workers, you have to be available for them, but you can’t step on their toes and make it more difficult for them to do their jobs. It’s a delicate balance, and not every approach will work well for each remote worker. The best thing you can do is communicate and let them produce results for you on their own. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but once you do, you’ll be living in remote management heaven.

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Ben Renner

Ben Renner is an HR expert, writer, and Senior Editor of the Employee Communications Council. He has lived and managed his own business in Denver, Colorado since 2013. Connect with him on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ben-renner-97708099/

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