Editor's note: The following is a contributed piece by Anu Mannathikuzhiyil, client advocate at G&A Partners, an HR services provider.
Despite the many technological advances making communication with people across the globe instantaneous and easier than ever before, managing remote employees continues to be a challenge for employers across all industries of all sizes.
In G&A Partners' recent #HRTailgate Twitter chat, "Effectively Managing A Remote Team," I teamed up with guest hosts Kathryn Moody, Editor of HR Dive, and Dan Cross, Talent Acquisition Strategy Manager for Capital One, to tackle some of the biggest questions employers have about implementing a remote work strategy that actually works for their business. We tweeted about how to measure performance from employees who pop into the office a few times a month, how to foster an inclusive culture among a widespread workforce, and how to plan and run a meeting between people in multiple time zones.
Key takeaways on the topic of remote work
Below are some of the key takeaways from the chat, as well as some additional thoughts on the topic of remote work.
1. Remote work vs. telecommuting: Similar, but not the same thing
While remote work and telecommuting are terms that are often used interchangeably, it's important to note that they are not always the same thing. Telecommuting typically implies that an employee performs work from a location not affiliated with the office (and most likely works from her own home). Working remotely can also mean working from home, but it can also apply to employees who are working in satellite offices outside of a company's headquarters or main location.
For many, this might come across as a distinction without a difference, but having multiple satellite/regional offices bring several challenges that are different than those posed by employees who work from home. For example, while the biggest culture struggle for many employers with remote employees is making sure those employees don’t feel isolated, employers with multiple offices might be less concerned about employees feeling left out and more concerned that the company’s vision and core values are upheld in the micro-culture of each regional office. While geographic and cultural differences should be respected across each office, allowing every office to develop widely different cultures does not lead to long-term success.
2. Remote employees should be treated just like everyone else
A common thread throughout the chat was that policies and practices should be the same no matter what office an employee is in — even if that office is in their own home. Aside from equal enforcement across the board being an essential best practice from an HR compliance perspective, this standardization also helps prevent an “us vs. them” mentality developing between the two groups.
As Moody (@KatMMoody) shared, “[P]erformance, for remote and in-office workers alike, should be measured by [the] usual metrics: work done, goals reached, etc.!”
Another chat participant, Chrissa Dockendorf (@MissionHired) echoed this sentiment later in the chat, saying that she didn’t think managers should take different approaches to how they supervise remote employees: “Managers should approach each [employee] in a way that meets the [employee’s] needs regardless of where they sit.”
3. Basic (and free!) communication tools can as well as more robust systems
When your employees aren’t physically located in the same office (or even in the same time zone), collaboration can pose a bit of a challenge. And while a nice perk of hiring remote workers is that employers can save on the operational expenses they would incur (like real estate and utilities) by opening a physical office in an area, it doesn't mean that a remote workforce comes without expense.
While many of our chat participants recommended communication and project management tools with paid subscriptions like Slack, JIRA, Workplace by Facebook, Todoist, Trello and others, just as many recommended free tools like Skype and FaceTime. (Many of the paid apps listed also offer free accounts with slightly limited features or with limited licenses, as well.) When it comes to choosing which communication tools your remote team will use to stay in touch, look for platforms that incorporate many (if not all) of the following features: chat, video, audio calls, video conferencing, screensharing, file sharing and availability across multiple devices (computer, tablet, phone).
One of our participants, LaSalle Network (@LaSalleNetwork), argued that managers themselves are the best resources companies have when comes to ensuring effective communication with remote employees: “Follow up via phone call on due dates, after projects are submitted, etc. [W]hen you connect live you can talk through any obstacles that may have [arisen] regarding those projects.”
4. Make sure remote employees stay connected and engaged — both in meetings and on an ongoing basis
How you organize meetings with remote teams is far more important than what tools you use to facilitate them, however. (Although all of our chat participants did agree that good audio was paramount to the success of a virtual meeting.)
If you do use a tool that provides video conferencing, either everyone should have their webcams turned on all webcams should be powered off. This puts all the meeting participants on a more equal playing field, rather than remote employees feeling put on the spot because their in-office counterparts can see them, even though they can't see anyone else. Even if you don't use video for your virtual meetings, make sure you're providing opportunities for everyone to speak. That means regularly checking in to ask if anyone on the line has questions and providing enough time for remote employees to take themselves off mute and reply before moving on.
Outside of team or company-wide meetings, managers should make a point to stay in regular communication with remote employees on an individual basis. "Managers must be more intentional. Schedule and be present for check-ins with your team and the individuals on your team," our other guest host, Dan Cross of Capital One (@CrossOverHR) tweeted.
When it comes to managing remote teams, the keys to success are largely the same as managing any team: invest in the right tools, be organized, set measurable goals that are regularly evaluated, make sure that effective communication is practiced, give employees a chance to prove themselves, and try to foster a sense of community whenever possible.