Supporting remote workers

Supporting Remote Employees As A Manager

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The New Norm Of Remote Work Support

While remote work has seen a steady increase over the years, the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies all over the globe to transition into remote working environments (whether they liked it or not.)

While working remotely from home is now commonplace (and even preferred by a vast number of workers), companies are struggling with remote employee management, as the entirety of our work culture shifts to a digital landscape.

Strikingly, a report from the United Nations International Labor Organization discovered that, even though workers are vastly more productive when working remotely, they have a higher chance of being subjected to intensified performance demands. Such as working longer hours, stress due to balancing their personal and professional lives (which are now blending together), loneliness, etc…

Below we’ll cover the many elements of managing remote teams, the challenges of working remotely, and several solutions that eliminate many remote work hurdles, ensuring remote employees are effective, engaged, and happy.

trends in remote work growth

Data And Statistics

Check out these surprising but important statistics surrounding 2021 remote work- referenced in Upwork’s research:

  • 16% of all companies are 100%remote work environments;
  • 44% of companies do not allow employees to work remotely;
  • • Improved work/life balance is a key reason many people choose remote work;
  • 77% of people working remotely report they’re more productive in a work-from-home environment;
  • • Remote workers seen an average annual salary that’s $4,000 more than employees who don’t work remotely;
  • 85% of managers and team leads see remote work becoming the new norm;
  • 74% of people said that they’re much more likely to stay with a company that offers remote working options;
  • • The 3 biggest obstacles that remote work poses are employees struggling to disconnect from work (22%), isolation/loneliness (19%), and collaborative impediments (17%)

Quite frankly, remote work will only continue to gain traction as a new standard, meaning that leaders will need to adopt new skills in managing remote workers. Strengthening the ability to empathize, communicate, and learn how to keep remote employees engaged will be critical to success.

The good news is, there are a plethora of options to engage remote workers, and we’ve compiled a list of 10 tips that will help remote employees (and the companies that employ them) experience a productive, happy, healthy, and effective relationship.

The Most Common Challenges of Working Remotely

When learning how to manage a remote team, team leaders must recognize elements and issues that make remote work environments more demanding. If managers don’t understand these challenges, their highest-performing employees’ productivity, engagement, and mental health could suffer.

Without adequate preparation, training, and\or face-to-face collaboration, engaging remote employees (some, not all) will be harder- but not impossible.

Many of the most challenging issues for work-from-home employees usually fall into one of two categories: technological or psychological.

Psychological Hurdles Include:

  • • Loneliness and social isolation having a negative effect on their mental health and performance;
  • • Physical discomfort due to unconventional or cramped home office setups;
  • • Less physical activity (a more sedentary lifestyle) could lead to health risks and stress;
  • • Balancing professional and personal aspects of life is harder when everything is blended into one space;
  • • Not necessarily wanting to work remotely because they focus better, or enjoy the social aspects of, working on site;

Technological Hurdles Includes:

  • • Drops in productivity due to learning curves or limited equipment;
  • • Communication limitations mean that collaboration (or team-oriented projects) may be less efficient;
  • • Lack of access to necessary software, meaning that simple processes can become more frustrating/time-consuming;
  • • Security vulnerabilities due to sensitive files being located on an employee’s less-secure home computer or laptop;
  • • Lowered project comprehension due to limited communication opportunities with management;

Based on Statista research (The Statistics Portal for Market Data, Market Research, and Market Studies) the most prevalent issue regarding how to manage remote workers can be found in the graph below:

the biggest struggle with working remotely

This visual aid shows- in stark detail- the issues we covered a bit earlier. The issues becoming more widespread in 2021 can be due to a variety of factors.

The pandemic is still raging, meaning that people have very little opportunity to socialize and escape the four walls of their homes (now doubling as offices.) Not to mention, having access to work email 24/7 makes it much harder to set healthy boundaries with work.

All in all, this visual representation of what remote workers face should be thoroughly considered by anyone interested in establishing productive, effective, and engaging remote work options.

While it’s true that managing remote employees has its own set of challenges, most of them can be easily (and cost-effectively) rectified by the organization.

According to recent research of a popular international data provider, here are the answers people around the globe give to the question:

What advice would you offer to anyone selecting a remote work location?

advice when choosing a remote workplace

As you can see, over a quarter of respondents think that setting boundaries and finding the right balance between their work time and personal life is a key to successful remote employment. Another 20% believe that to ensure maximum productivity, the first thing you need to take care of is yourself. The importance of choosing a healthy and comfortable work environment cannot be overstressed.

The most important priorities should always be:

  • • Increased flexibility for employees;
  • • Ensuring workers have the equipment they need;
  • • Empathy around the struggles of balancing home and life simultaneously (especially during a pandemic);

How do I support an employee working remotely? 10 Tips

Below we’ll discuss 10 actionable tips to help companies who want to know how to manage a remote team effectively. Implementing these techniques not only enhance the productivity of remote workers, but ensures they feel respected, understood, and engaged.

