For better or for worse, remote work is here to stay. The COVID-19 pandemic has made remote work the new norm and regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, chances are you and/or members of your team have traded their dark work denim and blazers for yoga pants and slippers. While many have found better balance working remotely, it can be a challenging scenario for managers. We’ve rounded up ten tips to successfully manage a remote workforce to help your team stay focused and engaged.
1. Have an efficient and effective way to communicate
Communication is key for any team to thrive. It helps keep teams on track and sort through any issues or challenges. As PredictionHealth’s Co-founder and CEO, Pedro Teixeira, always says, “We can’t solve challenges we don’t know about!”. Having open and honest communication is never easy, but with a remote team it can prove to be extra challenging. Emails often get buried and can feel like a time suck to sort through. Texts often go unreplied. Phones are on ‘Do Not Disturb’ and calls get missed.
Make it easier on your team by having an efficient and effective way to communicate. Use a communication tool, such as Slack, to keep communication organized by topic and separate from employees’ personal lives. An open communication tool also allows the rest of the company to have a glimpse into what others are working on when communication happens in open channels and provide valuable feedback and insights.
Of course, it would be wise to set some parameters around whatever form of communication your team settles on. For example, setting reasonable time limits on replies, what should be discussed on open channels versus private DMs, and using signals (such as emojis) to alert others of busy, OOO, or sick statuses. On the flip side, make it clear that it is expected notifications will be silenced during non-working hours and that communication is not expected when someone is off the clock. As a manager, it is incredibly important that you set an example for your team and their behavior. As told by Martha Wrangham, Director of Compliance for Reify Health, “Remote work can lead to blurred lines between our professional and personal time. As a manager of a fully remote team, I try to be proactive and vocal about the importance of healthy work-life boundaries. Not only does this highlight boundary-setting as a safe and encouraged topic of conversation, but it also helps my team avoid burnout.”
2. Ask for (and actually implement) feedback
In a world with ever-increasing noise and distraction, more than ever, employees want to feel heard and valued. And recent research shows a vocal workforce is better for business! In UKG’s “The Heard and The Heard Nots” report, they discovered that employees with a high sense of belonging and engagement (95% and 92% respectively) are more likely to report feeling heard. In turn, when employees report feeling heard and engaged, organizations are 88% more likely to perform well financially.
In order to create an environment of psychological safety, you may need to specifically ask employees for feedback. Encourage them to be open and honest. Feedback is a great way to have employees voice their concerns and challenges. You may even learn of an issue you had no idea about that could be a huge roadblock for advancing your company’s goals.
The most crucial piece of feedback is not to become offended or defensive. And with that, you need to seriously consider the feedback and then act upon it. Feedback is only helpful if you are actually able to implement changes. This makes employees truly feel heard and appreciated.
3. Create opportunities to learn about one another
One of the hardest aspects of remote work is often feeling like you don’t really know your co-workers. It is a little more awkward to talk about personal things at the company-wide Zoom meeting. People tend to hold back on sharing about their personal life when all meetings are conducted remotely and there are generally less opportunities for natural conversation about your co-workers' kiddos or their favorite weekend hobby.
Your challenge, should you choose to accept, is to create opportunities for your team to learn about one another. Creating opportunities to learn about each other can help build rapport, raise respect and compassion, and boost morale. Having a team with a bond encourages trust, a healthy cultural environment, and ultimately leads to higher productivity.
A few ideas to help your remote employees get to know each other better include an internal monthly newsletter that features a Q&A with a different employee each month or a quarterly virtual fun meeting that is based on lightning round, wacky questions everyone answers about themselves. You just may be shocked and delighted at what comes out of your employees mouths!
4. Create opportunities for fun!
Along similar lines of creating opportunities for employees to get to know one another, you need to be intentional about creating opportunities for fun! Another challenge with remote work is it can often be all business, all the time. There are no natural ‘water cooler’ moments where you catch a co-worker on their lunch break or refilling their coffee mug. There are no new employee lunches or canoe days or team volunteer days at a local nonprofit. You need to recreate the feelings of fun, camaraderie, and belonging employees get from these activities for your team.
Host short ‘coffee socials’ at random, host virtual game lunch breaks, or create fun challenges within your team, such as a water challenge or a steps challenge. PredictionHealth CEO, Pedro Teixeira, created a ‘Habits and Challenges’ channel on Slack where folks join, share the habit they are trying to break or build, and everyone encourages each other with tips, tricks, and words of encouragement, as well as accountability. It has been a total blast!
5. Host regular all-hands meetings
With remote work, it is very easy for teams and individuals to become siloed in their work and their departments. Hosting regular All-Hands meetings gives everyone a glimpse into all aspects of the business and a chance to ask questions of other departments. Knowing what is going on with the organization at a high level allows employees to feel connected with the company and motivated about their individual work and how it plays an important role into the overarching company goals, mission, and vision.
