Managing remote employees can be a challenge, but it also comes with its advantages. You can bring in bright minds who may not have otherwise been able to work for you, employees tend to work more efficiently from the comfort of their own homes, and it saves money for the company.
On the other hand, keeping these employees in the loop is difficult to say the least. Common problems are feelings of isolation for the employees, a team that is out of sync, and an overall lack of motivation.
So how should an effective manager handle remote workers, and what tools can help?
Hire based on experience
Traditional criteria for hiring are not as applicable in this nontraditional situation. Though you certainly want to make sure that the candidate has the skills necessary to complete their work, you should also be on the lookout for those who have experience working remotely or in another nontraditional setting. These candidates will make for competent employees with minimal training, and will be comfortable working and communicating with a team through digital means.
Those who only have experience in a traditional workplace may prove to be less flexible and self-motivated, though it should be noted that all candidates are individuals — this general rule may work for most, but there are going to be exceptions.
Start with face-to-face
Though it may be difficult to coordinate, it’s important to meet your employee face-to-face for their first few days on the job.
Building a personal rapport with your remote employees is just as important, if not more, than doing so with your in-house employees. The first few days on the job is the best time to do this so that your employee can form a permanent positive bond with both you and their team. This is also an ideal period for you to set expectations for your employees and introduce them to the culture of the company.
Use videos for training
A video is generally easier to consume than a long training manual, and takes up less time as well.
For many problems that crop up when managing remote workers, technology is the answer, and training is no exception. If you want your remote workers to stay engaged and focused during the training process, there’s no better tool than video. After the training phase, you can help them get onboard with the help of some useful tools for remote workers. These tools can help them be more productive, efficient, and always feel connected with their teams even if they are geographically dispersed.
Videos have visual and audio components, making them some of the most interesting and compelling content to the human brain. There’s a reason YouTube is so popular, and that many people watch television (or Netflix) for entertainment. Videos are naturally more engaging than an intimidating wall of text, and much more content can fit into two minutes of video than 10 minutes of reading.
Use a cloud service to share large files
All you need is an internet connection to share even the largest of files between team members.
Wondering how you might be able to share these video files with your employees? Sharing large files is no longer the hassle it once was with cloud services like Dropbox. Whether you want to share a long video, a hefty report, or even CAD drawings, all you have to do is send a shared link or file.
Plus, even when you send your precious files off to your employees, you can choose whether they have the ability to edit the original file, download a copy to their computer, or simply leave comments. Speaking of comments, Dropbox gives users the ability to comment on any kind of file, whether it be from Photoshop, Excel, or Sketch — a wonderful function for the communication-heavy world of remote work.
You may have to stretch and practice the skill of giving your employees some of their freedom, but eventually it will come more naturally.
It’s essential to be considerate of your remote employees’ time, because they might have a lot of constraints that you don’t have to consider with your in-house employees, like a different time zone or a certain routine. Conform your schedule to theirs, and make yourself available at times that are convenient to them.
During training, let them learn at their own pace. Your instinct may be to micromanage your remote employees to ensure that they’re doing their work properly, but most employees operate better under a hands-off approach that allows them to customize their own training and work experience.
Use communication tools
Many of these tools can be used on multiple devices, including the most convenient — your phone.
While letting your remote employees do their own thing is effective much of the time, communication is still essential to make sure that both you and they are happy with the way their work is going. It can be helpful to have a completely separate method of communication for work matters that can still be used easily on a cell phone, although texting can be used in an emergency. Slack is a popular and free solution, with an easy-to-use interface on all devices and the ability to communicate instantaneously individually and in groups.
As great as videos are for training, video conferences are even better for remote meetings. Video conferences ensure that everyone on the call is involved in the conversation and has a chance to input their own ideas. And everyone has to pay attention — no ignoring emails or Slack messages. However, it’s common for video conferences to be laggy and confusing, which is super frustrating when on an important business call. Zoom offers a more reliable video conferencing service, with no limit on how many people can be on a call and absolutely no glitching. With the convenience of Zoom, conference calls don’t even have to be about official business; they could just be a fun time for team-building.
All things considered
As remote work becomes more of a reality, we will find new ways to adapt to its peculiar problems, so always keep your eyes peeled for more and newer innovations in the world of remote management. Like all management jobs, it can be both incredibly frustrating and immensely rewarding. Hopefully, these tips will lessen the hair-pulling moments and maximize the triumphs.
All opinions are my own. Dropbox is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.
Sarah is a cat lover, tea drinker, and turtleneck enthusiast currently studying at the University of Pittsburgh.