Most people have dreamed of working from home: not having to commute, or spend time with people you don’t like and living on your own schedule, wear PJs and slippers to work—heck, maybe even work from bed.
But anyone who tries it discovers there is a lot of work goes into being a remote employee.
The burden of working remote can be heavy. If not done right, there is a troubling lack of work-life balance, leaving employees feeling alienated and their work potentially suffering.
It is the job of the manager of any remote team to make sure they keep the thumb on the pulse of their team’s emotions, and drive them towards success.
And being outside of a traditional managerial role where face-to-face meetings can happen at short notice, a remote manager must recognize the specific needs of their team.
Things can easily slip through the cracks when everyone is in different places, such as missed communication or time-zone slip ups.
Here are a few things to help ensure that you and your direct reports are all on the same page.
Great communication is vital to remote success
Texts and chats are notoriously difficult to use for conveying nuance.
Even the most skilled wordsmith can still be misunderstood on Slack or other instantaneous communication. This is especially problematic in a remote environment as chat may be the only tool that you have at your fingertips.
Communication is the most important aspect of managing a remote team, especially if you can’t just walk over to someone’s desk.
Your employees need to feel their opinions are valued and that you have an open door for communication.
Video chat is an essential tool
There are a few tools that are integral to remote communication, but the most important one is video chat, the remote equivalent of a desk driveby.
If you are communicating with one of your direct reports and neither of you are able to understand what the other is conveying, or emotions are running high, ask to hop on a video call rather than continuing to type in circles.
Video calls allow you to see each other’s emotional responses and are incredibly impactful for clarifying the meaning behind text.
You can connect with your team on:
- Google Hangouts
- Go To Meeting
Remote employees need communication preferences
It is important to ensure each of your team members sets out their communication preferences, especially if the team is distributed across time zones.
Let team members dictate what communication works best for them. You’ll help them to feel like their time is valued and make sure they feel heard.
My preferences are if it is outside of 7.30AM-5PM in my timezone, please send me an email. If it is within that timeframe, you can reach out to me via Slack or Trello. If it is an emergency, you can text or call my phone number.
This makes it so that I rarely get random Slack pings at 4AM that wake me up and put my mind into work mode. While this is important for all remote teams, it’s especially important if you are distributed across timezones.
While working remotely or from home offers flexibility in some areas, it is possible for it to be too loose, and cause problems for you as the manager and your employee.
When you work from the same space that you live in, it can be hard to set boundaries between when work-time ends and home-time begins.
Set appropriate expectations for your team about when they’ll be working.
Outline clear working and nonworking hours
Have them set specific hours they will be “on” for work, so they have a schedule to rely on rather than being at the beck and call of the company’s needs. Keep this in the same place as your communication preferences so that the rest of the company also knows where they can find the information.
Ensure your team members know exactly what is expected of them each week, and who to reach out to if they are having problems.
In an office, it can be much easier to connect with your coworkers and know what their specialties are because you are eating lunch with them every day.
Remote employees do not usually have that benefit, except when they are invited to spend time in the office.
Make all of the things that would be “easy” in an office easy remotely by setting clear expectations and paths of escalation. This includes:
- What projects they should be delivering on and what the timeline for them looks like
- Who to talk to about integral business questions or if they run into trouble
- What times you are available
- What times they should be available
- What level of flexibility, if any, you are expecting from them
Having explicit clarity on each of these points will eliminate he ambiguity that can be so paralyzing with remote work.
Supporting your remote employees
Yes, creating your own schedule and working from the comfort of your home can be nice, but it can be alienating for certain types of personalities, or people who have never worked remotely before.
It is incredibly important to do wellness checks with your remote employees to see how they are feeling, whether they are the most seasoned remote person or they’re just starting out.
Support should begin from the start of your relationship with the employee. Start in your first one-on-one by creating a culture that is open for feedback. Letting the employee know you are okay with getting constructive feedback will make them comfortable about letting you know when something doesn’t feel great.
You can’t support your employee if you don’t know what’s wrong, and they are unlikely to reveal that they’re feeling depressed and lonely if there isn’t already a precedence to do so. With remote employees who are new to working from home, ask them during each one-on-one how they are feeling about their remote environment.
Listen to them carefully when asking your employees how they are doing.
Explore how you can incorporate fixes for the issues they’re conveying in the team culture.
If your team members are feeling alienated and want to get some more face time with other teams, plan to have a week-long meet-up at the office, or try to shoot for fun interteam events over video chat.
Remote relationships can thrive
Managing remote employees can be challenging. But there is no secret to success. Follow these 5 best practices to create a high-performing remote team:
- Always default to video chat over regular chat to avoid miscommunication
- Assume positive intent: you don’t have a way of seeing how your employee works every day, so if they do something incorrectly or something you don’t agree with, assume they did so with good will in mind, not because they are a bad employee.
- Be respectful of timezones: as the chances are you wouldn’t want to be in a meeting at 7.30PM. Offer them the same courtesy.
- Be aware of the temperature of your team. How are people feeling? Do they feel isolated?
- Always keep your 1:1 appointments, and try not to cancel or shift the days as 1:1s are one of the few times that you’ll get to see your employees, and it’s important that they feel sacred to both you and your team member.
Management can be difficult and trying at times, but is also one of the most rewarding positions.
Remote leadership is no different, but comes with its own set of challenges. While it is more low-touch than traditional management (hardly ever seeing your team), your emotional awareness is 10 times as important.
You need to be able to pick up on the nuances of team members via text and habits, rather than being through body language or talking to them every day. Keep in mind the tips above and you’ve got this.