By Ernie Humphrey, CTP
WFH (Work From Home) has become a necessity for many companies due to the recent coronavirus epidemic. The good news is working remotely has been happening for years. I have successfully managed remote employees across the world and have worked with some of the brightest finance leaders on the pros and cons of dispersed teams.
Whether you are considering a short-term remote work strategy or are looking to invest in it for the long term, here are some of the learnings and best practices on how to effectively manage remote teams.
1. Set expectations
Create a guide to working remotely for employees. Not all employees are “inherently wired” to work remotely. Offer them tips to stay productive and avoid the distractions of working at home.
2. Provide the right tools
Make sure each employee has access to the systems, training, and information they need to get their work done. Utilize technologies that facilitate collaboration and engagement, like Zoom, Slack, and G-Suite. Modern cloud-based technology is available for every part of your business to be dispersed, from IT tools that allow your tech team to access remote machines to AP tools, like Stampli, that allow users to process and approve invoices anytime, anywhere. Your employees need access to technology that allows them to collaborate effectively with fellow employees, suppliers, and customers.
3. Communicate frequently
I am not a fan of meetings for the sake of meetings, I even wrote a blog, Meetings Can Lower IQs: Mitigate the Risk, but communication can just be touching base in addition to formal meetings. A common argument against remote employment is that “water cooler” moments are lost. News flash, it is 2020, and virtual water cooler moments can be facilitated. I have had success in this using Slack.
4. Communicate with video
Not all communication needs to include a video interaction, but many tools offer “face to face” conversations. Body language and expressions can be critical in understanding someone’s state of mind and level of engagement.
5. Create a culture of direct, open virtual communications
The most common issue I have experienced in managing people remotely or otherwise is a real or perceived disconnect around work priorities and expectations. I have found most issues could have been avoided if someone would just drop an email or message in Slack.
6. Solicit input from co-workers of your remote employees
How your remote team members interact with others can say a lot about their energy level and motivation. Touch base with a co-worker that regularly collaborates with your direct report to get a true pulse on how they are doing.
7. Don’t let distance prevent you from building a trusting relationship
In order to understand what truly motivates and derails an employee’s productivity you have to know them personally on some level, like it or not. Be sure to let your own personality (and humor) emerge in your interactions to build a foundation of trust. Yes, you need to draw a line, but the rewards to really getting to know an employee can be huge.
8. Establish a culture that promotes a work/life balance
Remote employees are just as susceptible to burn out by not maintaining any sort of work/life balance. Be conscious of time zone differences when setting team meetings and their working hours. Make sure to include dial-in numbers or video conference links for all your meetings. Be respectful of time off for remote employees —just because they are not always physically in the office doesn’t mean they should be bothered on their vacation. Unless you truly understand all that your employees do and how much time it takes them to do it, then you do not even know if your employees are capable of achieving this balance.
9. Find ways to share the office culture
Employees need to feel plugged-in and included even when they can’t physically participate in person. Commit to sharing office moments with event videos and pictures, this can speak volumes to your remote team members.
Managing remote employees is an art as much as a science. Note, again, do not have meetings for the sake of meetings, but be sure communication is open, honest, and frequent. Invest in a collaborative approach and create the right environment for each remote employee to maximize their productivity. You will find that remote employees are often the most productive, happiest and efficient members of your team. Companies that invest in creating a remote work structure will reap the benefits of higher productivity, healthier workforce, reduced office costs, and larger talent pool to grow their business.