With many employees moving to full or part-time work from home arrangements, managers are faced with a critical new challenge: how to manage a workforce virtually. How can managers motivate, mentor and evaluate their teams without the daily face-to-face interaction?
The key is embracing change and finding creative solutions to meet employees where they are.
Many virtual employees struggle with feelings of isolation and miss the inherent sense of teamwork they experience in an office environment. Managers should be reaching out to their team members frequently for multiple reasons.
The first is to check in on how the employee is feeling about this new arrangement and what, if anything, the manager can do to help ease the transition. Establishing a base level of trust and respect is key to a successful work from home arrangement.
Second, managers and team members alike should be communicating frequently regarding project expectations. There is a misconception that remote workers are less productive and often managers can be frustrated when their employees are unavailable for immediate work. Setting expectations on the front-end for project deadlines, and frequent follow ups on progress, establish a mutual trust that both employee and manager are working towards the same goal.
Third, fight feelings of loneliness and isolation by maintaining times for informal chats and non-project related check-ins. Encourage employees to take breaks and still take the time throughout the day to connect with their co-workers. Whether scheduled in advance or if they happen organically, these frequent touchpoints are key to a successful outcome.
After establishing trust and expectations on the outset, both employees and managers should feel open to discussing any issues as they come up. Employees should be held accountable for the project deadlines and work schedules they have agreed to up front.
In that same vein, boundaries should also be established on the front-end with frequent follow ups and check-ins along the way. What hours will employees commit to? Are there any times of day or days of the week when the employee will be unavailable? What communication methods should be used if an employee is not online? All these conversations should be held in advance of any issues so that all parties agree.
Focus on feedback. With less face-to-face interaction throughout the day, many employees are left feeling like they have no idea how they are doing and can lose sight of how they fit in to a larger organization. Especially for new hires, increase the frequency and specificity of feedback, both positive and negative. Give feedback over the phone or video chat whenever possible to make sure the intended message comes across. Make sure remote workers also have the opportunity to give feedback, as well.
Managers must recognize that not everyone will be working a standard eight to five schedule while working from home. Make sure that employees are meeting project and hour requirements; but give them flexibility to meet them on their own terms. Focus on the end goal of project deadlines and meeting customer needs, rather than the minutes per day an employee is at their desk. Micro-managing is rarely a useful tactic to motivate employees.
Find new ways of connecting and motivating your team. Embrace group chats and video meetings for both project related tasks and for informal conversations. Frequent touch points throughout the day are key for keeping a workforce engaged and motivated while working remotely. Host lunches or happy hours on a video chat platform to connect with your employees in an informal setting. Video conferences, although initially awkward, boost feelings of inclusion and are more likely to keep people engaged and participating in meetings.
Managers of remote teams are presented with unique opportunities to challenge the status quo, use imagination and creativity to connect with their employees, and utilize a wide offering of technology platforms to manage projects and customer needs. While tempting to keep managing employees the way we always have, a pivot must be made to focus more on employee engagement and inclusion to maintain an engaged workforce.