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Remote work

When a new manager starts work remotely

Becoming a manager can be a big change; even bigger if they start remotely. Here's what organizations can do to help.

February 24, 2021

Hiring a new manager can be a lengthy process but also an exciting one. Adding talent to the team can help an organization achieve business goals and better manage employees. However, when you hire a new manager in a remote situation, it comes with some challenges that face-to-face managers don’t need to worry about. But, there are ways to mitigate any complications when a new manager starts work remotely. 

Challenges of managing remotely

Some remote workplaces are the product of planning and strategy. Yet, for many others, it has been a rapid transition in response to a global pandemic. For those organizations who found themselves in the unexpected position of sending employees home to work because of strict regulations and government protocol, managing remote employees has been a steep learning curve. 

Remote workplaces are most successful when there are policies and procedures in place before employees begin working from home. Yet, for managers who join an organization that is still working out the details, there are some ways to promote productivity and improve engagement in remote workforces. 

Being a successful manager of remote employees begins with understanding what people are going through as they adjust to working from home. Some of the challenges include:

Loss of face-to-face interaction - From a manager’s point of view, employees’ lack of supervision can be a big hurdle to productivity. On the other hand, from an employee’s perspective, the lack of connection contributes to feelings of isolation and reduced ability to access managerial support. These feelings can lead employees to disconnect from managers, feeling that the manager does not care or does not help get the work done. 

Obstacles to information - Working remotely can mean that employees spend longer searching for answers to their questions. It can be a particular challenge if co-workers cannot connect as quickly as they would in an office setting. Without the right directions, productivity is stifled. 

Disconnected teams - Remote working can lead to interpersonal challenges with co-workers. This usually results because employees are more isolated from each other and lack an understanding of what others on the team are facing. For example, at an office, co-workers are better positioned to tell if someone on the team is having a rough day. This helps them respond in a more understanding and tolerant way if that employee sends a blunt email. Whereas, in a remote setting, a curt email from a co-worker who is having a rough day would not be tolerated because others on the team are too disconnected. 

Isolation - Remote working lacks the social interaction that many employees are accustomed to during the workweek. These feelings of isolation can become a serious hazard to an employee’s productivity and engagement with the company. In some situations, they can even lead to an employee’s intention to leave the organization and seek employment elsewhere. 

Distractions - The ideal working from home scenario has employees set up a dedicated workspace and have adequate childcare in place. However, many organizations were forced to quickly shut down and implement remote workplaces in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19. This has led to a less than ideal working from home situation for many employees. Managers need to understand that distractions are likely a part of life for remote employees. In particular, parents who find themselves dealing with school and daycare closures will struggle with significant distractions from their work.

Tips for remote managing

Understanding the challenges that employees face is essential for managers to be able to respond with viable solutions. While your organization may already have policies in place to mitigate many obstacles that remote employees need to handle, here are some tips for managing employees who work from home:

Daily check-ins - providing structure in the form of daily calls or virtual meetings can help employees stay connected, engaged, and on task. These can be one-on-one calls for employees or team check-ins for more collaborative environments. New managers should strive to be available to employees and ensure their questions are answered. 

Various communication options - encourage employees to use a variety of tools to communicate and stay connected. This can include email, collaboration apps and messaging platforms, and video meetings. New managers should work with the options that are already in place, but if the organization does not have these tools, there are many low-cost and free ones available. 

Provide resources - a critical way that new managers can connect with remote employees is to ask them what tools or resources they need to succeed. This may be laptops, software, etc. Although managers may be dealing with tight budgets, it is vital to remember that equipping employees is an investment more than a needless expense. 

Set expectations - let employees know what is expected of them and be clear about deadlines for projects. It is also important to establish a communication protocol so employees know when, where, and how to use the various communication tools available. For example, phone calls should be for emergencies only while texting is best for issues that are not as pressing. 

Offer trust - some managers struggle with feeling employees are as productive as they can when they work from home. While these are natural, it is essential to trust employees. If the work is being done and deadlines are being met, managers need to let go of the compulsion to micromanage. 

Reward innovation - recognizing when an employee has done a good job often gets lost in a remote setting. But it is vital to encourage innovation in remote employees. Give team members a chance to communicate and build on one another’s ideas. Rewarding those who demonstrate a creative way to solve problems can be as easy as praising them in front of the team or sending them a special token of appreciation from the company. 

Team building opportunities - allowing remote employees to connect for social interaction can help combat feelings of loneliness, isolation, and disconnection. Managers should plan for some team-building exercises that can be done remotely. These can be held each week, such as on Friday afternoons or once a month. It depends on what works well with your organization and your team. 

Mentor - good managers also act as mentors for their team. It is vital to keep employee development in mind while working remotely. Provide opportunities for employees to engage in mentoring relationships with managers, peers, or other employees at the organization. 

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Although new managers of remote teams face some unique challenges to working from home, there are ways to overcome obstacles. Cultivating connection, team development, and setting structure are key ways that managers can encourage engagement and productivity from remote employees.

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