Managers account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores, and engagement is strongly linked to productivity. But managers of remote workers have a particular challenge -- extending that influence to people they may rarely see and may barely know. To leaders, this indicates that remote workers contribute too much value to overlook their unique management needs.
So, what does this mean for managers? Managers will have to list down a set of strategic actions to ensure their employees’ productivity are met with high standards. If you’re handling a team, here’s how you can improve employee performance.
Define Your Expectations
People learn a lot from context, and the less time they spend in the office, the less context workers have about their manager's expectations. Managers need to be explicit about what remote workers must produce. The parameters, deadlines and metrics of tasks must be crystal clear, but so should the manager's personal feelings. If a manager needs weekly progress reports, for instance, or prompt replies to emails, the manager must say so and hold the employee accountable.
Start Building Trust with Employees
Managers build trust through individualization, keeping their promises and frequent conversations. A good bit of face time during onboarding helps, as well as annual in-person meetings once the worker is established. These meetings can be more social than not, but there's always a business case to be made for face-to-face conversations. Building lines of sight for the remote worker builds trust too. Knowing whom to turn to for help enhances productivity and aids development, but remote workers lack that perspective. Managers who make themselves a proxy in their remote worker's network prove themselves both trustworthy to the worker and indispensable to the worker's success.
Let Employees Individualize
Some remote workers feel isolated by working alone, while others feel liberated. Some love 24/7 access to work; others need to have a real boundary between office and home. Some do their best work in the middle of the night, while others keep strict office hours. Accepting a remote worker's method and reasoning helps managers coach to the individual on behalf of the company, promoting the corporate benefits that characterize off-site work. Individualization helps remote workers "feel cared for as a person," which is a fundamental element of engagement.
The best managers share a few basic qualities that increase engagement, productivity, profitability and a host of other bottom-line issues. But to be fair, not even the best manager of remote workers does all that every day with every worker. But effective managers have the innate talent for it.
Leaders should consider such talent the boon it is. For remote workers, the fact they have fewer in-person interactions with coworkers makes establishing those connections and friendships even more crucial. At the same time, the limited opportunity for casual interactions with colleagues means creating and maintaining those kinds of relationships takes much more conscious effort. Without managers, team members, and even the organization’s leaders putting in the time and effort to foster relationships with remote employees, it’s all too easy for those workers to feel isolated and left out.