Managing Remote Employees: Now and in the Future

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Adjusting to remote work, more specifically adjusting to managing remote teams, is a challenging task. During a public health crisis like Coronavirus, the challenge of managing remote workers is even greater as the impact that the virus has had on employees and their families differs across the board. As managers who once oversaw teams in the office explore the possibility of remote management being part of their long-term future, developing remote management skills is key. 

As a leader, you play many roles and wear many hats. Some of those roles include being an advocate for your team and their success, being a communicator and repeatedly communicating about occurring changes, being a liaison, lending an ear and encouraging employees to be open, and lastly, being a change management expert who can guide teams through changes with clarity.  This week we share the five core competencies for managers to use as building blocks as they begin building their foundational skill set for successful remote management. These key messages come from the first of eight virtual management training opportunities hosted by GoCoach, a career coaching platform.

1. Building Trust:

Building trust is the most important component of managing a remote team. Strategies to assist in building trust with remote employees include making yourself visible and accessible, showing vulnerability, providing transparency, making time, and staying committed to your team, your work and yourself. This might mean holding virtual office hours for employees to casually pop in to meet with you, or checking in with employees before a meeting officially begins to see how everyone is feeling and address any pertinent issues. It was even suggested that as a way to better manage time, managers only accept meetings that have a clear point and agenda, and to encourage “walking meetings” which give employees an opportunity to get up from their desks, get a few minutes of exercise in and still have meaningful conversation (as opposed to requiring a Zoom video meeting).  Another interesting suggestion made is the use of the “Johari” window model. This can be used as a team exercise to enhance an individual’s perception on others and is based on the ideas that trust can be acquired by revealing information about yourself to others, and that one can learn about themselves based on feedback from others, too.

2. Clear Communication:

The ability to communicate clearly and to be transparent with employees is an important skill when it comes to managing remote employees. Mangers must be intentional about their communication and consider the needs of their teams. Employees may need to hear/see a message 5-7 times before it fully processes, so it’s okay and encouraged to use all different modes of communication and technology to get messages across. Additionally, over-communication is better than under-communication during times of change and uncertainty. And while technology makes remote work possible and keeps teams connected, one major suggestion is not to use technology to micromanage employee inputs. Technology should be used to build trust, communicate and measure outputs. Avoid checking who’s on slack or who’s on email as a way to determine who is working. Some employees may prefer to communicate over slack or another internal messaging system, but they may also be someone who needs to log off when they are trying to focus as a way to minimize distractions. Others may prefer phone calls, while some might prefer video conferencing. Simply asking employees how they prefer to communicate is also helpful, and understanding how they hear and understand things is an important part of managing employees. And communication doesn’t have to be work-related 100% of the time. Checking in to say hi, share a funny video or gif is also a great way to stay connected. Lastly, communicate through ambiguity, and don’t assume that everyone knows or understands. As a leader, reinforce goals, objectives and business drivers to keep teams moving forward, especially during times of stress like during COVID-19. 

3. Employee Engagement:

According to one study by Slack, 85% of workers want to feel closer to their remote colleagues. Engaging with employees, whether it be through use of internal communication systems, face-to-face video meetings, educational webinars, trivia happy hours or wellness challenges, employees want to feel a sense of belonging and community. hold Hold team meetings, prioritize short 1:1 meetings and incentivize and reward your champions of change who are continuing to step up, provide innovation and add value during these uncertain times. Everyone wants to be a part of something, and employees who are more engaged “at work” also report higher rates of satisfaction with their employer, and subsequently perform at higher levels and results in greater innovation. But when it comes to determining methods for employee engagement, GoCoach leaves us with two major tips: 1) Invest in your workforce and continue to train, develop and coach your teams, and 2) Don’t be tone deaf. When choosing to implement an engagement strategy it’s important to ensure that all employees have access to the necessary resources to participate. If you’re suggesting some sort of wellness initiative like a steps challenge or a wellness challenge using a particular smartphone app to keep track of steps or workouts, ensure that your employees have access to a step counting device or that specific app. The last thing you want to do when trying to improve employee engagement is accidentally exclude employees who may not have access to a particular resource. 

4. Navigating Change Management:

Change is a process. Both managers and employees play a role in change management. Employees may be resistant to change out of fear of loss of control, fear of losing authority, not understanding “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me), or maybe maintaining status quo doesn’t seem to pose any risks. As a manager, it’s important to identify your own personal areas for resistance by identifying the benefits of changing, the risks you will avoid if you change, and the risks that exist if you resist change. You can assess your teams to see who is resisting (red, not on board with change), who’s somewhere in the middle (yellow), and who’s on board (green, change champion). Managers can identify change champions to help spearhead change, and those (green) champions can help move those who aren’t sure (yellow) to be more on board. Understanding the barriers your employees are experiencing to getting on board with change will help you to create a game plan of action to help “convert” them. If there are patterns that emerge, you can consider creating a team activity to address a particular concern. 

5. Empathy & Emotional Intelligence:

Leading with empathy and Emotional Intelligence are important for successful conflict resolution, and teams who focus on building these skills show increased collaboration and productivity. Additionally, understanding someones emotions results in greater communication and transparency. Asking before assuming is important especially during COVID-19. Empathize with others on their teams and apply -Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to navigate workplace communication and conflict.

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