The Ultimate Guide to Managing Remote Employees
With little warning and no time to prepare, the pandemic forced organizations worldwide to uproot their employees and shift them into fully remote teams. While this transition was more difficult for some than others, many have learned that remote work does, in fact, work.
What all leaders should know about managing remote teams
In a webinar 15Five hosted with Zoom, VaynerMedia, and PagerDuty, HR leaders shared what they’ve learned, developed, and deployed in their organizations to conserve high levels of employee engagement and productivity when leading remote teams.
Read on for the four key lessons they learned about remote workforce management and their recommendations for helping your teams thrive.
- Your teams can move much faster than you think.
In business and life, it’s easy to get stuck in the weeds. While any situation can result in various complexities, when there is bottlenecking, miscommunication, and lack of transparency, making progress can become increasingly difficult.
The COVID-19 crisis was a strong and unfortunate motivator, but it pushed many businesses to move quicker than ever. One of the silver linings was that this challenge showed us just how adaptable we truly are.
- Distributing your workforce can bring people together in unorthodox ways.
“Previously, we were 20% remote, and just like most people, we’re now 100%. But we weren’t all that open to remote work,” explained Joe Militello, Chief People Officer at PagerDuty.
“We knew those remote people felt disconnected. Previously, if a person walked by during your Zoom call, it was very stressful, but now there’s so much kindness. Now, if someone’s child makes an appearance, the employee is expected to introduce them. Embracing these moments can reduce stress.”
- Virtual meetings can actually be more collaborative than in-person meetings.
It’s safe to say that video conferencing platforms like Zoom have become one of the unsung heroes for remote teams during the transition. Alongside its meteoric rise in popularity, millions of people have become more comfortable with having personable interactions from afar.
Some benefits of virtual meetings are obvious, like the ability to connect any number of people in different locations. Still, one perk many have started to notice is that video calls give people an equal share of space — literally. This is encouraging, especially for those who are often quiet during discussions and can lead to more collaborative and engaging meetings for everyone.
- Managers are the glue holding remote teams together.
In some way or another, we were all challenged to step up to the plate during the pandemic. Leaders had to transition, communicate, and lead their teams in entirely new ways.
Many employees had to take on additional responsibilities, and managers had to become the support systems their people desperately needed. Creating a safe and supportive work environment for their teams has become more critical than ever.
Jodi Rabinowitz, Head of Talent and Organizational Development at Zoom, explains, “We rely on our managers to not micromanage, but to bring people closer together.”
How to avoid burnout working from home
One of the biggest challenges the workforce faced during the pandemic (and continues to face today) is employee burnout. For managers and business leaders, setting realistic expectations — for yourself and your staff — is critical to avoiding burnout, especially in a remote environment.
Burnout can be just as much psychological as it is physical. So it can be healthy and de-stressing to do a reality check to see if the expectations you are working under are real or imagined, realistic or unrealistic, motivating or demotivating.
Here are a few helpful tips for doing this:
- Examine what you’re expecting from yourself and how it measures up against what you think others expect from you. Then, ask your co-workers to see how accurate your assumptions are.
- Zoom in on a particular task/meeting/responsibility to clarify the expectations that come with it.
- Release yourself of the assumption that things must be balanced. They won’t ever be, and you shouldn’t expect them to be. If balance is impossible, learn to manage the swings, so they aren’t so devastating.
Have empathy for your team and share your own burnout story
Overall, you must be explicit and clear in the expectations you’re working under, making sure they are grounded in reality and helping you move towards meaningful goals. In doing so, you ensure that you aren’t stressing about the little things and you’re spending your time on the things that matter.
As leaders, consider completing a similar expectations audit with your team. Open up the conversation with your own authentic experiences of burnout. When you’re vulnerable like this, your people will be more likely to bring their own walls down and ask for the help they need.
Make sure you and your employees are (truly) disconnecting
When work is at home day after day, we all know how easy it can be for a workload to overwhelm us. Setting clear expectations is the first step, but we must also be mindful of the boundaries between work and life.
You can help your people disconnect by doing the following:
- Work with the team to establish a cut-off time where work for the day ends and folks are unavailable. Encourage folks to strictly adhere to this cut-off time and understand that they can attend to it the following day if it’s after the agreed-upon time.
