Managing Remote Employees

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With all the uncertainty of the past few years, one thing we know for sure is that the pandemic changed the way we live and work- probably forever. Whether your company was already prepared to handle a remote workforce, or your business was thrust into it kicking and screaming under a wave of COVID-19, nearly every company had to adjust to retain their teams. There were many individual reasons for needing flexibility to work from home, but the landscape has changed for nearly all of us. And, it looks like having remote employees (at least in some capacity) is here to stay. 

Despite concerns to the contrary- the good news is, it is absolutely doable to manage a remote team! And you can keep them happy, productive, and engaged. How do I know? Because it is what we have always done, and we’ve successfully placed hundreds of remote professionals. 

As a savvy business owner, you may have practical questions like:

  • What are the best practices for this new way of working?
  • How do you keep company culture alive?

So, let’s talk about some best practices and strategies to make it work for your company and your individual employees! 

When teams are remote, the social interactions that help build interoffice relationships and workplace culture are different than they would be “around the water cooler”, as they say. So, leaders must be intentional, deliberate, emotionally intelligent, perceptive, and pro-active. 

One pro-active strategy for building a good remote culture is having a daily (or at least weekly) team huddle. Get it on everyone’s calendar for a team check-in. Don’t make it all about business- infuse some fun, too! Another pro-active step you should take before hiring people who will work remotely…make sure they’re comfortable with being on camera! If they aren’t, that could be hard to overcome, and they may not succeed in a role with remote meetings for eight hours a day. 

Beyond pro-activity (and I can’t stress this enough), the best thing you can do to create and maintain a healthy culture is to build trust with your teams. When your employees trust you (and one another), they are more loyal, quicker to listen to your requests, quicker to understand the big picture you’re painting, quicker to forgive mistakes, and there will be less misunderstandings, in general. 

How can you build trust, remotely? From day one, get to know each employee as an individual. Show them you care about them as professionals, but also as people. Not everyone wants to share about their personal life at work, and we need to respect that. But you can nearly always find common personal ground that’s comfortable for both parties. Be intentional about creating a balance between personal and work-related conversations to get to know your team as human beings. That trust you build will help keep the lines of communication open, even when your only interaction is on camera. 

Now, about those cameras…. It takes a certain level of emotional intelligence on the part of leaders to pick up on social cues on a screen. But, when you do see those cues- if your employee trusts you, it is easier to have a discussion with that employee about what you saw. When Bill from accounting rolls his eyes at Stephanie from marketing during the morning huddle- call it out (after the meeting, of course). Find out what the issue is and address it. Nip it in the bud before it causes more tension on the team. 

Be on the lookout for micro-aggressions, too. They may not be as obvious as an eye roll- but they can be just as insidious. Things like passive aggressive comments, subtle facial expressions, or even silence from someone who is normally talkative can indicate there is a problem to address, and you should investigate. And we all know the tone of an email can easily be misinterpreted. Encourage your teams to limit the back-and-forth email chains and pick up the phone!

For the introverts in the digital room, it is important to provide space for each person to talk. Just like in-person meetings, the extroverts will be more comfortable speaking up on camera and may unintentionally overshadow their less talkative colleagues. 

If your concerns with remote workers include any security concerns with your business, money, access to client personal identifiers, etc., it is vitally important to proactively set up policies and procedures to prevent those issues. Set up multiple approvers for expenditures and banking transactions and limit the personal identifiers in data your employees have access to. Tighten up your offboarding process to ensure employees (remote or otherwise) don’t leave with company info they shouldn’t have. There are ways to mitigate nearly every concern of this nature- you can always ask around your networks for ideas. Again, building trust helps negate a lot of these types of concerns, too. 

Many studies have shown remote teams are happier and just as productive as teams who work in the office- however, there is the occasional bad egg.  If you find yourself in a situation where you’re questioning a remote employee’s productivity, there are software programs that can help measure screen time and keystrokes. I think these tools should be used very cautiously- but if you feel it is necessary to implement something to observe how employee time is being spent, be sure to be transparent about it and create clear communication processes to avoid misunderstandings. I think it is generally best to assume positive intent. Employees who are skating by can only do it for so long before it is obvious to their manager the work isn’t getting done. So, productivity issues often sort themselves out in time. 

Overall, if you build trust with your team, demonstrate emotional intelligence, proactively address potential issues, and deliberately take steps to create the culture you desire, you’re on the right track to having a positive remote workforce experience and happy and productive culture for you and for your team. 

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