In 2018, it seems that better technology has become the great gateway to a better work-life balance for many workers. Permanently connected through technology, more and more employees are choosing to trade in the traditional 9-5 working structure in favour of a more flexible approach to work.
But then again, a large amount of workers have given up on coming into the office entirely, exchanging long commutes and hectic office schedules for a laptop in their living room.
Powered by a plethora of new technology, remote workers can work wherever and whenever they like, and open-minded businesses are reaping a number of rewards because of it. For starters, workers that are happy with their work-life balance are more productive - a recent study found happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees.
But there’s a lot more to effectively managing remote workers than setting them up with a laptop and a Skype account and leaving them to it. In fact, managing relationships with remote workers can be more challenging than overseeing on-site employees.
So, if you struggle to manage an on-site team, or you simply don’t enjoy it, don’t think for a second that having your employees ‘out of sight’ will necessarily keep them ‘out of mind’ – you’ll need to work closely with them in order to see any worthwhile results.
Crucial Skills recently surveyed remote workers about the traits that make up an effective manager, and found the key quality to success was the manager’s ability to communicate with both remote and onsite employees.
Here are three pointers to take on board when managing remote workers:
1) Keep your emotions at bay.
The working week can be an emotional rollercoaster – with deadlines looming and unforeseen obstacles popping up, your team know exactly when to buckle down and pull together to get the job done.
But when dealing with remote workers, you can’t expect them to be emotionally in sync with you and the rest of your team. As they’re not in the office every day, they won’t know when you’re feeling frustrated or stressed, or when you’re happy celebrating a big win. That’s why it’s important that you communicate carefully with them and keep your own emotions at bay.
While you should be mindful in how you express yourself, it’s up to you to pick up on your workers’ emotions (from a distance) - and cheer them up or keep them calm. That’s why possessing a high EQ is vital.
You’ll also need to have the willingness to resolve problems immediately. For instance, if one of your employees is expressing feelings of agitation, stress or discomfort in the job, it’s up to you to engage in an honest discussion and bring about a realistic solution right then and there.
When you’re talking over the phone or on a video call, remember that things like tone of voice, body language and other subtle behaviours you would normally pick up on can easily go by undetected.
The answer is to exaggerate everything! Go back to the basics of communication - there’s no room for ambiguity - keep your points simple and direct, reiterate key messages and make sure everything is as transparent as possible.
2) Assess your own abilities as well as your employees.
When taking on board a new remote worker, or allowing an existing employee to work remotely, pay close attention to the skills of the manager as well as the employee. Managing remote workers requires an enhanced skillset, so make sure you are assessing the manager’s commitment, attitude and aptitude beforehand – because the onus for performance should be on both parties, not just the employee.
As a manager, you’ll need to be predictable, accessible, dependable and responsive – but you’ll also need to be prepared to step up and learn. This could mean participating in a management training course, being mentored by senior leaders within your organisation, or at the very least, familiarising and making use of technology like Skype, instant messaging and team messaging tools, such as Slack, to communicate properly.
And remember, the key to successfully managing remote workers is quality communication. So, when you first start working with a remote worker, it’s worth having a frank conversation about the practicalities of the arrangement. How do they work best? Do they have any other commitments outside of work? How do they prefer to structure their day? Try your best to create a sturdy and dependable structure that supports them.
Also, check in with them frequently and consistently. Schedule in regular one-to-one chats, and make sure you stick to them. These chats will have a major impact on their engagement levels throughout the week – it’s where they can voice their concerns, celebrate their successes and prioritise their responsibilities.
3) Don’t let them off the hook.
Having a team of engaged, productive and high-performing workers is every manager’s dream, and statistically speaking, remote workers are more likely to meet that criteria.
But managing a team of people is hard enough when they sit right next to you, so managing the engagement and performance of someone in a different city, region or time zone from you can make things that much more difficult.
To keep motivation levels high, remote workers need to know that they’re being held accountable to the same set of standards as other employees. Measure their performance data, discuss areas for growth and development and put objectives in place as you would with any other employee. Just because they’re not in your direct line of sight doesn’t mean they should be let off the hook.
And while they might not be in the office, there’s plenty of room for you to create a positive dynamic between your remote workers and the rest of your team to keep them engaged. Include them in on conference calls, make the time for them to build relationships with your wider team, and if you’re managing a team of remote workers, get them to work in pairs or small groups if possible.
While challenging, taking on board remote workers can result in a high-performing, productive and energetic team dynamic. It’s up to you to harvest your employee’s full potential by keeping communication clear, honest and consistent, and establishing a structure that works for everyone on your team.