- Establish periods of time when folks won’t take meetings. This can be “no meeting Wednesdays” or “long weekend” Friday afternoons — any period that gives people some extra space away and the opportunity for focus.
- Strongly encourage your people to use their PTO. While they might not want to travel somewhere during their time off, “staycations” can be just as rewarding and refreshing.
Disconnecting when you’re done with work is vital to preventing burnout and keeps you energized and focused during the hours you are working. Consider shutting down your laptop at the end of the day or muting notifications on your phone during non-work hours. Some people even recreate their commuting rituals by taking short walks around the block each day before and after work. Whatever you need to do to disconnect, find it and put it into your daily practice.
Remote workforce management tips
Whether you’ve worked at home for years or are just making the transition, now is the time to commit to specific behaviors that will ensure the entire team stays productive and connected. It all comes down to balance — having time for work and for yourself while maintaining a strong sense of connectedness.
Encouraging employees to take care of themselves first and establishing downtime is as important for productivity as setting quarterly goals and tracking progress. And maintaining connections means that people should focus on building trust, collaborating effectively, and maintaining internal, team-wide support during challenging times.
Below is your managing remote workers toolkit, with tips ranging from ergonomics and IT tools to setting work-life boundaries.
Maintain a sense of community
It’s crucial to create and regularly commit to certain practices. These can be agile practices for productivity, like scrums, retrospectives, and debriefs. Or they can be for culture building.
The simplest and most vital agile practice is having regular employee and manager 1-on-1s. Protect these at all costs because they are critical for connecting, building trust, clearing bottlenecks, and maintaining progress on key initiatives, especially when you don’t see your co-workers in person each day.
An example of a culture-builder at 15Five is Gratitude Mondays, an all-hands virtual meeting that begins with practicing gratitude. Practicing gratitude at work is not just feeling grateful; it involves active participation.
At the start of the meeting, our Chief Culture Officer sets a gratitude theme — communication, technology, family, sunshine, etc. — and every one types a few sentences in the #gratitude Slack channel. This activity has proven to have various physical, emotional, and mental health benefits.
Team and department-level meetings are also an excellent time to talk about wins, progress, and what can be improved. They normalize the discussion of obstacles, problems, and challenges with a manager.
A valuable meeting to consider is the AMA (Ask Me Anything) with execs and other leaders. Opening the floor for questions ensures that all voices are being heard and that the most important things are being discussed quickly.
Here are a handful of tips for maintaining connection while working remotely:
- Mind your language with email, chat, and text, since there’s no body language to add context, and tone is often ambiguous.
- Use video and phones often so that you can see and hear people.
- Use gallery view on video calls to see different people on a larger team.
- Start meetings with a few moments of connection.
- Set clear agendas.
- Only set necessary meetings to avoid Zoom Fatigue. Too many remote meetings can cause productivity to plummet.
- Intentionally invite everyone to participate. In an in-person meeting, there are visual cues. People turn their heads toward someone to talk, but that’s not clear in video meetings.
One way to prevent or repair misunderstandings is to always check in at the beginning of meetings because when we know what’s going on in the worlds of others, we can operate with more compassion. Leaders can go first to share where they are struggling to model authenticity.
Balance self-care and productivity
Communicating with others is not just about staying connected; it can also drive productivity. (It can also harm productivity if not done correctly, like when you’re invited to a meeting you don’t need to be in, or clear boundaries aren’t set around when it’s appropriate to reach out to someone.)
Productivity is also heavily influenced by how your body feels throughout the day, especially when working from home. Here are some tips to stay productive by caring for yourself:
- Optimize for ergonomics at your home office because you may no longer have access to a supportive chair or standing desk.
- Remember to get on your feet and move around regularly.
- Set your laptop and camera height so you don’t have to hunch over.
- Consider lighting and include as much natural light as possible.
- Designate a work-only space (i.e., leave work-only items there).
- Set work-only time and boundaries with others in the home (partners, roommates, children).
Be willing to protect your own time. It can be tempting to want to always be available, but interruptions like in-app notifications are the not-so-silent productivity killer. Set boundaries, including device-free time, so you can do deep work.
7 ways to build connections when managing remote employees
Many employees are forced to blur the lines between work and home life in today’s workforce. Such a significant shift means that the focus on increasing employee engagement is now greater than ever. Unfortunately, the old methods for boosting engagement may not carry over into a remote workplace.
