Working remotely is a trend that continues to grow year over year. According to a Gallup Poll from 2017, as reported in the New York Times, 43% of employees worked remotely at least part of the time.
For some bosses, the idea of a remote team conjures up images of slacking employees: watching Netflix, surfing Facebook, and taking the occasional break to check their work email. While that same Gallup Poll proves that particular fear to be unfounded—most remote workers reported greater engagement than their in-office counterparts—it can still be a challenge for managers to know how best to support their team from afar.
We’ll take a look at some of the best management tips for keeping your remote workers engaged, happy, and productive.
#1. Create a virtual meeting space.
If you’re managing a team that’s spread across the country or the globe, it can be easy to overlook the simple fact that they’re still a team. You want to build a sense of camaraderie and trust amongst the group, and the best way to do that is to create a virtual meeting place. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or formal. If you’re a small company with a budget to match, a Facebook group or Slack channel, where people can share important business ideas or the latest silly cat video to help get the team through a long work week, gives everyone an online place to congregate, get to know each other, and stay in touch.
If your company does have the means to purchase a solution specifically designed for remote teams, you might consider a platform like Sococo, which recreates the traditional office setup in the virtual world and allows your team to easily communicate with one another.
#2. Set clear expectations.
As a manager, it’s critical that you’re clear about your expectations for any team, virtual or otherwise, but it’s particularly important when you’re managing people you remotely.
Make sure to regularly meet with employees one-on-one (either virtually or in person).. Work with them to create an outline for their week, month, and year, and establish clear goals and metrics for measuring their success. Then establish a timeline for checking in with that employee, and a means for doing so. Maybe that looks like an email at the end of each week where your employee provides an overview of what they accomplished and what they’re going to tackle next week. Maybe it’s a Skype session bi-weekly.
Whatever expectations you establish for your remote employees, make sure that they’re clear and consistent across all members of the team. This is especially important if you have some employees who work remotely and others who don’t–they should all be evaluated on the same rubric.
#3. Use video communication.
Emails and the written word are all well and good, but sometimes there’s no substitute for seeing someone’s face. Vocal tone, inflection, facial expressions, and body language are critical aspects of communication, and if you only interact with someone via email or GChat, you’re missing out on important information.
While someone might sound fine in their weekly emails, if you ask about a project over video chat and notice that they falter or their body language changes, you might discover an issue that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.
Your options for video chat platforms are numerous–from Facetime to Skype to GoTo Meeting–so there’s no reason why you and your virtual team shouldn’t be able to easily connect via video.
#4. Acknowledge accomplishments.
When workers aren’t in a shared location, it can be easy for them to feel forgotten or left out. But remote workers’ contributions to a team are just as important as those who are co-located, and so you should look for ways to celebrate and call out their achievements.
Celebrating an employee’s success doesn’t have to be a big thing. Sending a remote worker a virtual gift card to Starbucks or Amazon can do a lot to boost morale and make them feel seen and appreciated. Establishing a quarterly email to the team that calls out individual successes over the past few months will give remote employees the recognition from their colleagues they need and deserve.
#5. Get together in person.
If at all possible, it’s a great idea to get the team together in person on a regular basis. “Regular” doesn’t have to mean every month; if it’s only feasible to have an in-person team meeting once a year, that’s fine. What’s important is the consistency of these meetings–don’t promise annual meetings if you’re then going to wait a year and a half for the second meeting.
Getting together in person, engaging in team-building exercises, and establishing a clear vision for the group can help to keep you all on track as you work throughout the year in your individual corners of the world.
Managing a remote team can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, many of the same managerial principles apply to both remote and co-located teams. Clear communication, establishing a sense of trust, and setting goals are critical to managing any team, regardless of whether they’re near or far.
Jared Hecht is the co-founder and CEO of Fundera, an online marketplace to help business owners secure financing. Prior to Fundera, Hecht co-founded group messaging app, GroupMe.