If you thought talking politics creates enemies, just wait until you see the vitriol you can unleash with shoddy practices for managing remote workers. Whether you’re tasked with overseeing a mix of at-home and in-person employees or a remote-only crew, you’ll want to tread carefully if you want to succeed.
Success here means creating a productive and happy workforce, not a batch of remote workers who all have an emoji of your face in the middle of their home office dartboards.
Here come four things liable to make remote workers hate you, along with the fix that’ll have them calling you the best boss, ever.
Are you the type of manager who looms behind people’s chairs to see what they’re working on? Then you know all about micromanagement. While in-person micromanagement can be annoying for employees, remote micromanagement can be downright creepy.
That’s because programs exist that can track every single movement on a person’s screen, along with how much time they spend actually sitting there in front of it. If that sounds like an excessive way of managing remote workers and a great way to get workers to resent you, it’s because it is.
Keep in mind that creative ideas may be born when people aren’t busy typing 80 wpm every single second. There may also be valid reasons for researching a site the program may deem a “time-waster.”
Speaking of wasting time, scheduling endless video calls for no other reason than to check up on the workload is another way to put on a damper on everyone’s ability to get things done.
Micromanagement sends the message that you:
- Don’t trust your team
- Are ready to catch them doing something wrong
- Have so little else to do in your day that reviewing their mouse clicks is your main job
Reviewing mouse clicks can take a lot of time. In fact, a full 67% of supervisors say they spend more time supervising remote workers than in-office workers. We have to wonder why.
The Fix: Focus on Output and Personal Connection
Instead of spending copious amounts of time reviewing mouse clicks, try keeping your eye on the output. Do your remote workers get everything done that needs to be done? Is the quality at or above your standards?
Focusing on the end results, instead of the 832 mouse clicks it took to get there, can lighten the stress and overall mood. Less stressed employees are going to be happier employees, and happier employees are more productive employees.
Another option is to establish a less invasive system of checking in to ensure everything is moving forward at a satisfactory rate. This can be done with regular check-ins, which are not to be confused with regular check-ups.
- Check-ins consist of friendly, helpful encounters to see how everything’s going and if anyone needs any help.
- Check-ups are demanding, bossy encounters to make darn sure everything’s on track and determine if anyone needs to be fired.
A quick weekly video call is a good way to check in.
You can also have remote workers send you an overview of what work they’ll be delivering that day, week or month, depending on the type work involved. Or you can give them a rundown on what you need done and when you need it.
Either way, they’ll appreciate the confidence and trust in their ability and work ethic to deliver exactly what you need.
Lack of Management
On the flipside of micromanagement, lack of solid management is another way to create a pool of remote workers swimming in unhappiness. Sure, you may have had a video call with a new remote employee when they were first hired, but haven’t seen them since.
Yet you still expect spot-on work that exactly aligns with what’s in your mind. Here’s a hint: No matter how stellar your remote workers may be, none are likely to be experts in the art of mind reading. Berating them for getting it wrong – when you didn’t even tell them what you wanted – is sure to ignite some pretty harsh feelings.
Lack of management comes in many forms, including:
- Not responding to questions and requests
- Always being “too busy” for regular check-ins or meetings
- Not providing any sort of feedback, encouragement or direction
Failing to manage your team sends the message that you:
- Don’t really care about them
- Have so many other things to do that are more important than them
- Find them rather bothersome
The Fix: Inspire Instead of Ignore
A good manager is someone who knows how to motivate and inspire – especially true when you’re managing remote workers who you only contact through a screen.
It’s also someone who knows how to give direction without stifling, how to focus on the positive while strengthening weaknesses, and how to effectively communicate with their remote team.
Effective communication means:
- Setting clear goals and expectations
- Getting to know your team members (far beyond an initial video call)
- Providing regular feedback and encouragement
- Meeting on a regular schedule to check-in, connect and collaborate
Working in collaboration with your team is five-star management practice. This not only shows you respect their input and ideas, but it gives team members a chance to shine in ways you might not even have thought possible.
And yes, it is also apt to make remote workers happier and more productive.
- 74% of American workers would rather have a collaborative culture than one where management makes most of the decisions.
- 72% would be eager to take on more responsibility.
- 83% would be thrilled to have their boss ask for their input more often.
