Rapid advancements in technology have made it more doable than ever for employees to stray from the traditional office setting – as opportunities to work remotely have increased more than 44% in the past five years. This work-from-home trend is forcing many employers to develop a new, remote managing style to match. At Employer’s Council, we know it can sometimes feel overwhelming to manage your remote workers virtually. The same process that keeps your office running smoothly can also be the solution for remote management: clear and effective communication. Focus on these three areas to keep the lines of communication clear.
The key to managing remote workers is to establish clear expectations early on. Hold routine meetings, whether in person, on the phone, or online, to discuss job tasks and expected results. Set an agreement on how work will get done, similar to the way you would manage an “in-office” employee. Be specific about details such as whether it is acceptable for the employee to work from anywhere or if security, confidentiality, and other concerns limit remote work to a home office.
Covering what is acceptable and unacceptable upfront can help avoid unmet expectations and frustrations later on. When you don’t see team members physically on a daily or regular basis, much can be lost or easily misinterpreted. Take the time to talk openly about expectations from both the manager’s and employee’s perspective. This will be the most valuable way to set the relationship up for success.
Keep Employees Engaged
Engaging employees who work remotely can be a challenge. The daily hallway conversations that develop into meaningful strategy sessions and impromptu discussions are lost, along with opportunities to stop by a co-worker’s office to brainstorm new ideas. Knowing that employees who work remotely are missing out on these opportunities, it’s in your best interest to put in extra effort to help them stay involved. Encourage your in-office staff to include them in discussions, either in person through phone calls, online interactions or by summarizing the conversation in email. Helping everyone in the office remember that those employees are critical to the team is essential for the situation to be effective. Make it a goal to ensure those working remotely have a voice on team meetings, projects and events.
Break Down the Barriers
One of the biggest challenges with employees working remotely is the “us” versus “them” mindset that can develop in the office. Change your words to change your mindset. Referring to those who work remotely as “remote employees” automatically sets a negative tone. Consider calling these employees members of your “virtual team,” “flex workers,” or other alternative terminology. When the situation calls for it and the logistics work, have those who work remotely come to the office to reenergize team connections.
It’s also easy for those working remotely to feel disconnected from the office culture. Don’t forget to include everyone in get-togethers, happy hours and other culture events. Just because someone is located at home during work hours doesn’t mean they won’t attend after-hour happenings. Have workers in a different city or state? Be creative! Encourage involvement in the planning processes or consider assigning them an “in-office” buddy who can video them into the event or bowl their frame at the company bowling party.
These are just a few simple ways to tackle the task of managing remote team members. With constant and creative communication techniques, employers are able to manage all employees effectively, regardless of their location.
Karen Stafford is the Arizona president of the Employer’s Council. A graduate of the University of Hawaii, Stafford holds a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management and currently serves on the faculty of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Stafford has more than 25 years of human resources experience and has served in senior management and HR consulting positions in a variety of business settings. She has counseled, educated, and trained hundreds of Employers Council members and other HR professionals on the topics of supervision, leadership development, collaboration and teambuilding, human resources strategy, social media, performance management, and employment law.