As the desire for flexible scheduling and remote work becomes increasingly widespread, employers must adapt to remain competitive.

With 4.3 million employees now working from home at least half of the time, the workforce is changing and both employees and management are feeling the effects. While off-site work requires a certain level of personal responsibility, it is also management’s duty to properly lead these employees.

To keep you and your team at peak productivity, regardless of location, we’re sharing a few management best practices.

1) Know your employees

Learning remote workers’ habits and preferences can be difficult when you aren’t given the opportunity to observe and interact with them in the office. However, regardless of location, it’s important to know your team in order to properly manage them.

Take the initiative to proactively learn each of your remote employees work styles, and how often they like to communicate. Take the time to learn at least a couple personal facts. Ask about their families, hobbies and their hometown to demonstrate your interest in who they are as a person. This also offers you better insight into what motivates them as an employee. Maintaining good relationships can also contribute to employee’s desire to work for your company long term.

2) Foster engagement

Keeping remote employees engaged is a challenge for all remote team managers. When not physically present in an office, it’s easy for employees to feel cut off from the day-to-day “happenings” of the business and removed from company goals and relationships.

Not only is this damaging to an employee’s productivity and feelings towards their role. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to engage these members of your team. Keep them motivated and satisfied in their position.

A few best practices include:

  • Cultivate relationships: Gallup research has found that having close friendships at work can boost engagement. For remote workers these relationships are not only more critical to have, but more difficult to build. Organizing opportunities for remote employees to get to know their colleagues outside working hours can help create a sense of inclusion.  
  • Encourage collaboration: Remote employees miss out on the spontaneous conversations and collaborations that occur simply from being in proximity of their coworkers. To ensure everyone gets real-time access into project insights and status changes, make collaboration software part of all employees regular routines.
  • Stay connected: There are several technology tools to help improve company culture keep your remote employees in the loop. Creating a dedicated space to make special announcements like birthdays, company achievements, new hires, and employee recognition can help foster a stronger sense of community amongst employees. 

3) Check in regularly

Remote workers desire the same level of attention as any in-office employee so it’s important to organize regular check-ins. Engage employees at a set time each morning through a quick instant message chat and organize regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings. These can be either weekly, monthly or quarterly depending on the nature of your business.

Checking in with remote employees on a regular basis whether it be about what they’re working on in a given week, or an on-going mentorship program, helps employees feel connected to your organization, the work they’re delivering, as well as a sense of inclusion within your team.

Additionally, because you can’t monitor remote employees’ daily behavior at work it can be easy to miss when an employee is losing engagement or struggling to produce. Regular check-ins can help prevent any issues growing into bigger problems.

Decide on a type of communication that best meets you and your employees needs and preferences.

  • Email: The classic communication tool is ideal for sharing documents and company wide information.
  • Instant messaging: Google Hangouts and Slack are great options for when you need real-time communication as well as more casual, relationship building conversations.
  • Video chat: When you can’t get organize an actual in-person meeting, video-chat is the next best thing. Allowing you and your team to communicate face-to-face creates a sense of inclusion and facilitates more honest, engaging conversations as you can better identify each other emotional reaction.

4) Monitor productivity

One of the major perks of remote work is the flexible scheduling, but as a manager, it’s important to make sure this freedom is handled responsibly by your employees.

Communicate with your remote team on their preferred work schedules and which hours you expect them to be available. This can help avoid any miscommunication or lapses in productivity due to employees not being able to connect with one another. Utilizing instant messaging tool’s and features can also aid in monitoring remote employees availability. Green light or “active now” indicators show when someone is working and should be able to respond to messages.

Aside from just being online, some companies care to know how long employees are spending on individual tasks. Project management tools and time tracking software can offer insight into what your remote and in-office employees are working on throughout the day.

While you don’t want to hamper remote employees’ independence by micromanaging, keeping tabs on their activity can help you better understand their strengths, weaknesses and working styles which you can build upon for future assignments.

A recommended best practice for monitoring remote employees productivity and avoiding any misunderstandings is to set company-wide expectations early and clearly.

All employees should have a clear understanding on what is to be expected of them in regards to:

  • Work hours
  • Availability
  • Communication tools
  • Timely Meetings
  • Key projects and deadlines
  • Email responsiveness  

5) Organize in-person meet ups

As useful as communication tools are, nothing beats a little face-to-face time. Establish a way to get remote employees in-person at least once a year depending on your resources. Providing an opportunity for employees to mingle and experience your office can help build rapport between co-workers and strengthen remote workers connection to your company.

If your budget allows for it, organizing company retreats is a perfect opportunity to get your whole team together. The energy, bonding and proactive conversations that come out of all-inclusive company events can be incredibly motivating to your team and help propel your employees in working towards a common vision.

6) Keep an eye out for burnout

Putting in extra hours as a remote worker can easily become a habit if employees don’t structure their day around designated work hours and are constantly connected to technology. After a period of time this behavior can lead to burnout and potential issues with their quality of work and overall health.

Take note of your remote employees timesheet patterns and encourage the use of PTO and healthy work-life balance.

7) Send swag

Everyone likes free swag and remote employees are just as proud to work for your company as your local team. If you’re offering any company branded items like T-shirts, jackets, mugs or water bottles, remember to include remote workers.

They’ll feel more connected to your team and you’ll gain some company promotion outside your home city. If supplies allow, send a few extra pieces for remote employees family members to rock as well!

8) Consider promotions  

Remote employees can often be overlooked for promotions in comparison to their in-office colleagues. Regardless of the quality of work remote employees produce, research shows that remote workers are less likely to be promoted.

However, discounting remote workers for promotions because of their geographic location could lead to a missed opportunity for improving your team. Even if a position requires more in-office time, give your remote candidates a chance to consider that change before discounting them.

Leading a remote team will always come with it’s unique challenges. We hope this article helps you streamline your management process and smooth out the inevitable bumps that come along with it. Let us know in the comments if you have any other recommended tips and tricks for making the most of remote work!

Written By
Maddie Davis is co-founder of Enlightened Digital and a tech-obsessed female from the Big Apple. She lives by building and redesigning websites, running marathons, and reading anything and everything on the NYT Best Sellers list.