Tip 1: Use Technology To Stay Connected

One very helpful means of supporting remote workers is ensuring they’re always connected to the people and programs they need. This can be done quite easily, simply by implementing software that keeps lines of communication open and easily accessible.

One way to enhance remote work support is to use tools like Zoom, Asana, GoToMeeting, and Slack. Software like these (and many others) allow companies to streamline everything from project management to digital communication- ensuring that everyone involved in a project has clarity on their role, and expected deliverables.

Set aside special time for team meetings, because incorporating video and screen sharing allows workers to collaborate effectively, as well as engage with their teammates like they would ‘around the watercooler’.

Face-to-face video communication improves teamwork, clarity, and ensures on-site staff connect, respect, and get to know remote workers better.

Tip 2: Make Sure Employees Have The Tools They Need

The best way to overcome many of the challenges of working remotely is by providing your team with the tools they need to succeed. Most often, that means more than just a work phone or laptop.

Software, cloud access, and digital communication options are all vital to productivity. For example, if your organization prioritizes virtual meetings, do your remote workers have the appropriate webcams and microphones to take part?

Leaders must recognize that communicating virtually will be very different from in-person (and will have its own issues), but whatever tools are used should be both effective and respectful of the team members using them.

Remember that virtual communication’s effectiveness will vary from person to person, so it’s important to educate employees about how and when to deal with a challenging virtual discussion.

Tip 3: Encourage And Arrange Social Interactions Amongst Employees

While the benefits of remote work often far outweigh the disadvantages, one of the most debilitating drawbacks has to do with feelings of loneliness and isolation. One way of supporting remote workers is by encouraging remote employees to interact with each other on a social level. Providing your team with social hours, video chats, or virtual team-building exercises will improve both morale and communication.

An additional option could be pairing new hires with a “mentor” for the first year, someone they can learn from, trust, and feel comfortable enough to approach with questions.

Managers can also arrange in-person retreats/events that allow employees to engage with each other in a casual setting.

Tip 4: Take Action To Let Employees Know You Care

Perhaps the most important aspect regarding how to manage remote employees is by the relationships built between leaders and their team.

Managers should make an effort to establish trust with their teams, and verbally give employees permission to find a balance that works best for them. After all, people work best when they feel respected and trusted. Some actionable ways to show your team that you care can be:

  • • Respect their boundaries (i.e., don’t contact them after their normal work hours- and encourage them to disconnect completely once it’s time to ‘clock out’);
  • • Provide clear but reasonable expectations regarding assignments, deadlines, and performance expectations;
  • • Help them set boundaries so they have more time for their family, and personal projects/hobbies;
  • • Speak with them regarding their current stress level, mental, and emotional health (and work together to find ways to maintain a healthy mind/body/emotional state);
  • • Have open and supportive communication regularly assessing their workloads to help them avoid burnout.

Tip 5: Request And Encourage Honest Feedback

Make sure your team knows they can come to you with feedback surrounding the current remote work support they’re receiving.

Even if you can’t adopt any suggestions they have, clearly communicate what you will and will not take action on, that way they know their feedback is heard, appreciated, and encouraged.

Employees, whether they’re remote or on-site, are happier and more productive when they feel valued.

Tip 6: Regularly Recognize The Contributions Your Team Is Making

On average, remote employees invest more working hours than on-site staff. However, in spite of their higher workload, they tend to feel like outsiders. A great way to avoid these feelings of isolation is by prioritizing employee recognition.

Utilize online recognition platforms that allow your team to see, comment, and praise one another in real-time. Our research shows that workers who felt recognized correlated with improved engagement.

Tip 7: Make Sure Everyone Is ‘In-The-Know’

Effective remote employee management relies heavily on ensuring everyone in your organization is kept in the loop. Make sure your remote workers are as well-informed about project updates, company news, events, goals, and team progress as your on-site staff.

Implement easy-to-use goal and project tracking tools that allow everyone to access and review updated info around goals, upcoming projects, progress updates, etc. It’s also important to check in with remote workers on a consistent basis to ensure they are fully aware of new processes, protocols, or expectations.

Remote employees who feel confident and included will feel more engaged with their work and teammates.

Tip 8: Support New Remote Work Hires

Our research showed that 76% of newly hired workers felt less equipped to perform their jobs than 85% of tenured workers. Another way to say: new hires, understandably, require added remote work support.

Team leaders should offer additional communication, skill-building, and training tools throughout a new employee’s onboarding process.

Resources to include should be:

  • • Login credentials and access to important/frequently-used files;
  • • Clear and thorough training on common processes and software;
  • • The right hardware, software, and information resources to execute their responsibility effectively.