If you really want to tick off remote employees, pull any one of the following stunts:
- Ask them to send you the same file they already sent you six times last week.
- Assign the same task to two different employees.
- Forget what you asked someone to do.
- Scold someone for not doing something you never asked them to do.
- Make sure work is regularly lost, deleted or otherwise corrupt so employees have to do the same work over and over again.
- Send them on a scavenger hunt to find a file or instructions you “could have sworn I sent you in an email last week.”
A muddled-up workflow is no fun in the office, and it’s even less fun when you’re managing remote workers. At least in the office you’re able to spot the hard copy of a file lying on a desk or in a dark corner somewhere.
When work is being done remotely, all you have to track are digital files and conversations on text, chat, email or other systems that can end up basically anywhere.
The Fix: Have Systems in Place – for Everything
You know how the office has a main file cabinet where employees can find tons of resources they need to get their work done? Well, it should. And so should your online space, in the form of a digital filing cabinet.
Create a central file repository or private section on your website where your online team can access important documents such as:
- Brand style guide
- Handbooks, forms and other employee-related resources
- List of contacts
- Instructional manuals and/or videos
- Anything else they may need on a regular basis
When it comes to working on specific tasks, invest in chat tools and work management software. This way you can communicate quickly while outlining:
- Projects that need to be completed
- The project timelines
- Different project steps
- The workers responsible for each step
- Comments, input and uploads related to each project or step
When workflow systems are in place, managers and their crews should be trained to go with the flow. Files won’t get lost. Conversations won’t get deleted. And you’ll get a running tally of everything everyone is working on at any given time.
Organizational skills are imperative for effectively managing remote workers. It’s far too easy for things to slip through the cracks and disappear into never-never cyberland.
Shunned. Left out. Gossiped about behind their backs. While it may sound like the agony of high school, it’s also how many remote workers feel. The study that uncovered those feelings was conducted in 2017, but it doesn’t appear that things have gotten much better in the years since.
Research from 2021 found:
- 42% of supervisors say they sometimes forget about remote workers when assigning tasks.
- 29% of remote workers say remote working will result in fewer developmental opportunities.
- 34% of remote workers say remote working will result in lost career opportunities.
Resentments can also be part of the mix, both on the parts of the onsite workers and onsite managers who have to deal with dress codes, rush-hour commutes and being away from their dogs all day.
Even if you’re trying to be fair and treat all workers equally, it’s tough to hide haunting resentments. Those resentments are going to come out sideways, or perhaps even subconsciously. Think about that the next time you:
- Expect a reply message from remote workers within two seconds or less.
- Get irritated when you don’t get a call-back from one of your remote team members – even though you called without leaving a message.
- Blast them with texts, calls or emails at all hours of the day or night, since they’re working from home and should be on-call 24/7, right?
- Disregard their input in favor of suggestions from onsite workers.
- Give your at-home crew the most tedious projects and tasks.
The Fix: Take Action to Help Them Feel Included
Creating an environment that helps remote workers feel included requires three key ingredients:
- Shared purpose
A number of best practices can help bring those ingredients to life.
- Check in with remote workers on a consistent basis, either by phone or face-to-face. Connecting isn’t the same as micromanaging, especially when you’re creating a dialogue instead of simply spewing a monologue.
- Listen to what they have to say. Ask about their workload, how they’re feeling about the job, how everything’s going.
- Be available when they need to reach out. Even if your remote employees are in different time zones or work outside office hours, provide a way they can get in touch for urgent questions if needed.
- Don’t forget team building and forming personal relationships. You don’t want to try to become your employees’ best friend, but you do want to connect with them on a personal level. Ask about their hobbies, families, what they do for fun. Designate part of your group check-in meetings for a bit of personal chat among remote coworkers.
Keep remote workers enthused and engaged by giving them real responsibilities that highlights their strengths. You can also schedule extra activities during off-work hours, like an office game hour where everyone shows up on Zoom for an online trivia game or other good-natured competition.
One final thing to remember that work, especially remote work, can be fun. As the savvy pro in charge of managing remote workers, you are the prime person to help ensure it is. The fun doesn’t have to be relegated to after-hours activities, either.
With regular check-ins, an efficient workflow, upbeat group conversations and a personal touch that helps everyone feel included, you and your remote team could be having fun – in every time zone – all day long.