Not everyone you work with and supervise will always be in the same building, state, region or time zone as you.
We assume remote employees can and should be handled the same as local employees. When problems with communication and productivity occur, we are quick to blame the distance for the issue. Employees blame management for the lack of clarity and direction. Managers blame employees for poor results and low accountability.
Both are right … and both are wrong.
Managing employees remotely presents unique challenges that are often overlooked. The lack of social interaction, the reliance on written communication, the importance of trust and the need for regular results measurement are more prevalent in remote work where interaction is not as routine or easy and effort is not as easily observed. Both managers and employees are ill-equipped for how to cope with this. Frustrated, the employee lessens effort and considers leaving the organization while the manager considers ways to bring the work back to common ground where controlling message and outcomes is easier.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible or practical. Both parties have to work thru the challenges to improve the relationship and the results.
And, as always, the manager has to lead these efforts.
Here are 5 ways to turn the tide on the challenges of managing remote employees:
- Be clear … Managers should always seek to create and maintain clarity on roles, duties and expectations of the people who report to them. With remote employees, this is even more important. Making sure your remote employees know what is expected of them and how they will be measured will go a long way in overcoming obstacles. There can be no confusion on these things if trust is going to be established and the seeds for a productive work relationship planted.
- Talk often … Create regular time for conversation with your remote employees. Put it on the schedule and stick to it. Treat appointments with your remote employees with the same level of importance as your C-suite and top vendor partners. As often as possible, visit them in person — and definitely use video to bridge the space gap. Voices over phone and words over email are far more easily misinterpreted than when you can see the other person. Contact should be frequent at first and slowly decrease over time — but never less than once a month.
- Show interest … The great thing about sharing physical space is getting to know the interests and idiosyncrasies of other people. You learn the shows people like and the music they listen to. You learn if they must have a cup of coffee before being able to form a coherent thought and if they are no good without their 3pm snack. You often won’t learn these things about your remote employees unless you ask. SO ASK!! Learn about them. Show interest in and respect for the things they like.
- Never forget … Don’t overlook your remote employees in your efforts toward training, development and promotion. Just because you don’t see them everyday and cannot easily manage them doesn’t mean it is okay to overlook them. Don’t just leave your remote employees out there doing menial, administrative tasks that don’t add real value or drive results. Put effort into developing them for more opportunity if they show interest.
- Lighten up … Take time to talk about things and in ways that aren’t always serious and official. Use emojis, memes and gifs to have a little fun with your email responses when possible. Once you learn about their interests, share articles you find or check in with them after an OMG moment on their favorite show or let them know if you see a good deal on tickets to see their favorite band. Send them an unexpected knick knack or souvenir. Be personable without going overboard.
It is not easy to work away from your boss or from your employees. It takes a lot to cultivate and maintain those relationships. But it is possible with a little extra effort to make meaningful, lasting relationships with remote employees just like you have with the people just outside your door.
Try it. Let me know how it works for you!