Of course, as with any meeting, you need to be super organized and to the point with the All-Hands. Designate each team to present a certain number of slides with a time limit. Have them give an overview of what they have been working on, recent goals achieved, challenges, and upcoming goals. Keep the meeting on track and on agenda to respect everyone’s time. Leave at least five minutes at the end for comments and questions and have a good contact for each department for further questions and ideas. Keeping employees informed can help reduce silos, boost cross-team collaboration, and even encourage employees to work harder!
6. Host (and pay for) virtual happy hour
It is probably safe to say that most people look forward to happy hour. It's a time to kick back and celebrate the wins of the past week/month/quarter with those you worked hard on achieving the goals with. It is also a time that encourages natural, free-flowing conversations and camaraderie (see #3). Remote workforces can still enjoy a virtual happy hour. Schedule them regularly - in-person if your team all live near each other or virtual if you are spread out - for your team and be sure to let everyone know they will be getting $15 on their next paycheck to pay for their libation of choice. Make it clear that the only business talk will be highlighting recent accomplishments of the team and beyond that it will be a fun social hour. It is always a good idea to have an activity on hand to get conversations going, but if chatter starts flowing, be flexible and dump the plan.
7. Have a clear management hierarchy and reporting structure
Every team, no matter how much they love and respect each other, will hit some speed bumps. For employees’ sake, it's super important with a remote workforce that the management hierarchy and reporting structure is crystal clear so employees know exactly who to call when an issue arises. Be sure to have the management hierarchy and reporting structure clearly diagrammed in an easy to find public document and also offer alternative reporting aside from an employee’s direct manager in case the trouble is with them.
It is so easy for remote employees to ‘suck up’ their issues and hide them behind their computer screen. But this is bad for everybody - including business. While dealing with issues can feel awful in the moment, on the other side of resolution comes clarity, dropping of resentment, better work and productivity, and often creative solutions to better the company. As a manager, you must demonstrate by example that bringing up issues and dealing with them in a productive, healthy way is super important and welcomed.
8. Have clear expectations for employees and communicate them effectively
Having clear and concise expectations for your employees eliminates any question of what the focus of work should be. Of course, having a way to communicate those expectations effectively is equally as important! This is especially critical for a remote workforce where they will not have daily interactions with their colleagues and most likely not even you, their manager.
PredictionHealth HR Manager, Misty Ahmad, relayed, “I have found sometimes people feel a little lost on when/how much/what work they are supposed to be doing so it is helpful to be VERY clear about what you expect them to do (or not to do).” She also notes that giving employees a detailed list of tasks to complete with clear deadlines is very helpful, along with scheduling regular check-in calls. Misty says it is of the utmost importance to discover employees’ preferred communication style. “Working remotely, it is easy to assume that email or Slack is the best way to communicate (often because it is the easiest). Some employees prefer calls or screen sharing sessions and learn faster and better that way. Don’t be afraid to ask new hires their preferred learning and communication styles.”
9. Create a clear path for growth
Chances are, most of your employees do not envision themselves doing their current job forever. Rather, it is a stepping stone to one day achieve something bigger and better for themselves career wise. This is a very good thing for your employees and your company! To keep employees motivated, create a clear path for growth. Show them (literally - create a visual for them) what opportunities exist within your organization and what they need to do and accomplish to reach the next level.
It may behoove you to explicitly ask your employees what they want out of their career long-term. This way, you can help guide them toward the best path for growth and start to map out with them what that looks like. PredictionHealth Operations Manager, Terry Gleckler, relays, “Discussing advancement early on is a great way to gauge someone’s investment in the company. If someone says they want to grow with the company, you can put more energy into developing their skills.” There is no better way to ignite a fire under your employees and keep them inspired!
Keep in mind that not everyone will want blast-off growth in their careers at all times, and that is absolutely wonderful. Often, employees will find themselves in a stage of life where they are content to be where they are for a while. However, that does not make them any less dedicated to their work or the company. This is why semi-annual reviews that are a conversation with employees are so vital - it helps you as a manager keep tabs on whether they are satisfied where they are or whether they are looking for a challenge. Like Kim Scott perfectly states in one of the best management books I have ever read, Radical Candor, every company needs ‘superstars’ and ‘rock stars’ (those who will be the rock of your team - reliable, trustworthy, consistent).
10. Bring everything back to the mission and values
For many, feeling like their work has purpose and meaning is more important than the paycheck. Employees want to feel like the work they do is contributing to the greater good of not only the company, but humanity and the world as a whole. This has never been more apparent since the global pandemic made everyone stop and reevaluate what is really important to them (listen to the ZigZag Podcast for an amazing overview of this crisis).
To have a successful business, it is crucial that everyone on the team believes in the mission. Your organization should have core values to help guide the team as to how you are going to achieve the mission. Find ways to bring everything you do back to the mission and the core values. Keep these in mind as you set goals and hold reviews. Ask yourself and your team, “Are these goals and strategies in alignment with our mission and core values?”. Having regular reminders of why folks do what they do keeps everyone positive, motivated, and pushing through the days that feel like a grind.
Topics: Company Culture