Best practices for managing remote employees

By , Small Business Pulse

Due to the rise of the internet and mobile phones, remote workers have become more and more commonplace with each passing year. This year, amid the coronavirus pandemic, companies have especially seen how nimble remote employees can be.

From small startups to massive Fortune 500 companies, many of today's best jobs have little or no location requirements. However, a remote workforce requires a rethink about people management as well as the people who manage those in the field.

What kinds of jobs are remote?
In many industries and services, geographically dispersed teams are becoming the norm. FlexJobs, a leader in job placement, indicates that some of the most popular fields for remote jobs are:

• Online course instruction
• Tutoring, professional exam grading
• Healthcare-related
• Sales and marketing roles
• Research and analysis
• Finance, accounting and bookkeeping
• Customer service
• Software, web, and IT development
• Government roles

Ensure proper setup
Determine whether employees are properly set up for working remotely. If a shared workspace isn't available, working from home is an alternative. However, some potential employees aren't prepared, so it's important for managers to take a closer look or at least ask the right questions.

1. Confirm that there is a quiet, dedicated space free from distractions and noise.
2. Ask whether your remote worker is happy to travel to clients and/or meetings, as well as make visits to headquarters.
3. Determine fixed days and hours on the job rather than leave to interpretation.
4. Make a back-up plan for IT interruptions, breakdown, maintenance and support.

Frequent check-ins are critical
Encourage communication, both scheduled and impromptu. Out of sight, out of mind is not a way forward. In the absence of a chat around the water cooler, managers of remote employees must ensure that frequent voice-to-voice check-ins, even across time zones, are prioritized.

Set a clear agenda
Managers must be clear about expectations. Deadlines and deliverables must be respected by remote workers while at the same time, remote employees must not be kept in the dark on both big and small on-site decisions. Their queries must be responded to promptly with equal treatment as with the rest of the team.

Get help from the cloud
Tools such as Dropbox and Google Drive for sharing files, photos, documents, and information are extremely helpful for teams with remote workers. Supplement these storage systems with project management platforms such as Trello, Basecamp, or Asana to keep everyone on the same page at all times.

Take advantage of remote meeting platforms
Bring your remote employee right into the room, virtually. A selection of platforms are available for remote meetings, including those with the enhancement of a shared screen. Schedule regular facetime meetings over Zoom, GoToMeeting or another web-based video conferencing provider. Managers should schedule regular one-to-one meetings as well as staff, department, client and supplier meetings to include remote employees.

Nurture familiarity
During phone calls and video calls, encourage a bit of chit chat with remote workers, similar to the kind one would have in the office. Asking about weekend plans, kids, pets, vacation plans helps the on-site team to connect with a remote employee, suggests the Harvard Business Review. This personal touch helps build camaraderie and a positive atmosphere, breaking down possible "us versus them" barriers.