Remote work is here to stay. Over the course of the pandemic, many companies that planned to return to the office ended up keeping the remote setup indefinitely. Recent CareerBuilder data shows that more than 30 times the number of employers now offer remote work as did pre-pandemic. As popular as working form home has become, many workers and managers agree that it brings its own set of challenges to teamwork, productivity and company culture.
Eight tips for managing a remote workforce
1. Identify and acknowledge discomfort.
You’re bound to feel a level of discomfort when managing people you can’t see. Consider your management style. Do you tend to be more trusting or more controlling as a manager? Then identify the challenges to that style, and finally, explore the various skills or tactics you can you use to fill the gaps.
2. Evaluate remote work requests objectively.
Remote work requests should be handled like any other business decision. It’s not about “Is this a good enough reason?” It’s about “What does the business need?” The following factors should come into play:
- Needs of business
- Nature of position
- Individual work style
- Department restrictions/limitations
- Individual performance
3. Say either “Yes, and…’ or “No, and…”
Always give a reason for your decision. If you say no, explain why, especially if it has to do with the individual’s work style or performance. Say something along the lines of “I’m not comfortable with this for these reasons, but if you improve in these areas, we can revisit this in a few months.” On the other hand, if you say yes, make sure you explain any concerns you have going into it, and establish ground rules (e.g. “If we find in a few months that business needs aren’t being met, we may have to revisit this decision.”).
4. Agree upon and document team values.
Create a “Virtual Teams Agreement,” a physical document – to be reviewed every six months – outlining a certain set of behaviors that everyone on the team helps create and agrees on. For example, the agreement should take into account all the ways your team interacts (e.g. “How often do we need to respond to emails? Check voicemails? Have meetings where everyone is physically present? Are conference calls mandatory? What’s optional?”) and ways to hold each other accountable. A VTA will create mutual understanding over expectations.
5. Harness technology.
From Slack to Teams to project management software to CRM tools, there are so many resources today that enable remote teams to work together – it’s just a matter of picking your poison (so to speak). Find out your team’s preferences, and don’t be afraid to mix it up.
6. Set goals and track performance.
Make sure you clearly communicate deadlines and projects. Everyone should know who is responsible for completing which part of the project when. Flash reports, short reports employees submit each week (or even every day) outlining three pieces of information: What they accomplished this week, what obstacles they encountered, and what they’ll do next week. Flash reports not only set expectations, but they hold people accountable for finishing their goals.
7. Communicate deliberately.
When we can’t see each other, we can’t read body language. We don’t always know when someone is being serious or sarcastic in an email, but we also tend not to ask. For that reason, it’s important to be extra clear in communication.
8. Build a strong, cohesive team.
People want to be participating in something bigger than themselves. Build a sense of community by promoting teamwork. Team building among remote teams is certainly not an easy task, but it’s not an impossible one, either. It just requires a little innovation. One idea is to build a PowerPoint, where each person has a section in which they can talk about anything they want – from recent accomplishments to vacation plans.
Managing remote teams may come with its own set of challenges, but just remember the more difficult challenges of having everyone in the office, and how that mandate could hurt your diverse hiring practices and your hiring efforts in general in this tight labor market.