Being in the same room as your employee, it is easy to provide feedback, ask questions, make eye contact, tap them on the shoulder or just walk upto their desk. Their response can be gauged in person and by reading their body language. But what happens when your team is working remotely?

Ideally, it would be good to have established remote work policies and related training rather than rush to do it now. However, since the pandemic has caught many organizations on the backfoot it becomes inevitable to learn along the way. 

Challenges to Remote Working

The CEO of a Dutch company wondered if the employees would be doing their laundry instead of completing tasks on hand while working remotely. This highlights a lack of trust in the input (time) where the need is to focus on the output (results).

Leading remotely, therefore, is a skill that many managers need to develop. Remote leadership is in many ways different from co-located leadership. This hardship could be in areas such as communication technology, networking, team development, performance management, building trust, and dealing with ambiguity.  This is also coupled with the fact that managers need to factor in lack of face to face supervision, lack of access to information, social isolation, and distractions at home on the part of the employees. 

Remote working is not the easiest of options even though inevitable. Several questions arise in this regard such as:

  • How to evaluate a person you have never met?
  • How to build successful relationships?
  • How to  ensure work continues in a friction less environment?
  • How to ascertain whether an employee has maxed out or is good to continue? 
  • How to encourage without micromanaging?

Listed below are some definitive steps which will help managers to strike a comfortable working relationship with their team working remotely:

Define Roles, Goals, And Expectations

Clear goals, roles, and expectations from the onset sets the tone for remote work in the right direction. One of the biggest issues remote workers face is in understanding their roles. This is unlike an office setting where they observe their peers and learn. Hence the learning curve for what is expected of them becomes much steeper.

Therefore keeping track of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) is as important in a remote setting as in a conventional office setting. Spending some effort in defining targets from the beginning will make reviews and management a much smoother process as the year progresses. A focus on quantifiable targets which employees have a hand in developing will prove invaluable.

Focus On Output Not The Process

In the remote landscape, people are juggling home duties while maintaining work from home productivity. Keeping this in mind the employees should be given the flexibility to work in ways that are easy to manage and most productive for them. Providing this kind of flexibility empowers the team to complete their assignments in their own way. As a manager, one has to stop focussing on the time spent but rather in achieving the target. 

An important point for managers here would be to repose trust in the remote team. Although it might cause concern to managers to have lost the visibility that was once constant, micromanaging will not help. Instead, they need to focus on deliverables and timelines. Though learning to manage employees remotely is an adjustment to many, it certainly is an essential business trait to master.

Promote Dialogue

Two-way communication between managers and peers provides employees with the information and perspective they need. It enables everyone to process negative emotions and feel more in control. Gartner research shows that employees’ understanding of organizations’ decisions and their implications during change is far more important for the success of the initiative rather than the employees like the change or not.

Promoting dialogue can be achieved from different aspects such as:

  • Scheduling regular one on ones
  • Give constant feedback
  • Ask for status updates regularly
  • Offer encouragement and Emotional support
  • Equip employees

Ensure that employees have the equipment they need to execute their tasks suitably. Sometimes just a mobile phone and a laptop may not be sufficient. A mistake to be avoided here would be to presume that everyone is on the same page when it comes to technology and collaborative tools.

A respectful attitude should be adopted in order to bring everyone up to speed. A lot of organizations have credited a fixed amount to their employee’s bank accounts so that they can buy a work desk, a chair, an extra screen, or whatever they need to set up their home offices.

Encourage Innovation

The prevalent high levels of uncertainty could render a normally innovative employee risk-averse. Risk-taking and innovation in such times in fact can become the foundation stone to doing work in better ways and ranking profits for the business. Managers must emphasize the need and provide opportunities for process improvements.

Increase Recognition

Effective recognition not only boosts the morale of an employee but also serves as a point of emulation to others. Recognition need not only be monetary, it could be in terms of public acknowledgments, tokens of appreciation, or even development opportunities.

The use of simple surveys will help to ask specific questions or gather information to track output, barriers overcome to achieve targets, instances of help extended amongst team members, and so on. This provides elements to recognize, thank, and share the good work done by teams and its members.

Performance management for remote workers needs a little extra thought and work. The novelty of leading remotely can be overcome with high levels of trust, the right technology, and the following of some ground rules as we have seen above. Constantly communicating with remote employees in order to monitor their progress and also ensure that it aligns with the goals of the company will help employees perform better no matter where they are located. 

Read about various initiatives that HRs can roll out to help during and after the lockdown