I was recently promoted to my first management position, and I’m really excited. My company put me through a management training program, so I feel really confident stepping into this role, except for one huge issue: Half of my team works remotely–and nothing in my training prepared me to lead remote employees. One of the perks of the management program I completed is that I get a mentor to ask questions of, but he has never managed remote workers either. He seems to think I can manage them the same way I would manage the employees who work in house. I disagree.
So tell me: What do I need to know about managing remote employees? I want to support them, but I think they have different needs.
The Brand New Manager
Dear Brand New Manager,
First off, congratulations on your promotion! It sounds like you’re coming out of the management program with a good deal of foresight and critical thinking–both of which are going to serve you well in this role and throughout your career.
At a basic level, you and your mentor are both right. What makes remote workers and in-house workers the same? They all have the same basic need to feel trusted, valued, included; they need the same access to the tools they need to do their jobs well and efficiently, they need easy access to support, they need to feel heard, and they need opportunities for professional development.
What makes them different? The tools and skills their managers need to create experiences that satisfy those needs. It’s easy to take for granted the significance of the interpersonal relationship-building moments that remote employees miss out on–even little things like days when an admin brings in doughnuts or coffee for everyone in the office–and even easier to try to overcompensate for the lack of interaction by trying to communicate too much or micromanage remote employees.
There’s no reason to stress out your remote employees–or yourself–that much! You’ll just want to keep these key things in mind when you start managing remote employees:
First off, remember that the key to a healthy remote employee relationship, as with any relationship, is trust. You’ll want to establish a healthy, trust-based relationship with your remote employees. Often, remote workers feel pressure to respond to every email or prompt they receive right away, at all hours, lest they be judged for “not working hard enough.” You’ll want to curb this behavior. According to Forbes Coaches Council Member Lakiesha Tomlin of Thrive Ambition, “To combat this belief, set up work-from-home guidelines, such as emails must be responded to within 24 hours, use text for urgent matters, and no calls between certain hours to make sure teammates are not working around the clock.”
You’ll need to set clear expectations–and you’ll want to ask your remote employees to do the same for you. Make sure you are both on the same page. In so doing, you’ll ensure that your team understands not only your expectations for each other, but the deadlines, deliverables, and roles involved in each project you complete.
Make sure you validate and praise the great work your remote employees do, especially in settings such as staff meetings when it makes sense. In-house employees will have the opportunity to see each other working hard and discussing projects; remote employees may not have the same level of opportunity to communicate and collaborate. By praising their work, you’ll be able to develop a greater sense of appreciation for and camaraderie among your team members.
Build relationships with your remote employees. Take time to learn more about who they are as people–what are their family lives like? What do they love to do outside the office? Find out what your common ground might be, and what interests you might share. It’s easy for remote employees to feel lonely and detached from their companies; by investing in them personally, you can help connect them to the company and feel energized to bring their best to the work every day.
I’ve left this suggestion for last because it might be something worth looking into in the long run–and hopefully you’ve inherited something great to begin with–but if not, consider investing in some really great tools and technologies to connect your remote employees with your main office. Everything from chat technologies to project management software, file sharing, and any other tools your teams may need to access. Once you have everything in place, take the time to train employees on all your software and ensure you’ve got your teams fully bought in. Be sure you have extra support at the ready for your remote staff if they run into any issues in the early weeks of use. Ideally, communication and collaboration between your teammates will be seamless–great tools and strong training will get you there. In no time, the distance between your teammates will start to shrink.
Above all else is this: Ask your remote employees what they need. No one knows their struggles better than they do. Once you have their insights, you can move forward toward a solution that works for you both.
Brand New Manager, you’ve got a challenge ahead of you. But it’s no match for your thoughtfulness and clear sense of empathy. With this new set of tips up your sleeve, and with a bit of preparation, you’ll get the hang of managing remote employees faster than you expect.
Cheers to this next chapter of your career!