Managing Remote Workers: Top 5 Manager Mistakes

Despite the prevalence of remote work over the last few years, many managers struggle with the complexities of managing remote workers. Mistakes such as inconsistent communication and micromanagement underscore the need for manager training and coaching. However, with the right tools and support, your organization’s frontline managers can become more effective leaders and manage their remote employees successfully.

Managing Remote Workers: The Top 5 Mistakes Managers Make

According to the Pew Research Center, 35% of employees who can work from home do so all the time, and another 41% work a hybrid schedule. This reality increases the chance that, at some point, a manager will lead a team of employees dispersed across several locations. Unfortunately, many managers haven’t achieved mastery in managing remote workers, either due to lack of experience, training, or both. According to a TechSmith survey, nearly three-quarters of companies said they haven’t trained their managers in managing a remote team.

Many managers have been promoted to their roles because of their technical and industry knowledge rather than their people management skills. As a result, they are unsure how to manage a remote team effectively. A Centre for Transformative Work Design survey found that four in ten managers lacked confidence in managing remote employees. As a result, they can make mistakes that negatively impact employee performance and engagement.

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

Mistake #1: 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, 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 #2: Communicating Poorly

Managing remote workers requires 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

Mistake #3: Not Creating Opportunities for 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 #4: Ignoring Remote Employee Career Development

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: Displaying Lack of 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”

Manager Remote Employees More Effectively

Managing a remote team certainly comes with its share of challenges, and many managers are unsure if they’re doing it well. However, you can boost their confidence and help them avoid the mistakes that hinder their effectiveness.

Microcoaching is an excellent solution for helping managers overcome the challenges of managing remote workers. Short microcoaching engagements (typically 30 minutes) provide frontline managers with all the benefits of coaching. This scalable coaching solutions is provided without the financial and time commitment of traditional leadership programs.

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