Managing Remote Employees

How to Effectively Manage Remote Employees

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations and teams across the world to pivot toward digital transformation. Put more simply "Work from Home".

This shift from official/allocated manually observed workstation to home offices has altered the landscape for businesses across the world. This article considers the following questions and tries to give some tips and guidance.

  • How do you ensure the productivity of employees while working from home?

  • Can the same level of cooperation be maintained when working remotely?

  • Can companies deliver the same amount of customer support?

  • What are the challenges of managing remote employees?

  • What tips are there for managing remote employees?

Like many countries, the U.K is trying to reduce the spread of COVID-19 disease by 'lockdown.' This global 'lockdown' has presented serious economic challenges for many businesses.

For the lucky ones they have been able to keep operating whilst complying with lockdown by employees becoming remote workers. How have the successful companies achieved this and what can we learn from them?

Remote workers or working from home fall under the HSE category of lone workers. This article is concerned more with managing and motivating remote workers, if you need to know about lone workers and the law read this. 

Challenges of employees while working remotely

For businesses that have not used interfacing online then working remotely can be challenging to get set up. Remote working comes with a particular set of challenges especially if a high level of performance is expected.

During their work, remote employees might feel:

  • Lack of Collaboration and cooperation.
  • Lack of access to information.
  • Away from the working atmosphere and working trends.
  • Stagnant and no promotional opportunities.
  • Lack of motivation, encouragement, and appreciation.
  • Get distracted with the home atmosphere and needs.
  • Missing some tasks and social events.
  • Lack of communication among team members.
  • Losing a connection between them and management.
  • Unfamiliarity with information technology, devices and gadgets for remote working can lead to frustrations and with no face to face help high stress levels all round. 

Challenges of Employers for remote working employees

Some of the challenges employers can face when managing remote employees are:

  • Total reliance on technology for measuring their performance

  • Lack of communication in the absence of face to face contact

  • Lack of accessibility, it is more difficult to assess their availability for tasks that crop up when they cannot be seen face to face.

  • It can be more difficult to measure the time allocated for work, the nature of work done, and how meticulously it has been done.

  • Weak Collaboration. Remote workers that need to work in 'teams' can be less productive and disjointed.

  • Lack of productivity. Without direct supervision the employee may get distracted or occupied in non productive tasks.

  • Data protection. This can be a major issue with having to allow remote access to company data without the security of locking down the location.

  • Loss/theft of fixed assets like laptops, tools, machinery, and other items is perhaps more likely to happen from the less secure home environment.

  • Unfamiliarity with information technology, devices and gadgets for remote working can lead to frustrations and with no face to face help high stress levels all round.

  • Managing the mental wellbeing and mental health of remote workers is a particular challenge. Especially as without close or direct supervision signs can go unnoticed. This is perhaps the biggest challenge faced by companies moving to a remote working situation.

Managing Remote workers

Where management and employees worked previously as teams it is important to re-create that team and become accomplished at managing remote teams. It is proven that the companies that have addressed this point have been the most successful.

Tips for Managing remote employees:

Despite all the challenges of managing remote employees, there are proven strategies that can help ensure that your employees work as productively and efficiently as possible.

Communication with different technology options.

Use all the different available technology to maintain contact with your employees. Draw up a policy for priorities, what can be used for social purposes, business, times of day when contact will be made etc. An example policy is shown here, but you will almost certainly want to draw up your own policy.

  • Email: Should primarily be used to follow up and inquire about the tasks, regular email communication is essential.

  • Internal Messaging System: There are other circumstances when quick collaboration is essential and required. For these situations, provide mobile-enabled proper messaging functionality (like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.), which can be used for more straightforward, less formal conversations, as well as time-sensitive communication.

  • Use of available universal mobile apps: Free apps available on play store/ Google play can be used for quick, visual/audio meetings, communication, and discussion. Some apps allow for polling, which can help in collection opinions.

  • Use Collaboration Tools: Collaboration tools have improved immensely over the past few years such as Ideaboardz (online brainstorming), Mural (team collaboration), and Google Docs (real-time collaborating/authoring tool) will enable your team to seamlessly document and share ideas in real-time. 

Set a working agreement and Define Expectations:

Set up a working agreement, detail expectations in advance, and establish ground rules with employees which they are obliged to follow. 

Dealing with remote workers means you must be explicit. Employers and managers should be crystal clear about the working parameters, deadlines, value of the work, and metrics of tasks. 

The following strategies can help a lot.

Documentation: You need to decide and specify a single place to keep a record of work. Documentation should be easily accessible to all team members so that progress can be monitored. 

Tools: Specific tools can be used for team building; collaboration tools should be decided based on the nature of the work and specify which tools be used for what type of interaction. 

Schedules: It means you should set and design plans with deadlines, daily checks in, tasks, responsibilities, meetings, office hours, and official communication timings and urgent communication sources to be used.

Flexibility: Develop understanding and respect for any situation a team member may be facing, such as lack of internet facility, emergency, etc.

Reviews: Agree on a set cadence for the team to regularly review and update expectations. As time goes on, your needs and expectations may need to evolve.

Sense of belonging and part of the team:

Physical distance can cause a feeling of distraction, being in oneself, or "us vs them" attitudes among remote workers. Especially if not everyone is remote working.

You need to be careful not to create a divide between you and the employee. Rather be generous, acknowledge their efforts and work, honour them. Accept their legitimate excuses, understand their stress and concerns. You need to know them and understand them just as if they were in face to face contact.

Nurture Familiarity and Social Interaction:

You would be well advised to adopt the "chew the fat" policy to develop social bonding, which would result in essential empathy and a growing trust in each other.

You need to structure a way for your employees to interact socially. A chat on sports, having virtual pizza parties, virtual coffee breaks, and some time for online social events like games, etc. This helps people feel part of the team and can reduce feelings of isolation and boredom.

Facilitate your Employees:

The output is directly related to the input. You should provide your employees with the necessary tools and training they need to carry out your given tasks successfully.

This may mean providing them with personal computers, keyboards, and other remote working paraphernalia. Without the correct tools and training, remote workers will not be productive.

Rewards and Recognition:

Awards and recognition must be an innate part of your company's culture. In today's ultra-competitive world, companies with skilled and trained employees succeed. Rewards and recognition for employees that do exceptional work and exemplary performance are a given in most work enviroments.

The same methodology should be implemented for remote working. It boosts the dedication toward work, enhances loyalty and promotes collaboration.

"What really matters in the workplace is helping employees feel appreciated." Dr Ashley Whillans (specialist in behavioural science, Harvard Business School )

Remote Working with Display Screen Equipment

Currently the HSE has said that temporary home workers do not have to do a risk assessment for DSE. If the situation becomes permanent, then everything changes. Read our risk assessment checklist on lone workers for more details.