Creating the space each week to focus on your people’s well-being can help forge more meaningful connections among remote teams. This level of support can also motivate employees to do the best work of their lives.
Here are some proven tips for helping you connect with employees, even when the team is partially or fully remote.
- Encourage employee group activities
Studies show that employees with friends at work are more engaged and less likely to leave. On the flip side, remote employees who feel lonely or isolated are less productive, less healthy, and even more likely to quit.
Bringing remote teams together with like-minded interests outside of their day-to-day work is a great way to build unlikely connections. For example, hosting a book or film club via Zoom where people can gather to have discussions regularly can interest people from various teams who may not otherwise get to interact.
- Over-communicate gratitude and praise
High-performing organizations are far more supportive and complementary than low-performing organizations, but the truth is, when employees aren’t in a centralized location, it’s easier to let great work go under the radar. A great way to bridge that gap is by allowing your remote employees to send their praises to each other in a public way, like through virtual High Fives.
- Support employees’ hobbies
Sometimes doing something to support your employees’ other interests outside work can do wonders for building a deeper connection, even if it is from afar. This shows that you not only care about their professional development but their personal growth too. While it may seem paradoxical, having conversations that aren’t about work can lead to more fruitful professional relationships.
- Create fun remote traditions
Sometimes your employees need to take off their work hats together and engage in fun company activities. A way to embrace change is to create new traditions that everyone can enjoy, even if only through the virtual space.
Schedule time for a company game night or talent show. Or even round up stories about personal milestones and fun anecdotes about their families, kids, or pets, then share these with the team.
- Give extra incentives, if you can
Let your employees know you’re looking out for them by offering new, extra incentives you might not have been able to offer when you were working in an office.
For example, aside from existing benefits like healthcare, create perks for remote employees such as reimbursements for their home office or gift cards and vouchers for essential services.
- Check-in regularly
Regular check-ins are easy when you’re in an office, but going the extra mile to set these up with your remote workers throughout the week can act as an effective pulse check. It’s important to regularly ask how your people are managing and gauge their feelings about their work.
- Strive to be asynchronous
Asynchronous work is essentially task-based and not hours-based. This boosts employee morale if they know they don’t have to be online all at the same time so that they can handle things in their day-to-day lives.
This type of work is more accessible when you have the right HR Saas software to check in on your employees’ well-being, get continuous feedback, develop high-performing managers, and enable a more dynamic performance management cycle.
Make remote management easier with 15Five
Let’s face it, remote work is an enduring reality at this point. Among other reasons, having a remote team allows employers to find the best talent and enables managers to be flexible about coming into the office themselves.
One Ernst and Young study found that near the top of concerns for employees seeking a new job was “being able to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion.”
So how can leaders create that flexible environment that top talent is looking for while building more productive, high-performing teams?
3 steps to staying connected while working from home
Our co-founder and CEO, David Hassell, managed 15Five remotely for over a year with the help of remote work tech tools like Zoom, Trello, Google Drive, and our very own employee feedback software.
As David explained in VentureBeat, “If people are off-track or out of alignment with company goals, I can see right away, and respond quickly to get them back on course.”
Here are three ways 15Five improves remote team success:
- Goals & accomplishments
A Harvard study showed that reflecting on our work and keeping a “done list” can significantly improve learning and performance. One of the study authors, Professor Francesca Gino, stated that we have a bias for completion. Employees who checked items as complete were 30% more productive and experienced greater enjoyment in their work.
The “Goals” tab in 15Five allows employees to enter their most important tasks for the upcoming week. Then they can check off the goals as they’re accomplished and leave comments to provide other details about their progress. They can even add additional accomplishments at the bottom that were not contemplated the week before. Managers get a sense of progress at a glance and can comment to applaud wins and ask for details on failures.
- Employee Q&A
Remote work works, but not in a vacuum. Consistent communication is a crucial component for any high-functioning remote team. Asking questions at a regular cadence allows managers to create a culture where employees feel heard, stay productive, and remain accountable, even from far away.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure what to ask. Here is a great question to get you started:
How have you improved your remote working skills this month? Have you identified any challenges?
- Manager Feedback
Employee feedback is a two-way process, and not responding to employee feedback is a recipe for disaster. People want to feel heard when they have problems and be seen when they have triumphed.
With 15Five, managers can comment on employee responses, spawning critical conversations about everything from increasing revenue to improving company-wide processes.
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