In response to the plethora of uncertainties caused by COVID-19, many organizations asked their employees to work remotely in 2020. A year later, more Americans are working from home than ever before. The temporary fix became a permanent solution, with all the perks and challenges that come with remote work. Whether you miss the office or are looking forward to permanently working from home, there is no denying the struggles that come with managing a team remotely.
If you’re eager to take control and effectively manage your remote team in 2021, we’ve got the tips you need. These specific, research-based steps can help improve the engagement and productivity of your direct reports. Even if you feel like you’re still making up your WFH (work from home) policies as you go along, these tips can help you level up your remote work management style. The result is a happier, more productive team – what could be better?
It’s hard to get on the same page if you and your team aren’t even reading the same book. A large part of managing remote teams is ensuring your remote employees know exactly what your expectations are. For instance, you’ll want to let them know how often to check in, whether you’d prefer them to touch base before the end of each work day, and whether or not they should be tracking their time. Some managers expect updates from individual employees on a daily basis, while others prefer a weekly check-in. By letting your team know your expectations upfront, you can ensure everyone is kept in the loop.
When setting these kinds of expectations, it’s important to factor work/life balance into the equation. While it was once easy to account for virtually every minute of an employee’s time spent in the office, the task is more challenging for remote workers. Consider your own preferences when setting expectations. By working from a place of empathy and understanding, it’s easy to create a plan that feels manageable and appropriate for everyone involved. In addition to setting expectations verbally, it’s a good idea to document your communication process for easy reference down the line.
Managing employees via email isn’t just impractical – it’s downright impossible. Remote employees may benefit from having multiple communication tools at their disposal. Video conferencing has risen in popularity over the last year, and for good reason: it gives participants many of the same visual cues they would rely upon in were they meeting face-to-face. These cues allow for mutual understanding and easy communication. They can also help reduce the sense of isolation among team members. These kinds of meetings are especially useful for discussing sensitive or complex subject matter. They just feel more personal than written or audio communication.
That’s not to say you should rely solely on video conferencing, either. Instant messaging applications can offer a low key, informal way to check in with employees about their progress on certain projects. Phone calls are another good option – in fact, a number of employee check-in hotline services have emerged over the last year, offering a reliable way for managers to keep tabs on their team without disrupting their flow of productivity. No matter how you prefer to communicate, make sure the feeling is mutual. Chat with each of your employees about their preferred method of communication, and then find a mutually agreed upon strategy for routine conversations.
While you’re discussing communication preferences, also spend some time considering how frequently you plan to check in. Nobody likes to be micromanaged, but it’s easy to fall out of the loop if you’re not talking with colleagues each day. Not every communication needs to be formal or even on topic – even general chit chat about how the remote work situation is going can be enough to elicit important information you might not otherwise hear.
When managing remote employees, it can help to get to know them in the same way you would your non-remote colleagues. Ask about their hobbies, their interests, and their career goals. While you might feel pressured to stay on the topic of work while videoconferencing, it’s okay to set aside a few minutes to shoot the breeze before or after a meeting. Simply asking about an employee’s weekend plans, their families, or their pets can help build rapport. These conversations may seem non-essential, but employees with personal connections at work are often more engaged and motivated to perform to high standards.
Micromanagement has always been a struggle in the workplace, but remote work has given new meaning to the phrase. Employee surveillance software is on the rise, but we don’t recommend using such tools unless it’s mission-critical. Those tools can add a sinister, Orwellian vibe to the work day. Nobody likes to feel spied on or micromanaged. If you feel like you need to track every click of your employees’ mice, you might want to take a step back and reconsider why that is.
Employees may go idle for a few minutes. Bathroom breaks, coffee runs, and walks around the block all help keep workers’ minds fresh. While it’s tempting to believe that employees are slacking off any time they’re not glued to their computers, constant monitoring and micromanagement can make team members paranoid about their position. Trust is crucial for the long term success of remote work, but employees also need to maintain performance to keep that trust. Rather than focusing on the movement of the mice, give your employees goals and benchmarks to meet.
No man is an island. Providing opportunities for collaboration can help foster better team dynamics and improve rates of productivity. A shared document that tracks work activities is a great start. It’s ideal for managers hoping to stay in the loop of what their team is working on without venturing into micromanagement territory.
Team meetings are another good way to inspire collaboration. Schedule regular team check-ins to get everyone on the same page. Once in the same virtual space together, you can pitch opportunities for teamwork. Lean on virtual tools to ease the initial hesitation or awkwardness and prioritize flexibility in the way the work itself is performed. By focusing on outcomes instead of processes, your team will feel empowered to work together to meet goals.
It’s easy to throw out compliments when you’re seeing colleagues in the office every day. It’s a bit more challenging when working remotely. Acknowledging quality performance, then, becomes all the more important. Effective recognition can motivate the employee and send a clear message to other workers that their behaviors should be emulated. Acknowledgement doesn’t need to be monetary; public recognition, tokens of appreciation, and professional development opportunities all send a clear sign that you value your employees.
Everything is less visible when you’re working remotely, so it’s important to be intentional about this process. The solution lies in communication. During your check-ins with individual employees, look for areas of recognition. Ask what barriers they have overcome and ways that peers have helped them. It’ll be easy to identify elements to acknowledge, thank, and share the accomplishments of teams and their individual members.
Even the most experienced of managers can find themselves in over their heads when transitioning to remote work. It’s impossible to perfect the art of virtual management overnight, which is why it’s important to solicit feedback from your colleagues. Provide quick pulse surveys early and often, especially when undertaking a new project. They can help shed light on how you’re doing as a manager and provide insight into any potential speed bumps that might be waiting down the line. Nip concerns in the bud and you’ll be ahead of the game.
Giving and receiving feedback can help teams grow. It helps encourage an attitude of constant learning and adjustment. It can also help increase engagement. When people feel their voices are being heard, they’re more likely to speak up and take active roles in new projects. By taking a proactive approach to employee concerns, you’ll create an atmosphere of transparency and development.
With your team scattered to the wind, it can be difficult to stay on top of administrative duties that once fell to the collective group. A live phone answering service could be the solution. By outsourcing inbound calls to a professional virtual receptionist, you’ll relieve your team of some of the more disruptive aspects of working from home, which can enhance productivity. Give your employees the freedom to focus on the most important aspects of their to-do lists without the constant interruption of a ringing phone.
Using a call answering service also improves accountability. All call details and messages are logged in a secure online platform or app. Fewer things slip through the cracks when you no longer have to wonder who spoke with a certain client or if your customer has received a follow-up. You might even be surprised at how affordable a live phone answering service can be!
Try one or try all of these ways to help manage your remote team in 2021 and beyond, because working from home isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The quicker you’re able to adapt and run a virtual team smoothly, the more successful you’ll be now and in the future.
Andrew Tillery is the Marketing Director at MAP Communications, a leading provider of phone answering services and call center solutions for some of America's finest companies. Hailing from Oregon and having spent several years in Washington, Andrew has a damp, green place in his heart for the Pacific Northwest no matter where he goes. When he is not in front of a computer, he’s fueling his passions for sports and the outdoors, or recovering from those activities at the best brewery in whatever town he’s in.
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