Shifts in workplace culture and connective technologies have created an influx of remote workers. In fact, 25% of the workforce works remotely in some capacity.
This has created a whole new set of challenges in talent management: while the breakdown of geographic barriers expands the talent pool, dispersed populations can also have an adverse effect on culture if people aren’t managed effectively.
Remote employees often have different motivators, pain points, and feedback preferences compared with their in-office colleagues, and, therefore, require distinct considerations. They are also often just as integral to a company’s overall culture and health as local employees and should not be relegated to an afterthought.
If organisations don’t adapt management to fit the needs of remote workers, managers could face, at the least, a lack of engagement among virtual employees, and, at worst, an exodus of talent as those employees look elsewhere. However, there are steps that everyone from HR leaders to managers can take to manage their remote talent effectively and keep their culture intact.
Avoid the practice of virtual micro-management
Whether it’s online or in the office, micromanagement is among the top complaints people have about their managers. More than one-third (39%) of employees said being a micromanager was the worst trait a manager could possess. Micromanagement can also contribute to disengagement.
According to CareerAddict, 69% of respondents who experienced micromanagement in the workplace considered changing jobs, and 85% said their morale was impacted negatively. As managers learn to empower their teams, they need to apply the same level of trust – if not more – to their virtual team members.
Managers should consider preferred communication styles in developing a team communication and operating agreement for remote teams, to monitor for and address micromanagement.
Ideally, this plan should include guidelines for project management, incorporating information such as when to provide status reports, preferred communication channels, and who should have final review on specific portions of the project.
As managers learn to empower their teams, they need to apply the same level of trust – if not more – to their virtual team members.
Putting this kind of agreement in place helps instill a greater sense of accountability among team members, especially when some or all of your team is remote. Establishing expectations throughout can also get ahead of any miscommunication and ensure key milestones are met.
Keep time zones in mind to avoid burdening employees
Remote teams often span across various geographies, and it’s easy to forget that scheduling a routine 3pm team call may actually cut into another employee’s lunch hour.
While it’s not always easy to make accommodations across busy schedules, making an extra effort to keep different time zones in mind – and avoid putting a check-in on someone’s calendar for 8 p.m.on a Tuesday – can help remote workers feel like their specific working situation is understood and respected.
When scheduling recurring team calls, occasionally rotate start times to ensure team members across the country – and around the globe – aren’t always stuck with an especially early or late call.
Managers should also help remote employees set boundaries and clearly communicate their typical schedules with their colleagues. This can be tricky territory, especially for more junior team members who may feel intimidated about countering their coworkers if a meeting is scheduled outside their usual working hours.
Overcommunicating around time zones will help colleagues learn one another’s schedules and allow for better workplace etiquette overall. For example, when a team member is reaching out at noon asking for feedback from someone who has left for the day, encourage them to acknowledge this is their initial note and make clear that an immediate response isn’t needed.
Watch for ‘virtual body language’ cues
Spotting disengaged employees isn’t always easy. A team member might produce consistent work, but in fact feel quite disconnected from the day-to-day activities of their team. This is true even when you see a person every day!
Add virtual employees to the mix and recognising disengagement becomes a greater challenge. While body language can say a lot about an employee’s state of mind on the job, managers must learn how to catch virtual body-language cues through video, instant message, or email to recognise and address disengagement in their remote workers.
There are patterns that may point to a disengaged employee. Managers should keep an eye out for team members who miss or are continuously late for routine meetings or who fall silent for long stretches on team calls.
Also consider missed deadlines, lack of participation in team activities, or unanswered emails and messages. It’s vital that leaders assess their virtual team’s engagement levels often and address concerns with individual team members early.
Make time for open communication
In a physical office, employees can chat anywhere: over coffee, at lunch, or in the halls. This kind of casual social interaction builds team bonds and can even result in spontaneous brainstorming sessions. Virtual employees typically miss out on inte-roffice socialisation, which can lead to feelings of isolation.
Managers can combat this by making time for both formal meetings and informal discussions with remote team members. For example, scheduling daily or weekly 15-minute ‘stand-ups’ can help build team chemistry.
Each team member can share what they’re working on, any challenges they’re facing, and whether they need help. This essentially creates an opportunity for virtual employees to connect and collaborate on a work challenge, or simply chat about something fun in their personal lives.
After all, working on a team is about camaraderie as much as collaboration on business projects. Whether in person or online, friendly conversations can go a long way in fostering team relationships.
Managing remote talent sometimes requires a few extra steps, but those steps are well worth it. A truly engaged workforce not only strengthens culture – it also helps attract top talent as a result. By prioritising culture and managing virtual employees effectively, companies can scale across geographical borders without sacrificing employee engagement.
About the author
Kathleen Pai is VP of HR at Ultimate Software