Great managers are the difference between employees doing the bare minimum versus going above and beyond. It certainly was so in my case. When a manager trusts you, maintains strong communication, and offers resources/help to do the job, who wouldn’t show their A+ game? Such managers increase employees’ productivity, make them feel seen and heard, and retain great talent.
So, how do you manage remote employees to enjoy its many benefits? Here are the five ways I’ve been using at Mailman (Hint: Many principles are the same as in-office managing but tailored to remote teams)
1. Prioritize great onboarding
Great employee onboarding can improve retention by 82% and improve employee productivity by 70%. But, still, managers treat onboarding as optional. It’s why employees don’t connect with the team culture and leave just after a few weeks.
So, be intentional about how you can set up an employee for success. Here are a few tips to get started:
a) Provide work-related equipment (laptop, headphones, desired software) before the joining date.
b) Give your employees an onboarding guide that will help them to know about the company and how it operates. It should contain information on how the company functions, how you take meetings, working hours, communication norms/channels, and a point of contact during urgency.
c) Welcome the new hire to your communication channel on day 1.
d) Host a 1-on-1 meeting on day 1 to set work expectations. Educate them on the 30/60/90 days plan they should achieve. Define their short-term and long-term goals that meet the company’s needs. Brief the employee about how they should share their work updates and how often (daily/weekly).
e) Assign a buddy for the first few weeks. This person will answer all their queries and help them settle in fast, so the new hire won’t leave in uncertainty.
2. Ensure consistent communication
Consistent communication is key to remote work success. Establish default communication tools for your team to use to communicate with you. Let them also know when they should contact you, how often they should contact you, and the ideal timings. For example, “I’m available from 8 to 5 and prefer video conversations, but if there’s an emergency, you can message me on Slack.”
I like how the Buffer managers do this. They distribute their work blueprint - “one-page information for teammates to collaborate more efficiently” - to the team members.
While communicating, respect different time zones. Don’t expect an urgent response. Avoid forcing a culture where your team has to check email and slack 24/7 to reply faster. Resist the urge to get the reply ‘now.’ It incentivizes poor decisions. Give your employees the flexibility to think and then respond.
And for times when an instant reply is a need, you can do two things:
a) Fix 1-2 hr daily when every employee should be present. They can cross-communicate to get share details.
b) Or have a specific communication channel. For example, If anyone wants an urgent response, they should message on Slack.
Another crucial aspect of remote communication is prioritizing 1:1 communication. Exchange 1:1 messages on Slack to get to know each other better. But adopt video tools for important matters (personalized feedback or to clarify something). Video conversations transmit visual cues that are more personal than written communication.
Recommended reading: How to communicate effectively as a remote team
3. Provide psychological safety
There are umpteen examples of how employees don’t experiment and avoid failures because of ridicule. The result? Employees do mediocre work, have low work satisfaction, and hide mistakes and knowledge gaps. Not the type of employee you want, isn’t it? Providing psychological safety helps.
Per Wikipedia, “Psychological safety is being able to show and employ oneself without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career. It can be defined as a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. In psychologically safe teams, team members feel accepted and respected.”
Here’s how to create psychological safety:
a) Avoid micromanaging. Ensure employees can make work decisions, experiment, and own their work.
b) It’s natural employees will mess up when they experiment. Don’t ridicule and name-call them. Instead, ask them to take responsibility for their mistakes, learn from them, and not take measures to avoid repeating the same mistakes.
c) Trust your employees by default. Never assume any evil intentions in the actions of your employees. When in doubt, clarify with them fast.
d) Offer learning resources and train them for necessary skills without looking down upon them.
e) Schedule 1-on-1 feedback sessions to let them know where they stand. Ask them to double down on the good parts and cut down on things halting their progress. Also, tell them about areas for improvement. Plus, be open to feedback.
f) Engage with your team with 100% transparency and authenticity.
4. Show empathy
While remote work has many benefits, it isn’t devoid of problems - distractions at home, work burnout, and social isolation. As a manager, you should acknowledge stress, advocate for positive mental health, and empathize with their problems.
Some ways to get started:
a) Host 1-on-1 with your employees to chat about their work-life balance and offer support to improve them.
b) Allow flexible working hours.
c) Listen to their anxiety and work-related concerns. Provide days/weeks off to help them clear their heads off and recharge.
d) Recognize individual efforts. Give a virtual shoutout in the communication channel for great work.
e) Be transparent about your work stress and how you deal with it—so they feel safe to share their struggles without the fear of judgment.
f) With the company’s permission, offer free therapy sessions to talk with mental health professionals.
Help your team help yourself
If you provide the right environment for your team to work in, it will ultimately benefit you. You’ll boost work productivity, strengthen team collaboration, and improve team satisfaction. So, use the above tips to manage your remote team.