As many companies have recently discovered, managing remote workers requires a significantly different approach to managing teams under one office roof. Aside from trying to humanize video calls and keep all team activity visible, you need to connect the individual remote experiences within your team. That means keeping everyone’s workload, work/life balance, engagement, performance and experience in focus. But how, exactly, do you do it?
Towards mature remote management
For thousands of companies, the shift to remote management has been completely reactive—a quickly improvised response to the restrictions of the global COVID-19 pandemic. This has levelled the playing field for many teams, with managers and employees alike navigating the same transformation journey and shaping new solutions together. But it also removed the space for a considered transition to remote work, and the development of a robust remote first company culture or hybrid work culture.
Having only adjusted to the idea of remote work, many companies around the world are now feeling the pressure to make remote and hybrid working a long-term fixture. Creating hybrid remote schedule is a start, but building effective collaboration and relationships in a virtual environment requires something more. Without investing in the right technologies and processes, companies are unlikely to keep remote employees visible, supported and engaged long-term.
How to manage remote workers
Having worked remotely for seven years now, at Memory we know remote employee management is never a finished product—you need to keep working at it. But with the right infrasturcture, policies, communication and culture, you can create a solid foundation. Here are the seven remote best practices we use to enable a highly effective, happy remote workforce.
1. Have a robust remote work policy
It’s unreasonable to expect remote working to instantly be an unmitigated success without establishing universal rules of engagement for every employee. Your company should have a remote work policy that clearly lays out expectations, entitlements and managerial processes. Among other points, it should clarify how collaboration will work, when remote employees are are expected to be available, who they can turn to if they need support and the different ways they can provide feedback. Aside from detailing the mechanisms that will make remote work possible, your policy should act as a cultural document, communicating your company’s values, corporate responsibilities and commitment to transparency.
2. Build a remote tech infrastructure
You simply can’t manage remote employees without the right remote collaboration tool. It should enable you to keep every remote employee’s work, hours, performance and wellbeing visible. On a broader team level, your stack should facilitate everything from work communication and organization, to time management and team planning. There are tons of remote work tools out there, but choose your core apps wisely to avoid software sprawl. Basics like Slack and Zoom (for communication), Bamboo HR (for vacation and availability), Timely (for hours and work visibility) come to mind.
3. Establish a clear communication cadence
Successful remote work relies on effective communication – not just for smooth collaboration and exchange of ideas, but to enable ongoing feedback and support. When people first start working remotely, one of the most important things they need to feel confident about is what the remote communication structure looks like. When will they have one-to-ones and team syncs? How should they use different communication channels? What’s the best time to contact people? How should they communicate availability? How should they structure certain messages and flag urgency? With a solid internal communication structure, collaboration stays thoughtful and everyone knows what to expect.
4. Keep remote hours visible
When you’re working remotely, it can easily feel like you’re in your own bubble, where nobody knows what you’re working on or notices your progress. Aside from making it difficult to keep your teams aligned, this invisibility poses huge problems for employee engagement and wellbeing too. If you can’t review your employees’ work hours, overtime, capacity and activity, you can’t support their performance or address any work/life imbalance, stress and burnout. Thankfully automation can now help plug this blind spot – a handful of automatic time tracking apps can track time and create timesheets for your remote employees while they work. Aside from helping you ensure no-one is being pulled in too many directions, they provide remote workers with useful productivity insights too.
Automate remote team time tracking
5. Provide ongoing individual support
When employees work independently from their own homes, they often miss the immediate supervision and mentorship of the office. From dropping by a colleague’s desk to ask for help, to enjoying the emotional richness of real face-to-face communication, there are many ways being office-based can help people feel motivated and encouraged – so managers need to think carefully about how they’ll be able offer the same sense of support remotely. Ensure you check-in with employees regularly, creating safe spaces for them to talk about their remote experience. Scheduling your one-to-ones helps employes prepare ahead, and communicates that you’re invested in their progress and development. Remember to create a range of different support mechanisms, encouraging employee-owned initiatives too.
6. Build inclusivity and participation
Remote work needs to feel natural and normal, and this can only really happen when a company has a solid remote-first culture. Few things are more annoying for remote workers than feeling like they’re being micromanaged from afar, so it’s crucial that employees are given the space to work on their own terms and shape their days as they see fit. They need to feel trusted. Equally, it’s important for them to trust that everyone is being treated fairly, feels included and wants to participate. To build an effective remote-first culture, managers must think about how they’ll gather remote employee feedback – because without being able to do this successfully, you may not even be aware of which issues need work or when problems arise – and without honest feedback, you won’t be able to solve them, either.
7. Create dedicated spaces for bonding
Loneliness and isolation are common complaints of remote workers, and it’s normal to miss the easy banter and camaraderie of office life. It’s important for managers to take proactive steps to strengthen the bonds between remote workers, and ensure people enjoy non-work chat and social interaction. Don’t assume it’s happening; make it happen yourself. Set up a Slack channel where people can share news and swap music, and try scheduling regular coffee breaks, friendly competitions and virtual classes. Small things make a difference, too – when you call someone, use video so they can actually see your face and enjoy a more human interaction.