Managing remote employees effectively

In the blink of an eye – a large percentage of the South African workforce went from commuting daily into the office to being bundled back into their transport and sent home to work! It was only going to be for a few weeks – no big deal! We are now in month 6 and most employees are content to continue working from home. Office expenses have been cut and if managed effectively – this could be the way of the future!

Employers have concerns around maintaining company cultures, people not feeling a part of a team and certain staff who always need to be micromanaged. That said remote working can lead to more productive and engaged employees with a few empathetic but practical actions.

Things to do:

Have a daily check in

Whenever possible, this should be one-on-one, and face-to-face via video. Phone conversations and email only go so far. Your team needs to see you, and you need to see them. The good news is that services like Zoom or Google’s Team Hangouts make this relatively easy. At first, this should be every day. The purpose is to provide the feedback and resources your team members need.

Be on the lookout for signs of distress in your employees

Use both direct conversations and indirect observations to get visibility into employees’ challenges and concerns. Use every opportunity to make clear to employees that you support and care for them. Have regular conversations between managers and employees. HR needs to provide managers with guidance on how best to broach sensitive subjects arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, including job security and prospects, impact on staffing and tension in the workplace.

Equip employees with the necessary resources

Make sure employees have the technology they need to be successful, which may be more than just a mobile phone and laptop. For example, if you expect employees to attend virtual meetings, do they have adequate cameras?
Even if you don’t have an extensive set of technology and collaborative tools available, you can equip employees to function effectively when remote. But don’t just assume that people know how to operate with virtual communications — or are comfortable in that environment. 
Acknowledge that virtual communications are different — and won’t be perfect — but should still be professional and respectful of others. Be mindful that virtual communications may be less comfortable and effective for some, and coach employees on when and how to escalate ineffective virtual exchanges. For example, if you haven’t settled an issue in six emails, the conversation may need to be elevated to a virtual meeting to get closure.

Trust in your employees

Employers need to provide a supportive structure and then to trust that employees are doing what they are supposed to. Suspend your disbelief and put trust and confidence in your employees that they will do the right thing.
Managers may be concerned and even frustrated to lose the constant visibility they once had, but don’t respond by micromanaging. That will only disengage. Don’t fixate on perceived performance problems; you’ll have plenty of time to lean on established performance management systems once the height of the crisis abates.

Reinforce organisational values

How well employees are treated during a time of crisis will be measured by your staff. Many companies have spent the past couple of years building a set of values that describe how much they care about their employees, and how it’s important for them to create great lives and experiences for their employees. Make sure to reinforce these values with employees.  
Also continue to model the right behaviors — and encourage employees to call out unethical conduct. During periods of uncertainty, employee misconduct increases by as much as 33%. Remind employees of the channels for reporting misconduct and highlight punitive measures for noncompliance. This will promote work well-being — which has a huge impact on feelings of psychological safety.

Use objectives to create clarity

Role definitions may start to fall apart during the disruption, leaving employees unsure of where to focus. Focus on what employees should be accomplishing. Emphasize objectives over processes to create greater clarity for employees — and drive greater engagement levels.  
A top engagement driver for employees is when they see their work contribute to company goals, let the employees be a part of solving the COVID-19 challenges, employees who feel confident about the importance of their job to the success of the organization feel less anxious about their job security.

Focus on outputs not activity

In the remote landscape, where many people are juggling work and family commitments in their own homes, enable employees to complete their work in ways that are easiest and most productive for them. It is not possible to manage every aspect of work done by a remote team.
Your 9 am team meeting may have to go or you may have to forgo a lengthy approval process. Schedule collaboration at a mutually agreeable time, and lean on virtual tools wherever possible. Providing flexibility empowers teams to complete their assignments in their own way. 

Increase recognition

During periods of disruption, employees’ desire for being recognized for their contribution increases by about 30%, effective recognition not only motivates the recipient, but serves as a strong signal to other employees of behaviors they should emulate. Recognition doesn’t need to be monetary; consider public acknowledgment, tokens of appreciation, development opportunities and low-cost perks.

Encourage innovation

With such high levels of uncertainty, managers and employees are becoming more risk-averse. But it’s during such times that innovation and risk-taking become even more important for employee engagement and organizational success.
Provide opportunities to share successes and safety for potential failures. The confines of social distancing mean that when employees take a risk and succeed in improving their productivity, only a few connections can build on that success. Make an effort to highlight the value of employees’ continuing to scale their activities, and ensure that any risks are worthwhile.

Watch the video below to get a brief summary of 5 ways to effectively manage employees who are working remotely