With a 115% increase over the last 10 years and a forecast of over 50% of US employees to become fully-remote by 2020, remote work is here to stay. For good reason, too. Companies are able to attract top-tier talent and offer higher salaries and better benefits while cutting down on overhead. In turn, employees are happier, generally enjoy a better work-life balance, and are typically more productive than their office-bound counterparts.
Managing remote workers is a skill every employer and manager will have to learn — if it isn’t one in their toolkit already. Here are some valuable tips on managing remote workers.
Hire the right people.
Ultimately, the qualities you should look for when hiring for a remote position are essentially the same things you should be filtering for with any position, remote or not. That said, there are a few qualities that are essential for anyone to be successful as a remote employee. Written communication skills, self-discipline, critical thinking, and attention to detail are all traits that are “must-haves” for a remote employee. Develop an interview process that puts these skills to the test so you can confidently trust your employees to get the job done without micromanaging.
Go the extra mile with new employee on-boarding and set expectations from the onset.
Companies that invest time in a quality onboarding process are 25 percent more likely to retain its workforce while seeing an 11 percent increase in performance. The goal of onboarding, whether for remote workers or in-office, is to make employees feel welcomed by the team, prepared for their first day and confident in learning the basics of their new role.
Facilitate a new hire Q&A via video call to bridge the virtual gap and create a remote onboarding program that integrates and connects employees based on the same strategies of traditional onboarding. In this call, really outline the responsibilities and goals of their position in clear conversational language, and give them an opportunity to ask any and all questions. You’ll also want to make sure the team is fully trained in the tools your company uses, and even more importantly, communication styles. Take the time to review Slack with them, even if they’re familiar, go over any shorthand used or communication nuances at your company that without in-person interaction might take months to pick up on naturally. Put yourself in the mindset of a new employee and try to understand what information would be helpful for a new employee to thrive, and then take the time to explain it all to them. Don’t rush this process.
Adopt a strong management culture
Early on in an entrepreneur’s startup journey, many tend to be skeptical of implementing a management hierarchy as it’s sometimes seen as unnecessarily bureaucratic — however, having a strong management backbone is integral for any remote workforce. WIthout this, teams often find themselves unsure of what to do or disconnected from the company’s goals. Make sure project managers have weekly one-on-one meetings with each team member to ensure everyone is connected to the company mission and on track with their tasks. With this being said, make sure to avoid scheduling unnecessary meetings or creating an environment of constant check-ins. Respect their autonomy, provided they accomplish goals and tasks on time.
When working with employees remotely, it can be easy to assume that if we don’t hear from them, all must be well. On the other hand, sometimes silence can be misinterpreted as an indication that no work is getting done. In addition to scheduling weekly one-on-ones with a project manager, providing employees with regular opportunities to give and receive honest feedback can go a long way towards removing this guesswork.
Twice a year, try to run an engagement survey with your team. Ask very specific questions to get a good sense of how things are going, and make sure to really dig into the data. Not only will you learn about your organization as a whole and understand how each individual is fairing, but this also provides you with an additional opportunity to provide feedback to the team, share insights with the whole company, and talk about the plans you have to improve as an organization.
In regards to personal performance feedback surveys, using a framework for giving and receiving feedback can help you to get straight to the point, and make your conversations more effective. It can also help team members structure their self-evaluation. For example, employees at Automattic, the 500+ employee fully-remote company behind WordPress.com, use the format “3-2-1-Ohs.” An employee reports on 3 things they have done well, 2 areas or skills which need improvement, and 1 way in which the team lead and the organization can support them. The “Oh” is made up of one or two sentences on what they’re most excited or grateful for in the company and how they’d like to develop their career.
Offer engagement opportunities to bring remote teams together.
Also, try to schedule regular, in-person meetings with remote workers (at least once or twice a year). If that’s too expensive, consider regional meetings where you gather in smaller groups. This face time will be highly beneficial in team-building, which makes each worker more productive. Alternatively, plan to meet up at conferences or other work-related events. Face-to-face interaction can help reinforce their value to the company.
While managing a team of remote employees certainly has its challenges, the right tools and strategies can make them feel just as much a part of the team as those in an office. Work to make sure they are recognized as a vital part of the team. Create a Slack #shoutouts channel to recognize individual daily feats, large and small. Letting remote employees know that you value their contributions and providing responsive feedback will go a long way in increasing everyone’s engagement.