Managing Remote Employees: 5 Essential Tips to Engage Your Team
Working remotely has given our team the ability to work whenever we want and in the comfort of our coziest sweats. We can’t lie— it’s been great to have more of the days to ourselves, no longer burdened by the need to plan for a commute. Some of us enjoy taking the extra hour to go for a run in the mornings, and some of us love rolling out of bed and straight into meetings. But remote work definitely has its disadvantages. We miss seeing our teammates in person. We struggle more than ever to find the balance between work and life. Problems that could normally be solved with a 2-minute conversation now take several rounds of back-and-forth messaging.
As a manager, you can take a few simple steps to smooth some of these bumps in the road. Here are 5 practices to implement with your remote team:
1. Set a cadence and follow it.
With everyone working on their own time, you have varied schedule preferences. There’s the early riser who’s active on Slack by 6 am each morning and the night owl who would rather finish up well past midnight. Thus, it’s even more critical to sync regularly and make sure everyone comes prepared when you do. You don’t have to spend the whole day in meetings, but you should decide how often you need to meet to stay aligned. Then, set regular, recurring meetings using Google Calendar and a consistent Zoom link. At Xoba, we start the week with an hour-long ‘All-Hands’ meeting, in which we go over big picture goals, KPI’s, specific tasks, and catch up on everyone’s weekend adventures. Each team also has a morning standup to touch base on daily action items and how to best support each other. These meetings establish consistency and allow for the small talk that can feel a bit lacking in the virtual workplace. They add humanity to your day and set your team up for success. To close the week, we have 1:1 meetings each Friday to check in, give and receive feedback, and ensure that people feel excited about the work that they’re doing.
Bonus: Pick your favorite tools and use them.
Meetings can be helpful, but it’s easy to forget what was discussed as soon as you hit “Leave Meeting” on Zoom. For this reason, a designated team member keeps notes for each important meeting and posts them to the Slack afterwards. Here, they can be reviewed quickly, which is especially helpful if someone couldn’t make it to the meeting. If we had an important discussion or built out a thorough plan, we prefer to give these notes a more permanent (and organized) home in Notion. Lastly, we input daily action items to Asana right after they’ve been agreed upon so that everyone has a clear understanding of expectations and deadlines and feels empowered to execute.
2. Communicate what you’re working on.
A small but mighty tool: we keep a #daily-updates Slack channel for everyone to post a general list of what they accomplished that day. It can seem a bit daunting, but the goal here is not to add stress or pressure employees to grow their task list. Instead, daily updates act as a way to keep the team aligned and give space for people to ask for support or feedback on a project. It can also be a great way to let people know that you’re signing off for the day. By posting your daily update, you’re also saying, “this is what I accomplished today— now I’m on my time.” It can help to set a work/life boundary that feels a bit blurred with remote work.
3. Establish clear guidelines.
One of the biggest drawbacks of working remotely is the extra time and effort it takes to have even a brief conversation. We don’t have the option to stroll down the hall or peek into a doorway to see if a colleague is available to answer a quick question; instead, we bounce between email, instant messaging, and the numerous other tools that we use on a daily basis. The back-and-forth is not only disruptive to our work, but frankly it can get exhausting. Sometimes, scheduling time for a Zoom meeting takes longer than the meeting itself! As such, delineating clear expectations for communication is particularly important. Discuss and document the appropriate tools, frequency, and timing of communication. For example, we use Slack for real-time conversations and largely reserve email for external communications. Here is a list of how we use our other favorite tools. Setting these guidelines can help your team feel more confident coming to you and approaching each other with questions.
Bonus: Make information accessible.
In addition to documenting best practices and other information, it is crucial to ensure that the documentation is easily accessible. After all, what good is a detailed, well-written guide if no one who needs it can find it? Use Xoba to streamline information across your work applications, so you and your team will never be without what you need again.
When your team is scattered across multiple locations, it can be difficult for everyone to feel connected as departments work on their separate tasks throughout the week. As much as we miss peering over our colleague’s shoulder to get a glimpse of what other teams are doing, we’ve found great value in sharing a weekly update (Read our blog post about how to write effective weekly updates). It’s an opportunity to celebrate communal successes as well as recognize room for improvement from all departments; it realigns the team at the end of each week and reminds us that no matter how far we may physically be from one another, we’re still working towards a central goal.
5. Build a community.
Obviously, without the water cooler, it’s likely you’ll be having far fewer water cooler conversations. Though non-work related chats can feel unproductive in the office, it’s those human interactions that bond a team, keep people’s spirits up, and make work meaningful. Without natural engagement, tasks can feel a bit isolating, so it’s up to you to build in the fun and keep your team motivated. At Xoba, we reserve every Friday afternoon for a Zoom social hour with a strict ‘no-work-talk’ policy. Conversations range in topics from regulating the market for selling stars to funding ourselves with an intergalactic time capsule venture. No matter what, everyone gets a laugh at the end of the week, and it’s a nice opportunity to get to know each other better with a virtual ‘meeting’ of the team’s spouses and family.
Bonus: Play some games!
Since it can feel less natural to talk to someone through a screen rather than face-to face, it’s nice to have some help ‘breaking the awkward.’ Playing virtual games, such as those featured on Jack Box games, is perfect for big groups in different locations. We also like to start with ice breaker questions, giving everyone a chance to speak and opening conversations in every direction. Here are some of our favorites:
If you could break any world record, which would it be?
Where is your favorite place that you’ve visited and why?
If you could take anyone alive to a fast food restaurant, who would you bring and where would you go?
If you gave a Ted talk, what would it be about?
We know that managing remote employees can be daunting and some of these practices may be easier said than done, but we’re rooting for you! Let us know how these tips work for you and what other practices you have implemented in your remote work environment.