How to Manage Remote Employees

Now that spring break is over and governments around the world are extending shelter-in-place and quarantine orders, remote management during COVID-19 just went from short-term problem to new-normal for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, we’ve collected some of the best resources and practical tips for managers who are new to remote. Our focus was to find information that would help you immediately, so we avoided think pieces that don’t have practical insights. 

A quick note before we dive in: Peerscale will be putting out regular content about working from home, remote leadership, and building a business in times of crisis in the coming weeks. With that in mind, we are open to stories, feedback, and suggestions from any reader who would like to share. At Peerscale we firmly believe the crowd is smarter than the individual, so we invite and welcome your ideas.

And now onto managing remote employees…

First up: Get a practical understanding of remote work as a concept

Much like how office work requires vastly different mentalities, resources, and frameworks than manual or field labour, so too does remote work. This is doubly true in a time of pandemic, meaning that any manager who is suddenly remotely managing people needs to gain a deeper understanding of the mentality, resources, and frameworks required for success. 

McKinsey and Company recently published a comprehensive guide to working remotely, taking inspiration from how China has managed during the COVID-19 crisis so far. 

Some highlights and key takeaways from the piece: 

  • Small, cross-functional teams tend to work better in a remote environment.
  • Increase communication frequency and consistency needs to increase.
  • Personal, empathetic check-ins are doubly important in a remote environment.
  • All workflows and ways of work must be documented or updated for remote working.
  • Pick the right communication channel for specific messages. 

Create an outcomes-based environment

Since there’s far less of an opportunity to keep tabs on employee progress, remote managers need an outcomes-based environment, centred on three key elements:  

  1. Efficacy of self-service aids.
  2. Documentation and distribution of ‘hygiene’ requirements.
  3. Updating and sharing of systems-of-record.

Self-service aids

Think about documenting solutions in a scalable way instead of relying on private conversations or quick team huddles. In most cases, this means writing out the answer / process or recording a short video of you explaining what’s needed. From there, share it in a central, categorized folder (in Google Drive or on your intranet) so that any team member facing the same problem can find the solution. 

Hygiene requirements

Much like reloading the printer with paper or wiping the counter in the kitchen, digital processes have hygiene requirements that make it easier for the next person to use. The best way to think about the hygiene layer is to answer this question: “After work is successfully completed, what needs to be reset so that the next person can begin work immediately?”

The answer to this question is system-dependent and varies in its complexity from marking a task as ‘complete’ to a complete code refactor. Take a look at the systems you operate with day-to-day and identify what hygiene requirements might exist. 

Updating systems-of-record

When someone takes a sales call, are they updating the CRM or just taking personal notes? The necessary outcome is updating the CRM so that everyone has visibility into the deal. This applies whether working remotely or in an office, but it’s especially important when working remotely because there are limited opportunities for follow up. 

Get the right tools in place

Finding tools for remote work is about one thing: identifying the “digital equivalents” to in-office functions.

Team communication: Slack or another messaging app.

Calls: Slack (internal) and Zoom or another video conferencing app (internal and external).

Task management: Trello, Monday, Asana, JIRA, or another app.

Collaboration: G-Suite, Evernote, Microsoft Office 365, or similar.

Social Media Today published a guide of 50 tools for remote offices and remote workers that you can check out if you need tool ideas for a niche or specific purpose.

Don’t forget about mental health

People are living with families and friends in ways we have never done before. Health concerns remain top of mind as the pandemic continues. Stress is naturally high. For people who have never worked remotely or from home before, distractions are everywhere. 

The same goes for you as a manager. You cannot forget about your mental health or the mental health of your team. 

Here are two resources to look at: 

And as you think about ways to keep a check on employee mental health without overstepping boundaries, remember the number one thing a manager can do: Check in. 

Normally, this would be in-person. But in the remote world, the golden rule is camera on. Just be sure that you’re in a well-lit, clean area, and dressed professionally as you would normally in the office.

When managers check in with employees, it does two things:

  1. It sends a signal to the employee that they are cared about. It’s easy to forget this and feel alone, especially with the chaos in the world. A simple check in can make all the difference.
  2. It’s a social opportunity. Check-ins don’t have to be purely about work and, in fact, shouldn’t be. You don’t have to become best friends in the process – we understand there are professional boundaries to respect – but there can and should be time within check-ins to talk about the “new normal” and how everyone’s adjusting. 

And finally: Share your insights and practices

Peerscale is first and foremost a community of entrepreneurs. We’re here to help each other. If you have an idea to share, please do. If you tried one of these tips before and noticed it won’t work without a certain condition, let us know. And if you have further questions, ask away. 

We’re here for you in any way we can be. And we encourage you to be here for each other. If you can help, do it. And if you need help, ask.


Posted by: Chris Rasmussen | In: Performance Management
Tags: CEO, COO, emloyee engagement, Executive Team, Leadership, Leadership coaching, Remote Employees, WFH

Peerscale is a non-profit member based community organization for technology leaders to network among their peers, seek guidance and offer advice. Learn more.

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