How important is it to master the art of managing remote employees? In the last 15 years, the number of employees working from home has risen by almost 150%. By the end of this decade, roughly three quarters of all U.S. businesses will employ remote workers.
Such trends are even more pronounced among smaller agencies and in online-oriented fields such as web design. So, no doubt, optimal management of your remote staff will have a tangible impact on your agency’s bottom line—now and for the foreseeable future.
Let’s start with the advantages of remote employment
As technology becomes more intuitive, the process of connecting and collaborating with your remote employees gets smoother. Here are a few benefits for allowing your employees to work remotely:
Remote staffing can generate savings at every level of office management. After all, off-site employees don’t require desks, parking spaces, or personal phone lines, among many other things. Those savings add up.
Studies suggest that the option of remote employment—even part-time—is a big lure to applicants. Allowing an employee to spend even a day or two each week away from the office is a great way to sweeten a job offer, and may make the difference in your ability to land sought-after talent.
Workers appreciate stay-at-home opportunities, which cover everything from avoiding traffic to freeing up time for childcare. Happier employees tend to do better work, and are also more inclined to remain on the job. In turn, strong employee retention is beneficial to an agency’s profit margins—employment-replacement is one of an agency’s largest expenses—not to mention a potent indicator of an agency’s overall health.
More focused employees
Staffers understandably perform better when they can focus better. While some employees benefit from direct supervision and an office environment, studies show that many others see a spike in their concentration when working away from the office. At-home work can offer fewer distractions and diminish the prospect of burnout.
By bringing on employees from beyond your home base, whether from other cities or countries, your agency is expanding its range of influences and perspectives. This can add a fresh new point of view and creative process.
The 9 essential tips for managing remote employees
All told, effective management of remote employees should increase productivity. The key is to develop a system that works both for individual projects and as a general set of best practices.
Keep in mind: For each tip there’s an overriding theme—clear communication. Separated by geography, you and your employees have a particular need for a strong dialogue.
Here are 9 essential tips for managing remote employees, so you promote better productivity and build stronger relationships:
Clarify the commitment
Embrace the tech
Customize your contact
Personalize your process
Build team spirit
1. Clarify commitments
From the start of any project, remote employees should know exactly what you expect from them, and exactly what they can expect from you. In terms of parameters, the more detailed you are, the better. So, be crystal clear on the number of work hours per day and week, project scope and deadlines. And make sure every relevant party signs off on this agreement.
2. Onboard strongly
Studies have shown that effective onboarding can pay long-term dividends. This process becomes particularly important for remote employees who aren’t around to absorb office culture and practices, and/or to learn by watching fellow employees.
As you onboard remote employees, clearly define for them your agency’s mindset, mission, and method of operating. Your employee should also e-meet other members of the office staff—even those not as directly involved in a given project—and other remote employees working for the agency.
3. Embrace the tech
By this point, there are so many available telecom and project management tools, from Slack and Skype to Asana and Monday. Make sure everyone feels comfortable with your tools of choice. Before starting work, make sure your employees are fluent in your preferred platform. If they’re experiencing any technical issues, don’t hesitate to get IT involved.
Generally speaking, you’ll want to use video-conferencing whenever possible—giving you the chance to literally see eye-to-eye, which helps everyone review the same work at the same time, no matter where.
4. Customize your contact
There are many competing views about what constitutes the right amount—and type—of contact between managers and their remote employees as a project unfolds. Some push for frequent interaction and meticulous recordkeeping (such as hour-by-hour time-cards). Others advise a lighter touch, with less of an emphasis on checkpoints and check-ins and more of a focus on longer-term goals and deadlines.
In every case, the key is a consistent approach that involves some form of regular contact. Maybe it’s a weekly progress report or a frequently updated workflow calendar. As the work evolves, develop the method that accommodates the particulars of both the employee and the project.
5. Personalize your process
Of course, each employee is different. Make an effort to really get to know yours with one-on-one meetings. Start your check-ins with conversation about anything other than the job at hand. Give that resume a close inspection and find points of connection. Show that you’re aware of their longer-term career goals.
Your employee should never feel like a temp or “hired gun,” but a unique contributor to your agency’s mission.
6. Build team spirit
Even with consistent and personal contact, remote employees can wind up feeling isolated—this is often cited as the biggest challenge of remote employment in general. It’s up to you to make your remote employees feel part of the team and invested in your company as a whole.
There are numerous ways to do this. You might send your remote employees company merchandise; organize off-site get-togethers at holiday times; include them in intra-office mass emails and a set up a Whatsapp group for more casual communication. If you’re set for a scheduled one-on-one meeting, consider bringing on another member of your staff and making it a group engagement.
7. Emphasize feedback
Office-based workers receive feedback constantly, sometimes without even realizing it. Remote employees don’t get the same daily touch-points, and, left to themselves, tend to worry about how they and their work are being received. You should make an extra effort to craft thoughtful and helpful responses—both positive and negative—to their output.
Celebrate strong efforts or milestones met; send mass emails lauding particular examples of impressive achievement. An employee can feel a back-pat even hundreds of miles away.
8. Be accessible
As a project develops, your remote employees should feel like they can get ahold of you at any time, for any issue. Encourage reach-outs; make sure everyone knows your peak availability times. If a remote staffer shoots you an email, use it as an opportunity to pick up the phone or hop on a Zoom. And let no check-in go unanswered—no matter the time-zone differential.
9. Keep developing
Achieving peak performance from your remote staff is an ongoing process. When you finish your particular project, make sure that your post-mortem meeting includes “exit interviews” with any and all of your remote employees. Encourage everyone to be as open as possible, stressing that there are no wrong answers, and that honesty is the optimal policy.
Remember: At this stage of the game, remote employment is no longer a trend. Rather, it’s an increasingly and necessary way of work and life. If you can truly master this side of project management, your agency stands to gain at every level.