The COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the way we work. With entire workforces shifting to remote work almost overnight, managers have been challenged to find ways to effectively manage a remote workforce. Studies show that over 70% of companies will have some remote employees by 2025. Leading distributed teams requires adapting your management strategies to motivate and engage staff working outside a traditional office setting. Without the right approach, miscommunication, reduced collaboration, and decreased productivity can result.
This article will provide 6 actionable tips for leaders and managers to boost productivity and performance when managing a remote workforce. With careful planning and investment, a remote team can become more aligned, engaged, and productive than employees in a traditional office setting. By implementing these suggestions, you’ll be on your way to successfully managing your remote workers.
Table of Contents
Tips to Manage a Remote Workforce for Better Productivity
Tip 1: Set Clear Expectations and Goals
The first tip for successfully managing a remote workforce is to set clear expectations and goals for each team member. Without the in-person interactions found in a traditional office, remote employees can often feel disconnected from their wider team and objectives. As a manager, it is critical that you outline responsibilities, priorities, deadlines, and objectives for each remote staff member.
Consider having both high-level goals for the quarter or year, as well as more specific weekly/monthly goals and deliverables. For example, a high-level goal could be “Launch 5 new product features this year to increase customer retention.” A more specific weekly goal would be “Complete code review and debugging for Feature A by Friday.”
Document expectations for each role and remote worker clearly in task lists, wiki pages, or even short video messages. Set up regular one-on-one meetings to align on goals, provide feedback, and adjust priorities when needed. Goal setting applies to independent contractors and freelance staff as well. The more clarity and direction you can provide, the more focused and productive your remote employees will be in their work. Make sure to celebrate achievements and wins along the way!
Tip 2: Overcommunicate
When managing a remote workforce, communication must be a top priority. Without the organic conversations and visibility that come from being in an office, managers often don’t have enough insights into their team members’ work. It’s critical to schedule regular check-ins, meetings and calls to align the broader team.
Consider starting each week with a short stand-up meeting for everyone to share their focus and highlight any blockers. Have regular one-on-one meetings with each remote employee to provide feedback and coaching. Overcommunication applies to giving recognition as well. Be sure to call out great work and achievements publicly on team chat channels. You can check out our article on Celebrate Team Successes the Right Way.
Outside of scheduled meetings, encourage remote staff to overcommunicate as well. Make yourself available on chat and email to unblock issues swiftly. Set expectations that questions and requests for help will be answered promptly. Managers should also have casual conversations by starting a “virtual water cooler” channel to build rapport. The more you facilitate communication, the less likely remote workers will feel disconnected or isolated.
Overcommunication, transparency, and alignment are crucial to managing distributed teams successfully. Don’t rely on remote employees to figure things out on their own. Being proactive prevents misalignments down the road.
Tip 3: Build Trust
When managing a remote workforce, building trust is essential, yet more challenging without in-person interactions. Employees need to trust that their manager has their best interests in mind and trusts them to carry out their responsibilities. And managers need to trust that remote staff are accountable and productive even when not physically present.
There are a few key ways to establish trust while managing distributed teams:
- Set clear expectations upfront about communication norms, accountability, and work style preferences. Explicit conversations reduce assumptions.
- Follow through reliably on commitments, whether it’s delivering feedback, meeting deadlines, or responding to questions. Reliability builds trust over time.
- Get to know your remote employees personally, not just professionally. Learn about their interests, families, hobbies, etc. Personal connections strengthen trust.
- When possible, meet periodically in person at team get-togethers or company all-hands. Face time accelerates relationship building.
- Demonstrate compassion and flexibility when remote employees have needs or challenges arise. Trust is a two-way street.
By proactively cultivating trust between managers and remote staff, engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity will improve significantly. Make trust a priority when managing your remote workforce.
Tip 4: Monitor Productivity, Not Hours
When managing a remote workforce, it can be tempting to monitor how many hours your team is working online through employee monitoring software. However, this is an ineffective approach – instead, focus on monitoring productivity.
With remote employees, managers don’t have visibility into the day-to-day work. Rather than making assumptions about how time is being spent, have clear deliverables, milestones, and metrics for each team member. For example, set weekly goals for calls made, features launched, reports completed, etc. based on their role and responsibilities.
Have regular one-on-one check-ins to review progress and course corrections when needed. If productivity standards are met, don’t worry about the specific work hours. Empower remote employees with flexibility – this drives engagement and ensures you retain top talent.
