Managing Employees Remotely

By Sarajane Mackenzie

It may seem self-evident, but managing people remotely is different than managing in person. To do it right, it takes more effort on the part of both the supervisor and the employee. This is especially true if the previous working environment was face-to-face and suddenly, the interaction is only by email, phone, text or video. If this is a new situation for both the manager and the employees, then it requires more structure as the situation may feel unnatural at first. Humans are wired to be concerned about change, so it is important that you make your employees feel empowered and secure. But even if remote working has been the normal way for you and your employees, it is good to keep the following in mind:

 Provide Clear Communications & Expectations

It is more difficult to understand how someone is reacting to your comments or suggestions when you can’t see them. Half of human communications is nonverbal. Therefore, you have to “over communicate” in situations where you are managing someone remotely, even using the occasional video chat. Ideally you would touch base with each of your remote employees every day for a few minutes by phone or email. Give them the opportunity to let you know if anything is pressing. Then once a week have a video chat with each individual or a hold a team discussion where everyone gets to see and hear updates from the team. The next week’s objectives should be made absolutely clear, so everyone is aligned to the goals that need to be accomplished. This also includes providing expectations for response time regarding projects and inquiries.

Whether managing remotely is the norm, or a temporary situation, people still want to “feel connected”, particularly to their supervisor. However, remember that being connected doesn’t mean micro-managing. Remembering to have small talk during these calls is important. We all have a tendency to want to get straight to the point, get the question answered, and move on. But when you are physically together in a workplace situation you have other ways to touch base with your employees, eye contact, smiles, gestures, passing them in the hallway, perhaps have lunch with them. When you are remote from your employees all of that is missing. So only having emails and texts with your employees is not advised. While you may not believe it is not efficient to call them, speaking with them is really at a different level of communications than a text or email.

Promote Stability
Working from a home base can be fine if the person has figured out a good routine and sticks to it. Some people really struggle with the ability to stay focused at working from home and are easily distracted. As a supervisor, you want to help provide stability and consistency as much as possible. If you have a scheduled “touch base” call every Wednesday morning at 10 am, then try to keep to that agreement rather than postponing those call repeatedly. Make sure that your employees can reach you during their work schedules and that you are responsive to their calls, emails, texts. When you know times that you will not be available, you should let your employees know that as well. Keeping a schedule and having stability allows employees to focus better on the tasks they need to accomplish in the timeframe that you and they have agreed to. Remember for them, their workplace and home are one and the same. By providing routine you are helping them keep work life and home life from blurring.

Make sure Everyone has the right “Tools”
 There can be more distractions when you are home based unless you are lucky enough to have a separate office with a door. But for many people, especially when the situation is temporary, they are working from their kitchen table or living room couch. Some may not even have access to a quiet workspace and may have distractions from the dog wanting to be walked, the arrival of an Amazon package, a spouse, partner, roommate, or children coming and going. While you can only give so much advice to your employees on how best to set up their working environment, at least be attuned to what conditions they are working under. That may help you understand when the best time is to talk with them individually or when to set up a group video. Make sure they have the necessary hardware and software tools to do their job well.

To prevent them from getting “cabin fever” encourage them to take a break every day and get outside if they can do that safely. This will help them feel less isolated (if working alone from their home) or less overwhelmed (if many people in their same workspace) and contribute to their well-being. It is easier to forget about employees who work remotely then when they are sitting next to you. So please, make the extra effort and reach out to your employees when they work remotely. It will result in a stronger working relationship.