How to Manage Remote Employees

A recent survey from the Global Leadership Summit in London found that 34 per cent of business leaders expect more than half of their full-time workforce to be working remotely by 2020. Given that remote employees have proven to be more productive, and teleworking arrangements save employers money on office space and other overhead costs, this should be seen as a positive thing. However, the increased prevalence of teleworking presents some interesting challenges for managers who are not used to these arrangements. We’d like to share some advice on how to manage remote employees.

Hire the right people

Teleworking isn’t for everyone, so it’s important to identify candidates who will be successful as remote employees. Strong candidates will be self-motivated, receptive to feedback, and have excellent time management and communication skills. Someone who needs a lot of guidance throughout their work process will probably not be a good fit. Ask competency-based interview questions and have candidates do a small trial project to get a sense of how well they follow instructions and work autonomously.

Create a virtual water cooler

Once you hire your talent, it’s important to make them feel like they are part of the team. The best way to do this is to create opportunities for spontaneous conversations between coworkers, which allow your remote employees to build trust and familiarity with their in-office counterparts. Your remote and onsite employees will be able to collaborate more effectively if they form social bonds. Encourage your employees to use tools like Skype, WebEx, and instant messaging software to keep in touch throughout the day. In addition to sharing company news, inform your remote employees of birthdays, family news, and even amusing stories from the office to help them feel connected to the office community. 

Recognize accomplishments

Whenever possible, share back your remote employee’s accomplishments with the rest of the company so they can get recognition for their hard work. Since they can’t benefit from smaller, day-to-day encouragements that motivate onsite employees, go out of your way to show your appreciation. 

Meet face-to-face on a predictable schedule

Depending on how far away your remote employee works, it may not be feasible to meet in-person very often. Fortunately, predictability matters more than frequency when it comes to face-to-face meetings. Even if you can only arrange to visit with them every six months, create a schedule and stick to it. These meetings should be more conversational than your regular project updates so the employee feels comfortable bringing up any issues that need to be addressed. You can also offer mentoring and coaching during these meetings - remote employees value these things just as much as onsite employees.

Focus on goals and outcomes

Set regular milestones for your remote employees to meet and check in with them regularly to get a sense of their progress. Rather than focussing on when they clock in and out, or where they choose to work, emphasize results and establish clear targets for success. You may find it helpful to divide large projects into smaller chunks so you can more easily track progress. 

Set clear expectations for communication

Be very clear about how quickly employees are expected to respond to emails, which hours they should set aside for team meetings or urgent requests, and how often they should update you on their progress. On the other hand, keep in mind that remote employees are highly susceptible to burnout since flexible working arrangements can mean a lack of boundaries between their work lives and personal lives. Make sure your employees take enough time for themselves, and don’t ask them to respond to questions during their designated off time. As a manager, you should also be mindful of which conversations take place through instant messaging or email. Sensitive conversations warrant a phone call or video conference call to avoid misunderstandings. If there’s any chance that a comment could be taken the wrong way, pick up the phone instead of writing it out. 

As it turns out, there is a lot of overlap between best practices for managing remote and onsite employees. You'll have to work a little harder to keep the lines of communication open, but the manager - employee dynamics remain largely the same.