Here's How to Manage Remote Employees in the Age of COVID-19

How to manage remote employeesSome of your employees may have already been working from home before COVID-19, and feel like not a lot has changed in their day-to-day now that your company has shifted to remote work.


At the same time there are probably others who are experiencing a remote workplace for the first time, and are still adjusting to this "new normal" (I wanted to get that over-used term out-of-the way, I promise not to use it again.)


There are certain advantages of a remote workplace, and also challenges to overcome:

Advantages of Remote Work: Challenges of Remote Work:
Flexibility New conventions
Adaptability Confusion
Productivity* Productivity*
Affordability Resistance
Life balance Team cohesion
Focus on results Culture impacts


*Some employees are more productive working remotely, and some are more productive in the workplace


Any successful remote manager is aware of these benefits and challenges, and keeps them in mind while leading their team to success. 


When it comes to managing remote employees, there are 6 unique or amplified focus-areas of being a leader. For each of these areas, there are a set of opportunities and challenges, but also tangible steps you can take as a manager to keep your remote team on-track.


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1. Keeping employees accountable and productive

How to keep remote employees accountable as a managerChallenges and Opportunities:

  • "Face time" can no longer be the proxy for productivity with the remote employees you're leading
  • Remote work exposes what activities aren't being measured 
  • The team's output/results are the only thing visible to the manager
  • Engagement and trust are even more important for the success of your team


Steps to Address:

  1. Create a weekly "scorecard" for each employee — measure key-activities throughout the week
  2. Set and discuss S.M.A.R.T. goals + create expectations and priorities
  3. Use the scorecard as a tool for regular open and honest conversation
  4. As a leader, make sure to focus on activity and results!


2. Adapting to changes

Managers adapting to changesChallenges and Opportunities:

  • With the shift to working from home, there may be new procedures, systems, routines, initiatives, and teams that are created
  • There will often be resistance or fear of change with remote employees
  • Upholding alignment and commitment among employees who are working remotely
  • Achieving team involvement and input when changes need to happen quickly


Steps to Address:

  1. As a leader, be upfront, open, and honest about changes that come as a result of, and separately from remote work & COVID-19 (and areas where unclear)
  2. Explain the reasoning for change
  3. Allow for questions, concerns and clarifications to be addressed
  4. If appropriate, follow up and check in with your remote team about these changes


Course: Supporting Change


3. Work-setting concerns (especially in a "hybrid workplace"*)

*A “hybrid workplace” has a combination of remote, and in-person employees.

Manager and employees with masks onChallenges and Opportunities:

  • COVID-related procedures (like working from home) making employees less efficient/effective
  • When there are employees working near one another, there can be concerns over safety in environment; lack of protections
  • Balancing employee safety and company viability and output
  • Opportunity for empathy and commitment to team wellbeing


Steps to Address:

  1. When possible, a manager should always involve their team in creating new work procedures
  2. Be diligent in creating a conducive work environment for both your remote and in-person employees throughout these shifts
  3. Explain the “why” & the challenge
  4. Proactively ask for your team's feedback and suggestions 


4. Communication processes

How managers should communicate with remote employeesChallenges and Opportunities:

  • Inability to read each other's nonverbal cues (in some virtual settings)
  • More friction for informal quick conversations between employees, or an employee and their manager
  • Schedules may align less frequently
  • More likely employees feel isolated and “out of the loop” from their leaders, or others on their team


Steps to Address:

  1. Assess existing communication tools and identify potential gaps
  2. Gather feedback from team on communication preferences
  3. Create and discuss new hybrid work communication procedures 
  4. Continually gather input on procedures to adapt your communication strategy, and your general management/leadership style to changes as they occur


Course: Essential Skills of Communicating


5. Mental health challenges

Mental Health of Remote EmployeesChallenges and Opportunities:

  • ~50% of adults reported mental health impact from COVID-19
  • Employee wellbeing includes mental health
  • Many companies and managers are not equipped for mental health issues and discussions


Steps to Address:

  1. Create an environment where it’s OK to talk about mental health
  2. Be open about challenges you’re facing or faced (if comfortable) to those you're leading
  3. Educate yourself on mental health and your company procedures
  4. Be mindful and aware of your team’s mental health


6. Strengthening culture and engagement

Strong workplace culture with employees working from homeChallenges and Opportunities:

  • Traditional opportunities for team culture/cohesion are reduced
  • There can be a tendency for conversations to feel more transactional
  • As a leader, on-boarding new team members entirely virtually can often be a challenge


Steps to Address:

  1. Define company culture and what’s missing in new workplace
  2. Think about ways can maintain culture in hybrid setting
  3. Discuss ideas with the team you are managing
  4. Gather feedback and iterate on how you build culture amongst your company, and with those you are managing



Keep in mind that we're all learning how to navigate this together

Above all, make sure you are listening to your managers, identifying areas for improvement (for your managers themselves, and as an organization), and providing your people with opportunities to grow their skills. As the world changes, it’s crucial to let your managers know you’re here with them, and that we’re all learning how to navigate the new hybrid workplace together.

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