Employers: Make small talk with your remote workers

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Technology makes it easier than ever to work from home, but it’s not the most important ingredient for managing a productive remote workforce.

While full-time remote work is still uncommon, employers are using the benefit to help their workforce achieve better work-life balance. Last year, 69% of employers allowed employees to work from home as needed, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 Benefits Survey. And 42% of employers agree to let workers do it part-time, or select days of the workweek. As this perk continues to trend, it’s crucial for employers to adopt a strategy for managing people they don’t see every day.

“As a manager, people skills are crucial when your team isn’t working in the same space,” says Melissa Marcello, associate vice president at Champlain College Online — a Vermont-based employer with a large remote workforce. “When you’re relying on technology to get the work done, you really need to be intentional about your communication strategy to be successful.”

Marcello spoke in a recent interview about best practices for managing remote workers.

What are some of the challenges of having a remote workforce?

While working from home gives employees the flexibility to live wherever they want and maintain better work-life balance, it can be challenging for managers to monitor everyone. Communication has to be more proactive when you can’t walk over to someone’s desk to talk about a project. Teams also need to be more organized and set clear deadlines when team members are working in different time zones.

What strategies do employers need to manage a remote workforce?

Good management skills need to be even more pronounced when you’re managing a team scattered all over the country. Managers need to have a clear vision and set clear goals to make sure everyone on the team is successful. They also need to put effort into developing relationships with individual team members and the group.

How do managers foster relationships with remote workers?

By checking in with them regularly, whether it’s by instant messaging, video conferencing or phone calls. And don’t just talk about work; ask them about what’s going on in their personal lives and about their interests. Send them funny videos over instant messaging. None of these things are wasting time. It’s what you’d do if you saw them every day in an office setting. These are the little things that build strong teams.

What tools do you need to successfully incorporate remote workers?

You need to have a space where everyone can participate in projects even when you’re not all together at the same place, or time zone, working on something. There are many digital platforms that accomplish this; our organization has been successful using G Suite.

It’s one thing to have the tools. It’s another thing to set expectations on how we use those tools and when to provide feedback. A good manager is able to harness digital tools and set the norms for a team, even if they’re in different locations.

How can remote employees ensure they remain productive?

Creating a sacred, designated work space in the home is really helpful. Claim a room in the house where you can shut the door and be dedicated to work, so everyone in the house knows you need to focus. If that’s not an option, coworking spaces are becoming increasingly popular — and you don’t have to worry about keeping your personal life and work separate.

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Workforce management Work from home Employee communications Employee retention Employee relations
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