How to Manage Remote Workers & Avoid 5 Common Mistakes

Remote work has been a staple at many organizations for decades. The pandemic made it even more prevalent. Despite its popularity, many leaders still struggle with understanding how to manage remote workers well. Lack of face time can put some team members out of mind. Some leaders are unable to build trust with those they don’t see often. When these potential pitfalls are not avoided, dissatisfaction, lack of engagement, and loss productivity can set in. With the right tools and support, your organization’s frontline managers can become more effective leaders and understand how to manage remote workers successfully.

Top 5 Mistakes: How to Manage Remote Workers without Making Them

Research from the Pew Research Center shows that 35% of employees work from home fulltime. Along with this, 41% of employees work a hybrid schedule. More and more managers are now overseeing employees who are located in several locations or even countries. What keeps these managers from thriving in their remote role? Some may lack experience, training, or both. The vast majority of leaders (three-quarters) have not been trained in how to manage remote workers, according to a TechSmith survey.

When managers don’t possess people management skills, they are more prone to uncertainty in how to manage remote workers effectively. In fact, four in ten managers lack confidence in managing remote employees, according to a Centre for Transformative Work Design survey. This leads to mistakes that erode employee performance and engagement.

Here are five of those mistakes and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1: Neglecting to Prioritize Meaningful Connection

A sense of belonging is critical for employees, whether they work on-site or remote. But if managers aren’t intentionally looking for opportunities to build connections with their employees, the sense of belonging can begin to wane.

Managing remote employees requires building meaningful connections with each member of the team, especially with remote employees who can often feel left out. Managers can promote meaningful connections via informal check-ins, one-on-ones, and team-building activities. These interactions improve the employee experience and enable managers to stay in tune with any mental health or other issues employees are experiencing.

Mistake #2: Failing to Show Respect for Remote Workers

Managers are responsible for creating a positive and welcoming environment for every member of their team. But if managers express disdain for remote work or fail to consider remote workers’ unique needs, they send the message that remote workers aren’t trusted, appreciated, or valued. Instead, managers should take deliberate action to show how much they value all team members, including remote workers. They can do this by:

  • Taking remote employees into consideration when assigning work and setting meeting times
  • Establishing flexible on-camera requirements for video calls
  • Considering the addition of occasional “Zoom holidays”

Mistake #3: Micromanaging Employees

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for a remote team manager is the lack of visibility into employee productivity—what employees are actually doing when they’re not in the office. To overcome this challenge, managers can mistakenly micromanage their employees, bombarding them with progress update requests and checking in constantly throughout the day. Some organizations even support these micromanaging behaviors through digital surveillance.

As we pointed out in an earlier blog post on frontline management, monitoring remote employees’ productivity with surveillance is one of the most critical mistakes frontline managers can make. It erodes trust and promotes a culture where employees aren’t empowered to find their own path to performance and productivity. As an alternative to micromanaging, it’s critical to train managers in effective goal-setting and performance assessment. In addition to regular feedback and performance reviews, managers should also utilize project management platforms such as Asana and Jira to visualize employee work progress.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to Offer Career Development to Remote Employees

For many managers, discussing an employee’s career development over Zoom can be challenging, especially if the employee has performance issues holding them back. Managers who avoid these conversations or handle them ineffectively can cause remote employees to feel undervalued and limited in their career mobility. Conversely, if managers are trained to handle difficult conversations and learn to master skills such as active listening and empathy, they can have the career and performance discussions remote employees need to grow.

Mistake #5: Communicating Poorly

As you explore how to manage remote workers, take to heart that it will require frequent, transparent communication. However, when employees are in different locations, managers can miss opportunities to speak to them consistently. Instead of holding impromptu office chats, managers must schedule Zoom calls or reach out via Slack, which can sometimes result in communication gaps. To address this challenge, managers should take the following actions:

  • Encourage open, honest communication in one-on-ones and team meetings
  • Keep employees informed of important company updates
  • Recognize differences in employee communication preferences (e.g., email vs. Slack)
  • Take time zone differences into consideration when contacting employees and planning meetings

How to Manage Remote Workers More Effectively

Overseeing a remote team does come with challenges. Many managers are unsure if they’re doing it well. However, you can increase their confidence and help them avoid the mistakes that hinder their effectiveness.

Microcoaching is an excellent solution for helping managers overcome the challenges of leading a remote team. Short microcoaching engagements (typically 30 minutes) provide frontline managers with all the benefits of coaching, without the financial and time commitment of traditional leadership programs. (Learn more here.)

To learn more about how your organization can benefit from microcoaching for managers, contact us for a conversation.