Managing Remote Employees: Strategies for Business Leaders
According to Pew Research, of the 140 million civilian workers in the United States, only about 9.8 million had remote work benefits in 2018. Among these remote workers, about 24% were elite employees in management, business, and financial roles.
The COVID-19 pandemic greatly accelerated the transition to remote work for larger groups of employees. Two-thirds of employees currently work remotely for at least part of the workweek, according to a new survey from Clutch, a B2B ratings and review platform.
Experts suggest that working from home is here to stay after the pandemic. Remote work advantages include cost savings, environmental and mental health benefits, greater productivity, and reduced employee turnover. Still, working remotely has its challenges, including communication gaps and team unity.
Business leaders with strong interpersonal and analytical skills adept at organizational leadership can effectively manage remote employees. They also can help organizations ensure that remote employee management is as effective as in-person management while empowering remote workers to support business goals.
The Challenges of Remote Work
The COVID-19 pandemic coupled with digital transformation and flexible shared workspace trends is driving employers’ newfound enthusiasm for remote work. A Brookings report notes that about half of the U.S. workforce currently works from home at least some of the time—more than double the amount from 2017 through 2018. This trend indicates that remote work likely is here to stay.
However, managing remote employees comes with unique hurdles. According to Business News Daily, a reported 38% of remote workers cite the lack of information from managers as their biggest obstacle. Another 39% say their most significant challenge is the timeliness of the information.
Organizations that seek to overcome these impediments rely on their business leaders to develop strategies that make remote work effective. A critical first step is understanding the difficulties, notably potential breakdowns in communication and a lack of team unity. A manager’s expertise in building a remote work structure can mitigate potential problems and foster a productive work environment.
Business leaders help ensure communication processes work for all employees. In remote work settings, technology helps close communication gaps. Common communication applications including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype offer reliable platforms for staff and employee meetings. Moreover, managers also must provide employees with clear direction on when and how to interact with each other. For example, establishing a common platform and time range for communication ensure that individuals are available for meetings during business hours.
Lack of Team Unity
In every workplace, face-to-face interaction and collaboration help strengthen team unity. Working in virtual settings where employees rely on technology is often challenging, especially to those unfamiliar working in this method. For many employees, using an application or online collaboration tool eliminates the personal touch in their work. Some individuals may have problems even downloading the application and using it. A manager who provides the direction and encourages the use of online tools for collaboration, file sharing, and project management can help a dispersed team feel connected as they work together toward achieving business objectives.
Key Remote Management Strategies for Business Leaders
Corporations can face a multitude of obstacles when managing remote employees. Distractions at home can cause employees to lose focus. Supervisors can lack visibility into employee work that results in unreasonable expectations and poor performance.
Managers need a set of tools to ensure a seamless transition to remote work. The first thing managers can ask is: What can be replicated from physical work environments in virtual work settings? The following strategies offer examples.
In physical workplaces, individuals share progress on projects, discuss problems, and brainstorm solutions with colleagues. A variety of collaboration and communication tools can facilitate online meetings to continue these activities. Scheduling routine interactions, such as daily or weekly check-ins, is one easy step a manager can take to ensure work stays on track. A regular routine allows managers and employees to connect via video and share feedback as silence can become a cause of concern for employees who may wonder about their performance.
Promote Work-Life Balance
Technology offers opportunities for employees to connect at any time. Online digital platforms and tools are designed to support employees in working remotely. While employees are more readily available in their homes, they have personal lives too. Managers must ensure an acceptable work-life balance by establishing rules that limit work interactions to predetermined times. This can include creating a policy for employees and managers to not send emails outside of work hours.
Many newly remote employees miss the personal interactions in an office; this is especially true in the current pandemic. According to a recent Harvard study, 60% of surveyed employees indicated worsened social relations at work due to the pandemic. The report cites that “additional attention needs to be paid to social connectedness and work’s community aspect if employee well–being is to improve.” A critical step a manager can take is to provide employees with opportunities to interact socially. This includes virtual learning and brainstorming sessions where employees interact and share ideas with each other.
Schedule Time for Video Coaching
A good manager does more than just ensure productivity. They also serve as a guide, mentor, and coach. During trying times, remote employees may feel isolated or anxious. A manager should take the time to interact on an individual basis with employees via a digital platform that allows screen sharing to simultaneously review the same documents.
Essential Skills for Remote Business Leaders
Business leaders can deploy their leadership, interpersonal, and analytical skills to build effective remote work teams in meeting business goals. Additional vital skills for remote managers include effective communications across all channels: app, email, text, and video chat. It also requires the ability to listen and empathize.
Managers of remote teams are responsible for providing structure; they can ensure processes run smoothly by improving their organizational and goal-setting skills. Employees who suddenly find themselves in a remote work situation may need emotional support and encouragement. An encouraging word can go a long way toward helping employees overcome the difficulties of remote work. Managers of remote teams can help alleviate employee stress by projecting a sense of optimism without overpromising.
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Before the Coronavirus, Telework Was an Optional Benefit, Mostly for the Affluent Few, Pew Research Center
66% of U.S. Employees Are Working Remotely at Least Part-Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Cision PR Newswire
Overcoming 4 Big Challenges of Managing Remote Employees, Business News Daily
Telecommuting Will Likely Continue Long After the Pandemic, Brookings
A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers, Harvard Business Review
When Everyone Can Work from Home, What’s the Office For?, PWC
Top 15 Tips to Effectively Manage Remote Employees, Forbes
Remote Doesn’t Mean Removed—Lead a Successful Virtual Team, Wisconsin Society of Association Executives
Disruption of Work Relationships Adds to Mental-health Concerns During Pandemic, The Harvard Gazette
7 Remote-Work Skills Every Leader Needs to Master, Inc.