Addressing the Challenges of Managing Remote Workers

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The pandemic has changed the way we work, and for Managers it has posed some specific challenges. Moving from managing an on-site staff to a fully remote group translates into significantly less casual interaction and no face-to-face discussions. For managers who are used to stopping by desks or chatting in the break room, this can pose real challenges. As employees have embraced the work from home lifestyle it’s becoming clearer that remote work is going to be the new normal for many of us. As a manager, it is our responsibility to be proactive in developing a plan for effectively managing our remote staff and addressing their specific needs.

  1. Educate yourself on the challenges of working remotely. As someone who has worked remotely for over 15 years, I had trouble seeing why some individuals had trouble adjusting to a remote work environment during the pandemic. Some of those challenges included:
    • Not having a specific office space. No one can work effectively on a kitchen table, surrounded by the interruptions of daily life. Remote work requires a designated, quiet workspace.
    • Lack of the proper technology and office furniture. Most individuals work best with a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Working only from a laptop can cause eyestrain and repetitive movement injuries. A remote workspace should be ergonomic, just like an office workspace.
    • Zoom/video fatigue. Don’t overcompensate for a lack of face-to-face interaction with a lot of video conferencing. Too many video meetings leave everyone exhausted and keep us from important projects and priorities. Managing a remote staff requires confidence in your staff that they will meet expectations without being micromanaged.
  2. Communication is key! Some employees just don’t thrive working alone for long periods of time and video calls are no substitute for human interaction.
    • Develop trusting relationships and open communication with your remote staff. Try to get to know your staff on a personal level, just as you would if you were sharing office space.
    • Remote workers can burn out too! Talk about setting boundaries to maintain work/life balance and the importance of taking time off. Remote workers are inclined to spend more time working and often have trouble establishing boundaries, since their office is in their home. Don’t ignore signs of distress such as lack of motivation, missed deadlines or poor work products.
    • Increase recognition of goals and accomplishments. Make sure you are celebrating successes and sharing that information with others in the company.
    • Listen to your staff and make sure you act on their concerns! It’s easy for remote workers to feel like they don’t have the same voice as the office staff. Make sure they feel heard and that you keep them apprised of progress on how you have addressed their concerns.
  3. Set clear and reasonable expectations that allow for the unique experience of remote workers.
    • Is it important to you that your staff be accessible during specific work hours, or are you only concerned that goals and projects meet deadlines? Make sure to communicate that information clearly. If your reports are not picking up your calls or responding to your emails you will lose confidence that they are working. Outlining your expectations for communication will make everyone more comfortable.
    • Are there expectations that employees will respond to after hours work emails, calls or texts? If so, flexibility on work schedules may be a better option. After Hours work is valuable family/personal time, and needs to be respected
    • If employees work across multiple time zones, be clear about how schedules need to overlap. You may want everyone available for a specific 4 hours per day for ease in scheduling meetings.
    • Be very clear on priorities and performance goals and resist the urge to micromanage by focusing on production more than process.

Remote work has lots of benefits for both employees and employers. Many remote workers feel more satisfied with their jobs, have higher retention, are more productive and less stressed. Allowing for remote work also ensures a larger pool of high-quality talent when hiring. As managers, we need to adapt to what is sure to be a new normal and ensure the best experience for our remote staff and ourselves.

Patty Kennelly

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