One of the greatest challenges for remote workers, which has only gotten more pronounced as entire organizations make the difficult transition to remote work, is people management.
Whether you're out in the field or working from home, both managing and being managed at a distance is a different experience altogether. For managers, it can be difficult to be aware of what direct reports are working on at any given time. And for remote workers who lack necessary guidance, it's very easy to feel isolated or disconnected and subsequently lose sight of how you fit in.
Since so many of us are getting used to remote work right now I thought it'd be helpful to share some best practices for managing remote employees. This list is by no means exhaustive, and that's intentional. My hope is you'll be willing to share some of your own experiences and best practices in the comments section below.
First, I want to offer a few tips for managers whose team might be finding it difficult to stay connected with the rest of their organization. When we're all cooped up in our apartments, alone in some cases, it's important to find ways to reach out to team members and remind them that you're there to support them however you can.
Remind remote workers how they fit in
Being a full-time remote worker can be lonely and alienating. Over time, the distance and lack of regular contact with your team can get to you. It can negatively affect your self-esteem and create doubts about how you fit into the rest of your organization.
On the flip side, as a manager, there may not be many opportunities to meet with your remote employee in person, especially now. Instead, they show up as a disembodied voice coming out of a speaker, a blurry face flickering on a screen, or a blinking chat notification. It’s easy to forget that there’s a human being on the other end of that video chat—someone who might occasionally need to be reassured about their work, or a reminder that they’re a valued member of the team.
That’s why it’s imperative that managers make it a habit to reach out to remote workers, not only to keep them informed, but to celebrate their work, hold regular check-ins, and occasionally have a casual conversation. These don’t have to be formal 1:1s either. It’s often the friendly chatter that gives remote workers the peace of mind they need.
In short, try to make a personal connection with your people and don’t be afraid to take off your manager hat every now and again. Keeping people involved, whether they’re remote workers or not, creates a more engaged, closer-knit company culture.
Play games with your team
Because we're all dealing with increased stress, team bonding has never been more essential than now. Although actual team outings and in-person team building activities may not be possible right now, remote work technology provides some fun opportunities to unwind with your team after work (or during).
Here are a few activities you can organize with your team:
Video call happy hour. Grab your favorite beverage of choice and hop on a Zoom call together for a casual chat.
Games, games, games. There are so many party games that can be played over the internet. Trivia is a great place to start.
Hold an org-wide group meditation session. Meditating is an excellent way to alleviate stress and refocus your energy, so why not do it over an org-wide video call?
Coffee chats. At Jostle we're big fans of coffee, so we like to connect daily for a short coffee break over Zoom to chat about Paw Patrol (another Jostle favorite)
Take a course. You can hire an instructor to teach a drawing class over video calls. Or maybe someone on your team has a hidden talent they'd like to share with the group.
Remote workers need to stay informed: about company policy changes, meetings, events, and news. As a manager, you need to find a way to ensure that every one of your direct reports is armed with critical information.
Provide a way to quickly find information
The urgency with which remote workers need to access information means they can’t always wait for someone to respond to a question over email or chat. When they’re on the phone, dealing directly with a customer or a prospect, being able to instantly access the information they need is crucial.
That’s why remote workers need a document library, shared folder, company intranet, or some other resource from which they can draw critical information on the fly. Managers will need to anticipate this need and provide remote workers with the tools they need, as well as access to relevant documents so that they’re always prepared for the unexpected.
Keep remote workers in the loop
Remote workers can't lean over to speak to the person next to them or stop someone in the hall for a piece of advice. And because remote workers are always going to be at a disadvantage simply by not being physically present in the office, it’s up to managers and colleagues to remember to regularly chat with them about what’s happening, who’s working on what, and which ideas are taking root.
Jon Evans of TechCrunch explains: “If [your people] are remote, you need decisive confidence, clear direction, iterative targets, independent responsibilities, asynchronous communications, and cheerful chatter.” In other words, your remote workers are relying on you (and the technology that connects you to them) to clearly convey information as it pertains to their role.
Regularly using tools like chat and video call apps ensures that there’s always an open line of communication between remote workers and managers.
In practice that means scheduling video 1:1s, providing everyone with Zoom links for meetings, always being available and responsive on chat, and taking advantage of internal communications tools, too. Remote workers rely on unimpeded information, so make sure there aren’t any pesky communication blockages that might hinder their work.
Above all, managing remote workers requires discipline, from both you and your team. It means finding opportunities to stay connected and engaged, and maintain the strength of your team. And now it's your turn. If you've got some tips for managing remote employees, please share them in the comments section below.