What would our great-grandparents think if they knew that 4.3 million employees or 3.2% of the workforce in the U.S. now work from home at least half the time? And that number is on the rise, with the number of employees who regularly work-at-home growing by 140% since 2005, according to Global Workplace Analytics.
Colorado leads the country with the number of people who telecommute full-time. According to FlexJobs analysis of U.S. Census Data, 6.9% of all Coloradans are telecommuting workers. Although the ability to work in your slippers, perhaps in the company of your four-legged friend is a great perk for any employee, what’s a manager to do?
Managing remote employees, especially an all-remote team, has unique benefits and challenges. These key strategies will help you to be successful.
Foster team spirit.
Successful remote employees tend to be self-disciplined, self-motivated workers. When these employees are accountable, not only to their supervisor, but also to their fellow team members, they tend to think more creatively about how to finish a project and pick up slack in order to support each other as needed. Remote team members who have strong relationships with their team also don’t feel as lonely or overwhelmed after tough days.
Encourage your team to build relationships, even if it means sacrificing a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting to ask about a colleague’s dog or recent life event. By doing this, you will subtlety encourage your team members to learn about each other on a personal basis, even if it’s minimal. This relationship building is an important factor in increasing interpersonal understanding, which can be difficult to achieve when working remotely. Also, consider that if your remote team hires a new member, it may be important for the entire team to meet in-person.
Communicating employees’ responsibilities and accountabilities to the organization for particular work products is key to getting things accomplished. As their manager, you should readily be able to know what projects individuals are working on and the status of those projects.
Have an open-door policy.
By reinforcing to your employees that you are available when your team members need support, you will prevent them from becoming disengaged. A disengaged remote worker may be more difficult to identify until it’s too late, i.e. you are either holding their two-week notice, or paying them to do more laundry than office work, unbeknownst to you.
Keep team members on the same page.
It’s important for team members to know how their individual work fits into the team’s (and the company’s) goals and workflows. Having regular, well-run team meetings at which team members know generally what to expect creates a forum for individuals to describe something they may be stuck on, for example, and collaborate more effectively.
Avoid last minute meetings.
Emergency meetings can break the pace of your remote employee’s work-day. Unless absolutely necessary, avoid surprising employees by stealing a chunk of their day. Instead, plan a meeting with a clear objective for later in the week.
It might be tempting to know what your employee is doing at every minute of the day, but it’s not productive, especially when managing a remote team. Instead, foster trust with employees and allow them freedom of work-style. Be their manager by helping them to achieve their goals, not tracking their every minute.
Encourage work-life balance.
If your employees are working from home, you are always in their personal space. This can lead to trouble disconnecting, leaving employees to always feel compelled to answer emails, be available for calls, etc., even when they have specifically blocked out hours for a school-pick up, for example. Avoid checking-in randomly or always expecting an immediate response. Not only will this communicate your trust, it will help to prevent burnout.
Have technology systems that work.
Remote teams need the ability to conference call, screenshare, and track project progress with ease. If employees don’t have reliable technology for basic communication,not only will they waste time and energy trying to connect, they will be less inclined to connect, limiting effective communication and team progress. Prioritize technology that works for your team’s needs
Lead with the end in mind.
Don’t let your remote team work on an island. Ask your team members for their ideas about how to build better products and support them in reaching out to other teams as necessary to make their ideas happen. Encouraging your team members to be creative and to effectively communicate across departments will lead to more engaged employees a stronger organization overall.