Managing remote employees is becoming increasingly important in the digital age but how do you do it?
Did you know that by 2020, 1 in 2 businesses will have online teams?
Rapid developments in technology and a more integrated, globalized society has impacted work culture, leading to the rise of virtual workspaces. This is a far cry from a couple of decades ago where working in an “office” was seen as the norm or even a prerequisite for a secure, settled job.
Contrary to the previously held notion of remote working being associated with slack and low productivity, hiring a remote workforce has many genuine benefits - from giving employees the flexibility to carve out their own schedule to saving hours wasted commuting.
Whether you’re outsourcing work across time zones or having some employees work from home (or both), here are some best practices for managing remote employees.
Set clear expectations on objectives, timelines and communication protocol so that you are in sync with your team on priorities and business goals. A useful tool we recommend is project-management platform Wrike which allows you to create and delegate tasks, set deadlines, track progress and collaborate with colleagues.
Wrike is ideal if you are dealing with multiple projects and competing deadlines as it helps prioritize which tasks to focus on and minimize miscommunication as all team members can view project updates in real time. This helps your team stay on top of various projects even if they work in different time zones.
Share resources and give your remote workforce access to systems and software that can help them collaborate with their colleagues in real time even if they are thousands of miles away. These can include a shared calendar like Google Calendar, access to the office hard drive, and phone or video cloud software like RingCentral that allow you to share multiple screens and record calls, which can be useful for training purposes.
Encourage open communication and have regular check-ins with your remote employee to stay connected and ensure everyone is working towards the same goal. Working remotely can often alienate team members who feel cut-off from the rest of the team. Use cloud-based communication platforms to have quick catch-ups and one-on-ones to address this lack of human contact and reassurance.
Help them along their career paths by providing clear direction at the outset, along with clarity around how their work is in line with larger business objectives. Remote employees are no different from those who work in an office and want to feel valued and recognized for their achievements, so take the time to motivate and congratulate them when milestones are accomplished or when goals are achieved.
Keep them engaged by offering opportunities for growth and support them while dealing with new challenges.
Be sensitive to everybody’s schedule especially if you’re dealing with employees in different timezones. Set videoconferences and online meetings so that no team member misses out.Sharing your calendar with colleagues (and theirs, with you) can allow everybody to see the other’s schedule, allowing you to organize meetings at a time when you know everybody can make it.
Win the trust of your employees by taking some time to build rapport and getting to know them on a personal level. Spend a few minutes talking about non-work related topics such as weekend plans, their kids or current affairs to make up for the lack of interaction in person.
Remote employees can often feel disconnected from the team at office - so sparking an impromptu interaction or conversation might to do wonders for morale and increase a sense of belonging.
Nothing can replace human connectivity and face-to-face communication so whenever possible have face-to-face conversations via Skype or the preferred video networking platform. To promote bonding and team building, it’s important to meet with your remote employees physically at regular intervals or a few times a year (if in different countries) if possible.
Keep track of employee progress and productivity with tools such as Hubstaff which allow you to track your employees’ online activity levels holding them accountable for their hours spent. There is the added benefit of getting to identify which projects take time, and which areas your remote teams are performing well in.
Since tracking productivity is an important part of overseeing remote teams, this will help you easily gain a bird eye’s view of your employee’s performance - allowing you to feed back to them on progress and performance.
At first, it may seem daunting to manage a team of geographically dispersed employees (across towns, countries or even continents). The reality is that it is not dramatically different from managing an in-house team as long as clear lines of communication are established from the start. Other factors to keep in mind are setting expectations in terms of goals, priorities and timelines and to be proactive and regular with catch-ups and feedback.