Tip 9: Be As Flexible As Possible

One of the biggest advantages of remote work is the flexibility it provides. It allows workers from all walks of life to support their families, live more fulfilling lives, and better manage non-work-related responsibilities. While team leads will inevitably require specific time slots for meetings and collaboration, giving workers the autonomy to perform and balance their workload is very important. This freedom not only alleviates massive amounts of stress, but makes employees feel respected.

Great leaders will trust their team to get the job done. No one likes to be micromanaged, and trying to control your employees every moment can actually lower productivity.

Building a trusting relationship with your team is critical to employee satisfaction and wellness.

Tip 10: Provide A Blend Of Remote And On-Site Work Options

Remote work flexibility greatly enhances efficiency and employee engagement. This can be especially true (for some workers), if they have an option to mix their schedules with remote and on-site work.

Gallup discovered that the most notable engagement increase appeared when employees worked 3-4 days out of a typical 5-day workweek.

For some employees, time spent within a social office environment helped them better connect with their coworkers, create productive collaboration sessions, and form meaningful bonds with their team.

Most of the time, however, working remotely increases a person’s productivity and life satisfaction, while simultaneously lowering stress and frustration. All in all, giving your remote team options will empower them, and ensure they’re more likely to stay with an organization.

How To Manage Remote Workers With Monitoring Software

Using effective employee monitoring software, companies can not only track the productivity of their remote workforce, but also better understand their optimal working patterns and circumstances.

Great monitoring software lets managers see just how much time their team spends on specific tasks (be it on or off-site.)

This insight will provide valuable information into what occupies most of your team’s time, meaning leaders can:

  • • Notice opportunities for optimization;
  • • Recognize if a remote worker’s current load is too much;
  • • Support and help workers set healthy boundaries;
  • • Discover a specific worker’s strengths, and/or offer support when constructive.

The 3 Types of Employee Monitoring Software

Remote monitoring tools can cause some workers anxiety and frustration. Some may think they’re being micromanaged, or that their team leads don’t trust them… but when implemented properly, monitoring software can provide valuable and mutually beneficial insight when supporting remote workers.

Remote work monitoring software offers a wide variety of options, and falls into three different subsets.

Time Tracking Tools

Time tracking apps (obviously) help employees track and catalog their time. Usually, workers can start, stop, and customize timers based on a specific project- as well as retroactively add/edit time entries.

Time tracking platforms provide options to categorize and organize projects- allowing project managers to monitor trends and progress. Time tracking tools are ideal for studying exactly how employee schedules breakdown, and what occupies most of their working hours.

However, in several instances, they don’t offer insight into the amount of time invested within each/any category.

Activity Tracking Tools

The function of activity trackers is intended to provide deeper insight into how each employee divides their time between each task or app.

For instance, activity trackers can have the option to screenshot an employees desktop at regular intervals, or they can trace what websites are being visited from the device.

Note: Email tracking would also be included in this category.

Project & Task Management Tools

Project management apps help managers organize any and all data from high-level projects to mundane daily tasks.

Project management apps often cover employee communication and tracking the progress/stage of current projects, allowing for maximum efficiency, and a better way to determine deadlines in the future.

One convenient thing to note about remote monitoring tools is that most project management software usually includes time tracking capabilities, as well as the ability to create customized projects for employees to categorize their time under.

Below we’ve listed a few tools that fall under each category described above. However, many remote monitoring options can be classified under multiple categories at the same time. For example, some or all of the options below offer project management, activity monitoring, time tracking, and so much more.

This section is just a basic guide to get you started, and learn more about what these tools have to offer.

Remote Employee Management Is The Future

…And Could Be The Key To Unlocking Your Team’s True Potential

The impact of the Coronavirus has- almost overnight- transformed the way the modern workforce views acceptable workplaces. Whereas, not long ago, most businesses would view remote work as a detriment, it’s now consistently showing vastly improved productivity across the board.

Not to mention, it’s been a key factor in fighting the spread of the pandemic, and has allowed many workers a healthier work/life balance. Thankfully, this unanticipated shift has transformed remote and hybrid work into a globally accepted “norm”.

Remote work supports the needs of many employees, as well as increasing greater accessibility to jobs. This also means that organizations are no longer tied down to only reviewing candidates that can make a daily commute, so the pool of talent has exponentially increased.

Remote work is very likely to stay, even after COVID-19 is nothing but a memory… and companies should do well to evolve and better understand how to manage a remote team.

Not only will this ensure they can be a company that employees will happily remain with, but also allows them to reap the newly discovered benefits that remote work provides.

Best of all, an array of new and powerful technology is available, making the transition to remote work far easier for organizations and their remote workers.

Finding the balance between giving your employees the freedom, flexibility, and tools they need, while ensuring your brand continues to succeed, is paramount… and while it’s critical to long-term success, it can be done with surprising ease.

At the end of the day, companies who offer workplace flexibility will have a major advantage over competing employers, and they’re much more likely to gain and maintain a happy, healthy, and highly effective team.