Demonstrate that you value outcomes rather than Facetime. Assess performance based on goals achieved rather than tenure. The key is setting clear expectations around the priority projects and outcomes most important for the business.
The most productive remote teams are focused on results, not minutes worked. Avoid micromanaging and excessive monitoring. Trust your remote workers to carry out objectives in a way that works for them. Productivity will improve when remote employees feel focused yet flexible.
Tip 5: Create Opportunities for Collaboration
One of the biggest challenges when managing distributed teams is facilitating collaboration. Without impromptu conversations by the coffee machine or stopping by someone’s desk, remote employees can often feel isolated and siloed.
As a manager, it is critical to create opportunities that allow for team building, idea sharing, and camaraderie despite the physical distance. Consider organizing regular video team meetings focused on collaboration rather than just status updates. Foster relationships through virtual coffee breaks or “water cooler” chat channels.
Arrange informal virtual sessions for brainstorming ideas or solving problems as a team. Send care packages or fun team swag to remote employees’ homes to create shared experiences.
Take advantage of project management and communication tools that allow for seamless collaboration like Asana, Slack, Miro and more. Make space for fun team competitions, challenges, or games as well.
The more you can facilitate social connections and replicate the sidebar conversations that happen naturally in an office, the more cohesive and collaborative your remote workforce will be. Don’t underestimate the value of relationships and rapport.
Tip 6: Invest in the Right Technology
When it comes to managing a remote workforce, investing in the right technology is critical for enabling collaboration, alignment, and productivity. Yet too often, managers fail to provide their teams with adequate tools and training.
Make sure all remote employees have access to reliable high-speed internet, top of the line laptops, and key software licenses. Facilitate seamless video conferencing by setting up systems like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams.
Provide tutorials and training to ensure everyone is adept at using your various platforms for messaging, file sharing, documentation, project management, etc. Set guidelines for response times and usage etiquette.
Schedule virtual tech troubleshooting sessions where employees can ask questions and surface any issues. Don’t assume people will just “figure it out” – proactive preparation prevents frustration.
The best remote managers realize that productivity is impossible without the proper technology. They continually assess if new tools can streamline workflows or improve collaboration. Don’t leave remote workers without the digital resources they need to excel.
Risk of Managing a Remote Workforce
While remote work has become more mainstream, it does come with risks that managers must strategically address.
Some key risks include:
- Reduced collaboration and communication between team members leading to misalignments.
- Employees feel isolated and disengaged from not working in an office setting.
- Difficulty building company culture and relationships virtually.
- Security and data privacy vulnerabilities from remote networks.
- Reduced oversight and ability to monitor employee productivity.
- Technology issues disrupt workflows and productivity.
The risks are real but can be minimized with the right approach. Being proactive about communication, investing in relationships, setting clear expectations, and providing the right tools are key. While challenging at times, the benefits of access to talent, reduced costs, and improved work-life balance are significant.
Overall, with careful planning and preparation, having at least some remote employees is beneficial for most companies. However, managers must be intentional about adapting strategies to engage and align a distributed workforce. The risks of remote work should not be ignored but can be overcome.
Implementing these 6 tips will empower you to boost productivity, engagement, and results when managing your remote workforce. By setting clear goals, overcommunicating, building trust, tracking productivity, enabling collaboration, and investing in technology, you can lead your distributed teams to success. Remember, remote management requires adapting your approach, but the payoff is immense.
FAQs Related to Managing a Remote Workforce
What are some of the main challenges of managing a remote workforce?
The main challenges include reduced collaboration, difficulty building relationships, lack of visibility into work, and increased communication barriers.
How often should managers communicate with remote employees?
Frequent communication through daily check-ins, weekly one-on-ones, and always being accessible by chat/email is key for managing remote workers.
Why is it important to have clear goals and expectations for remote employees?
With less ability to monitor work, setting clear goals and expectations around deliverables provides visibility and alignment.
How can managers promote collaboration between team members working remotely?
Scheduling virtual team building activities, using collaborative tools, and creating opportunities for idea sharing promotes remote collaboration.
What technologies help enable effective remote work?
Top technologies include video conferencing, instant messaging, project management software, file sharing and productivity suites.
How should managers evaluate and measure productivity for remote workers?
Focus on deliverables, milestones and output rather than hours worked. Conduct regular check-ins on goal progress.
What tips help remote employees avoid feeling isolated?
Manager relationship building, virtual social events, encouraging communication, and remote culture building help avoid isolation.