7 Tips for Managing Remote Employees
Nobody asked for a pandemic. And now, there’s the challenge of managing remote employees. Ministry organizations and businesses have been forced to radically adapt to their stay-at-home work staff:
- launching your first video conference call (“We can’t hear you. Unmute!”),
- tracking the progress of staff who aren’t around,
- addressing staff morale that’s all over the map,
- and ___________ (fill in the blank).
The good news is that successful strategies for managing remote staff aren’t in quarantine. They’re available right now. If the goal is engaging remote employees to be responsive and productive, then the way to get there begins with these seven, select tips:
1. Choose the right tools.
Video products like Zoom and WebEx will help bring people together; proven names like Slack and Microsoft Teams speak to managing workflow. You can see their effectiveness in the looks of assurance and confidence of people working together. It’s about sharing information and creating a unified mindset. Perhaps, even greater, it’s about giving remote staffers a welcome reprieve from isolation.
2. Sing out the positive.
Anyone who’s working from home wants a break from those same four walls. Effective leaders facilitating video conference calls turn to Appreciative Inquiry, the proven, strength-based leadership approach that asks the question, “What’s been life-giving for you?” It can be as simple as going ‘round the horn and having each person share one personal or one work-related highlight.
Seventy-five years before COVID-19 hit, Johnny Mercer and the Piedmonts, prophesied a little wisdom for today:
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
3. Encourage with amazing grace.
What about managers with limited experience with remote employees? Enter Robert Bortins, Jr, the CEO of Classical Conversations that’s leading Christian, home-centered education. Bortins encourages all leaders to give grace when setting expectations and moving through the call. Specifically:
- “Have a co-pilot who is monitoring the chatbox. This person can help the meeting leader address the items cumulating in the chatbox.
- Make sure before you move on to topics that you verbally ask for feedback from everyone. You might say, ‘So we have agreed to do X as a team and Sarah has a task to do Y. Sarah do you agree?’ She will say ‘yes’ if she does, or ‘no’ and clarify what she heard. Go around the virtual room ‘Jim do you agree?’ This helps with agreement and keeps people engaged. Encourage them to create a workspace at home, encourage them to get up and walk.”
4. Build relationships one at a time.
This direct quote comes from an experienced remote team member who values her work and her employer. “Leaders should seek to know their remote workers. It’s easy to hop on Zoom, talk about the tasks at hand, and hop off. Take the time to ask about an employee’s spouse, kids, and even pets.
“Relationship building fosters culture and cultivates employees that care about the mission, not just the paycheck. Such caring is especially important for remote workers because, unlike conversing in person, at-a-distance conversation may not come naturally.”
5. Trust that your employees are actually working.
There’s a possible misconception going around that remote employees get less done. Anecdotal evidence suggests just the opposite: remote workers are set up to overwork, as it can sometimes be hard to separate work life from home life. Therefore, trust should be a given from the start. As Stephen R. Covey wrote, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
6. Get down and dirty.
Leaders who feel leveled by the current situation can actually draw closer to remote employees. It might seem messy. Says Bortins, “The first thing is to get down in the dirt with your people. They know it is bad, they know you know it is bad. You have to give them hope and hope isn’t ignoring the present situation, it’s acknowledging it, articulating the plan and then letting them know you have their back. It is a wonderful time to be a servant leader.”
7. Consider what matters.
At some point, every leader, like every remote colleague, needs to unplug from work. Says Bortins, “If you’re like me, you’re working twice as hard to keep life as normal as possible for those around you, but normal life will change after this, and I don’t know what that will be.”
“Use this opportunity to make it a change for the better. Slowing down occasionally and spending more time with the family is a good thing. It shouldn’t take a pandemic for that to happen. How can you provide a better work-life balance for your team? It was Socrates who said, ‘The unexamined life isn’t worth living.’ Each of us has a chance to examine our own lives and make the changes God would have us make.”
“It’s odd to go to the grocery stores and see we are out of toilet paper. I’ve also heard reports that bookstores are out of Bibles because people are buying them all up as well. We will get through this, and I hope that we all become closer to God during this time.”
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