According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of people primarily working from home tripled between 2019 and 2021. Today, many workplaces remain virtual or in a partly virtual format. In the dawn of the pandemic and the mass shift to virtual work, we provided 5 tips to successfully manage virtual teams. Now, a few years down the road, we are taking what we have learned to suggest additional ways managers can improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees.
It’s no secret that managing a remote team requires a different set of skills than managing in an office environment does. To do so effectively, it is important to keep in mind the unique challenges that arise in this setting. Some common challenges include lack of face-to-face supervision, lack of information access, social isolation, absence of non-verbal communication, and disconnectedness from the company. Understanding these issues allows you to better prepare and be proactive in preventing them. Below are 6 tips for managers of remote teams to address these issues and promote success.
1. Set clear expectations & create a structure for the work
Let your team know what is expected regarding work procedures, team and company culture, project guidelines, and communication rules. Creating a work structure enhances predictability and therefore productivity. Include work specializations to define the division of responsibilities between employees based on position, as well as a chain of command, a system for reporting within an organization. Be sure to document these processes and share them with employees so they can easily reference them. Team members will feel well prepared and connected to the work, knowing what has been or still needs to be accomplished, and more importantly, how.
2. Maintain an open line of communication
Designate a reliable channel for communication which you will relay important messages through regarding schedules, deadlines, resources, changes, etc. Let your team know that your (virtual) door is always open, reassuring them to ask for help when needed. Some commonly used platforms include Slack, Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, Chanty, etc.
3. Conduct regular check-ins
Scheduling check-ins with your team, both individually and at the team level, allows members to be more accountable and lessens the need for you to micro-manage their work. One-on-one meetings provide employees with an additional platform to discuss any issues they may not be comfortable discussing within a group. You can use scheduling software to make this task easy and organized. Support this with the occasional random check-in, additionally.
4. Measure outputs rather than activity levels
Empower your employees to complete their work on their own terms and check in on their progress along the way. So long as they meet expectations for deadlines and quality when the final product is produced, monitoring the time an employee clocks in and remains “active” shouldn’t be necessary. When the goals and desired results are clearly defined, the results should speak for themselves.
5. Encourage social interaction and collaboration
As a manager, you should create time for members of your team to connect and build positive interpersonal relationships. Whether this is a virtual happy hour, online hangout, or simply incorporating non-work “fun” into your meetings, leave some room for employees to get to know each other better. Beyond this, find opportunities for employees to collaborate on their work tasks if possible. Encouraging teamwork helps to further build community and foster a sense of belonging, by strengthening relationships between team members.
6. Provide continuous feedback
Especially in a remote setting, communication is paramount. Let your employees know how they are doing by providing feedback clearly and often. This goes both ways, including constructive feedback and praise for a job well done. Keep in mind the phrase “praise publicly, criticize privately” as you incorporate feedback in both formal and informal settings.
Given the nature of the work, managing a virtual workplace differs greatly from managing within an office setting. With the right tools and planning in place, managing a successful and efficient team is possible for the leader of any remote team. Enhance your team’s performance and productivity using this list of helpful tips. Ultimately, your team will thank you, and your organization will benefit from a workplace of engaged, cohesive employees who share a common goal.