When you’re in the same room as your employees, providing feedback or asking a question is simple and straightforward. You make eye contact, tap them on the shoulder, or just walk to their desk. You can gauge their response in person and read their body language.
But what if your teammate is working remotely? Feedback can fall by the wayside. Your employee might be eagerly waiting for a response from you on Slack, terrified that their work has fallen short. They see the green dot indicating that you’re online. Cue the anxiety.
Communication for remote employees can be tricky, even with technology like email and Slack. But it’s a vital skill for the 43% of U.S. workers who are remote. It’s also a skill that their managers need to learn.
The key is getting comfortable with technology. "From the ubiquitous email to how to have meetings, everything is mediated through technology," said Kevin Eikenberry, co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute in Indianapolis. "We have to figure out how we're going to work together and what we can expect from each other," he said.
Remote work is here to stay, with a 115% increase over the last 10 years. That means managing remote workers is a skill every leader will have to learn. Here are some tried and true tips on managing remote workers.
When employees know what to expect, they can perform accordingly. One of the biggest problems remote workers have is understanding what their parameters are. Unlike office workers, remote workers can’t learn from just observing their peers and manager. Without direction, they'll have a much steeper learning curve to knowing what’s expected of them.
Clearly define work requirements from the beginning. The best way to onboard a remote employee is going overboard in terms of how much information you give them. What’s their daily schedule? Are they flexible? Do they get an hour for lunch? What’s their preferred way to communicate?
Checking in regularly keeps both parties updated on progress and expectations. When you manage remote workers, checking in regularly helps facilitate feedback and build rapport.
Annual reviews aren't enough since it’s impossible to recall a year’s worth of work in a single meeting. Having regular one-on-ones will keep you updated throughout the year, meaning more opportunities for employees to speak directly to you about successes or problems they might have.
Employees are hungry for feedback, and your undivided attention is important for them. Remember to take notes after the meeting of any issues that need to be addressed and appropriate action items. To a manager, these things are easily overlooked or forgotten when the person isn’t in view, while remaining at the forefront of your remote worker’s mind. We recommend taking notes before and encouraging your employee to make an agenda for the meeting as well. If you can do it through a shared platform, even better.
Being clear about feedback means remote workers won’t over-analyze your communication. It’s all about the flow of conversation between coworkers and managers. Be in the moment, but remember that a remote worker does not have the benefit of your body language, tone of voice, or facial expressions to help them further understand what you’re thinking.
While you want praise and feedback to flow freely, you'll want to prioritize clarity in these messages. Be specific about what’s working and what isn't. When you have negative feedback, make sure you discuss it directly with the person and not in a group setting.
Encouraging status updates means you and your remote workers have something to refer to. Ask employees to keep a weekly log of their work. That way, both parties can keep track of what’s getting done. Even if you don’t look at the log every day, you’ll at least be able to see progress.
These updates are also helpful for both of you to reference during one-on-one evaluations. As a manager, it keeps you from overlooking accomplishments while also keeping workers accountable.
Your remote workers trust you to be open and honest with them. Be sure to do the same. If an employee isn’t responsive or meeting a deadline, don't just assume they're slacking off. Instead, reach out. They might be overwhelmed or might be dealing with a personal matter. That’s hard to know when they're not in the same room. Remember to keep the communication going and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Performance management for remote workers needs a little extra thought and work, but with the right tools, it can be simple and straightforward for both the manager and the employee.
Technology can make it managing remote workers easier. Lattice's people management platform includes 1:1s, feedback, engagement surveys, goals, and more — all in one place. To see our platform in action, click here.