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How to Manage Remote Employees

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If you are in a crisis mode, or just offering flexibility to your employees, more and more staff are opting to work remotely at least part of the time.

In the current emergency environment, with whole swaths of people engaging in a “shelter in place” scenario, it is more essential than ever for employers and senior leaders to have a handle on how to best manage staff that is working from a distance.

Cutting-edge technology is critical.

Assuming that the organization has the hardware and software in place to support efficient and seamless remote access, the next obstacle is the emotional and human side of managing the process.

There are common sense guidelines for successfully working remotely. 

When the employees are not all under one roof, easily accessible to organization’s leadership team and to each other, it is important to:

  1. Commit to frequent communication. Without the opportunity to ‘bump into each other’ in the halls or kitchen or other public spaces, you will need to be sure that communication is both recurring and relevant. It is hard to avoid the ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ syndrome. But recognizing that employees are scattered across the tri-state area, leaders will need to take a thoughtful approach to ensure that no one is left out
  2. Clarify expectations. One of the obstacles that can have an immediate negative impact on working remotely is a lack of clarity around expectations. Working from home is different from sitting in the office. Even the most loyal and dependable employees will not be in front of their laptop for eight hours each day with just a brief break for lunch. In fact, it is probably healthy to know that some may take a dog walking break, stop to move laundry from the washer to the dryer, or engage in some other minor household task that takes them away for short periods of time from their home office. In order to avoid frustrations and disappointments on both sides, the employees and employers need to have some guidelines regarding accessibility and other operational issues. Leaders have an obligation to explain what they expect. No one should have to guess – or make up their own rules in lieu of company standards. This may be as simple as reminding them how quickly they need to reply to emails or return phone calls as well as understanding other professional responsibilities, including the number of hours that comprise a typical work day. If there is mutual agreement, there will be more trust and less conflict. There are going to be differences between the more informal “home office” work environment and a day in the office, but that does not mean there cannot be consensus of what is realistic and practical.
  3. Remain closely connected. Those working from home do not want to be treated like step-children, most especially during the enforced rules resulting from the COVID -19 outbreak.  No one wants to be left out and feel undervalued or underutilized.  Smart leaders host weekly virtual meetings using Microsoft Team, Zoom, or other tools that enable visual contact.  Seeing each other, even remotely, can make a big difference to all. Periodically schedule these meetings at noon and ask everyone to have lunch together as they share their experiences and observations of the past week’s activities.   

These simple ideas are not complicated, but they force leaders and managers to focus on the needs of the staff in an empathetic and genuine way.

In conclusion, if everyone has agreed on expectations, and communication is meaningful and frequent, the instances of feeling left out or overlooked will diminish. Instead, working remotely while sheltering in place, even during the stressful and anxious atmosphere brought by the coronavirus, will become an efficient and effective alternative for companies and nonprofits of all sizes across many industries.