5 Principles for Managing Remote Employees
It's no surprise that technology has changed the way we work. From taking notes and researching to shopping and video chatting with your pet while you're away, our way of life is nearly 100% reliant on the web. So when Marissa Mayer infamously banned Yahoo employees from working from home in 2013, the working world was all asking the same question: are employees more or less productive when they work remotely? In a study conducted by Nicholas Bloom and James Liang, comparing at-home employees with in-office ones, the at-home workers were happier, less likely to quit, and more productive. Not only that, but it was estimated that the participating company saved $1,900 in office furniture per employee for the nine months. So, great! Let's all work remotely! What's the problem? The problem occurs when managers are so used to being around their employees physically, they don't know how to transition to managing a remote team. Tracking and managing accountability, productivity, and priorities can become extremely difficult when team members are remote, especially when that team is spread across various time zones. We've put together a list of tips to help you get a handle on the chaos of remote collaboration, while keeping your team productive and happy from the comfort of their own home.

How to Effectively Manage Remote Employees

1. Hire the right people.

Working remotely isn't for everyone. Some people enjoy the socializing aspect of an office and need that type of environment to be productive. Others might believe they work better from home, but need to be carefully monitored in order to be productive. Some people just can't stay focused in the presence of multiple distractions. When interviewing candidates, make sure to be detailed about the role and expectations you'll have while they're telecommuting. Ask them if they've held other remote roles, and be clear and upfront about how you're planning on measuring their outcomes. If different time zones are involved, work out a schedule that works for both of you — and stick to it!

2. Adopt the proper tools.

Your remote team will not survive on prehistoric tools like weekly status meetings and emails. Without the ability to simply walk over to someone's desk to briefly touch base before a call, there needs to be a way to collaborate quickly and efficiently. Simplify your collaboration by adopting a work management solution so communication is always accessible and seamless. Work management tools make it easy to edit, review, and approve documents in real time — eliminating the need to play "attachment tag" and pass documents back and forth via email.

3. Address accountability.

One of the most common fears among managers when their employees work remotely is tracking productivity. Not being close to them in proximity means not knowing if their fingers are on the keyboard or on the TV remote. In truth, there's no way to prevent this from happening, but there is a way to set goals and track productivity. Having visibility into your team's workload is crucial to measuring outcomes. With a clear view of all your team's tasks for the week, you can track task progress and see who's overloaded and who's got some free time. With an understanding that your remote team has their work cut out for them, and visibility into the progress of that work, you can rest easy.  

4. Build trust.

You don't necessarily need an office full of employees to be micromanager. Coinciding with the previous point, building trust amongst your remote team is an absolute necessity to running efficiently. If you're hovering over your team and constantly asking them what they're working on right now, you're simply cutting into their productivity and concentration. Make sure you divide one-on-ones and status meetings and take time to give each remote individual some personal attention. Schedule calls to touch base and check in on how you can help make them more productive. Are they too overloaded? Underloaded? What skills do they wish to strengthen? When addressing their concerns not only as a team but at the individual level, your remote employees will feel much more comfortable coming to you with questions as well as care more about their output.

5. Prioritize team building.

You don't always need to be together physically to work on team building. In fact, it's probably more important to prioritize team building when you're remote, since there aren't many opportunities to spend time together. We've put together a whole list of fun team building games; here are a few you can do remotely: 1. Whose Office Is It, Anyway?: Have your team members send a photo of their home offices, and then have everyone guess whose workspace is whose. Keep the game going with photos of everyone’s coffee mugs, desktop backgrounds, or the view outside their window. 2. Conference Call Trivia: Divide into teams and play trivia. You can find good trivia questions and answers online, or pull out some Trivial Pursuit cards. It’s a great way to learn about people’s non-work interests and personalities. 3. Online Multiplayer Games: Pick a game that will let your team work together to strategize and problem solve, like Travian or 1066, or browse the many free and paid co-op games on Steam. Use your computer’s built-in microphone and speakers to chat, or use headsets. 4. Charades or Catchphrase via Video Hangout or Skype: Divide your group into two teams, and play classic party games like Charades or Catchphrase via video call. You can send everyone the link to an online Charades or Catchphrase ideas generator that will provide word prompts for you. 5. Online Karaoke Party: Let loose with an online karaoke party! Use the built-in microphones and speakers on your computers to challenge teammates to a karaoke battle, compare high scores, or just have fun showing off your singing skills.

Remote Doesn't Mean Absent

Even if only a few of your employees are remote, it's important to make sure they're getting the same amount of attention as your in-office employees. Take the time to hire the right people, invest in the proper tools, and gain trust both ways. If you do, you'll soon see productivity soar with everyone working in tandem, plus a significant boost in happiness with the ease and flexibility of working from anywhere. Working from home causing too many distractions? Take a look at how you can improve your home office to maximize productivity!

What are some of your tips for managing remote teams?

Share your experiences in the comments.
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