Managing Remote Employees: 6 Pro Tips from an Expert Trainer

by Mike O'Neill

Managing remote employees is tough — especially when it wasn’t pre-planned.

You have to figure out how you’re going to communicate with employees, assign and monitor their work, and collaborate on documents. You need to make sure that all projects are completed on time, and you don't have the necessary processes or equipment in place to make it all work.

COVID-19 has forced many companies to quickly shift from working on-site to allowing their staff to work from home, which has propelled them into a challenging situation they weren’t ready for.

Some of them were still using legacy PBX systems, so all communications are tied to their building, making remote communication impossible without upgrading equipment or using personal devices.

The switch wasn't quite as rough for companies already using cloud-based systems for communications, project management, and other tasks.

Take this following case study from our Managing Principal, for example…

“One of our clients had to quickly transition from no employees working remotely, to 100% remote. They found several things that were key to a smooth & effective transition — daily 1:1’s, frequent check-ins by managers, regular Zoom Meetings, adding time on the front end to simply catch-up with each other, and recognizing the stress & anxiety employees may be feeling but continuing to provide confidence in their teams that "we've got this." - Mike O’Neill, Bench Builders

Remote work was becoming more popular before COVID-19 made it crucial. Employees and their employers can benefit from allowing staff to work from home for several reasons. Let’s take a look at another case study from Rhonda Beard.

“A client I worked with had an employee moving out of state but wanted to continue to do his job from home. The client was apprehensive since nearly all employees reported to the office every day, and they weren't sure how they would monitor his work. This arrangement has been in place for nearly two years. He is very productive, stays in touch with his manager and colleagues regularly, comes into the office as needed for meetings, and he and the company are pleased with the arrangement and results.” - Rhonda Beard, Bench Builders

Remote work should be seriously considered given that employees can potentially be more productive and happier working from home. These companies could save a considerable amount of money on overhead costs if they down-sized their office space.

Not every person or company is a good fit for remote work, however. 

So, let’s talk about what a good fit looks like, that way you can better understand and see if remote work is something you want to keep doing after the world returns to our new “normal.” 

Who is Remote Work Best For?

Companies considering remote work for the long-term should think about that when developing and implementing new processes and tools for communication and collaboration.

If remote work is something you know you want to keep doing, you’ll need to take extra time when ironing out your processes and consider purchasing laptops, headsets, or other equipment your employees might need to do their jobs.

Any company with employees that don’t need to be on-site every day to perform their essential duties are good candidates for a remote workforce.

Depending on what product or service you provide, you may decide to have a partial workforce that works from home to do specific tasks, such as customer service or IT support. 

You could then down-size your office or keep only a moderate storefront presence for customers to visit, staffed by a few on-site employees.

Amazon is an excellent example of this. They have remote employees who provide all their customer support and IT, among other tasks. 

As far as what types of people are the best candidates for working remotely, look for people who have these personality traits:

  • Detail-oriented.
  • Self-starters who can motivate themselves.
  • Comfortable with working alone in their home — typically introverts.
  • Good at taking and giving feedback.
  • Confident and knowledgeable enough to make decisions on their own without always having to ask a manager or supervisor first.

Now that you have a better idea if you want to allow your staff to continue working off-site or not, let’s look at some tips from Mike and Rhonda to help you manage your remote employees successfully.

1. Host a Community Live Chat

Maintaining a live chat for your employees gives them a virtual “water cooler” experience. 

They can enter the chat and stay in it while they’re working. This gives team members access to you and each other for questions, feedback, or to get to know each other better.

Just having that sense of being on a team and understanding how important their role is, helps them stay motivated to do their best work.

It keeps them from feeling isolated when they know a team member is just a chat message away.

You’ll need a manager or supervisor to monitor the chat room. They should be comfortable interacting with staff socially and be able to answer crucial questions when someone needs an answer from a higher-up.

If you are looking for something free that is a quick fix, take a look at Slack

What makes Slack great is that you can create multiple chat rooms and call them anything you want. That gives you the flexibility to have separate chats for teams or projects.

The free version is perfect for smaller companies without too many employees. As a larger company, you might need to pay for one of the higher tiers to get all the features you need.

Does your company mostly use Microsoft products?

Then Microsoft Teams might be a better fit for you. They offer a free version too. But, it’s not as robust as Slack. 

When you use Microsoft Teams, you don't need separate software for video meetings and video calls as long as you upgrade to Office 365 E3.

I prefer a combination of Slack and Zoom for my team of remote workers, but ultimately, you need to choose what’s going to be best for your unique needs.

2. Use Video Walkthroughs for Assignments

Videos are the most efficient and fastest way to assign work to team members. 

Loom is a free video recording software that makes it easy to share your screen and include a professional photo or live video of you in a bubble on the screen.

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Record a video of your screen and walk employees through the assignment. Once your video is complete, configure the privacy settings and share it with your employees.

Loom lets you restrict access based on having the direct link or requires them to type in a password to view the video.

The recipient can leave comments with questions. They can watch the video repeatedly, as often as necessary, to understand the requirements of the assignment and what you expect of them.

Loom does offer paid versions that let you do more, such as annotate videos. But, for most companies, the free version will do just fine.

3. Plan Frequent Video Chat Meetings

Video chat is perfect for connecting with your team and maintaining a sense of community within your organization.

Employees need to see and hear from their leaders often. Knowing what’s going on behind the scenes and in other departments helps align them with the company’s goals and keeps them motivated.

You will need to base how often you meet and who should attend. 

When you have leaders managing multiple projects and employees at one time, you should consider doing meetings weekly or bi-weekly. 

The software you can use for this purpose would be Microsoft Teams, as we talked about earlier, or my preferred method, which is to use a combination of Slack and Zoom.

Zoom is quick to get started with and has a free version too. The biggest drawback to the free version is that it restricts you to 40 minutes per group meeting when you have more than 3 participants.

If your company needs to host longer meetings or more participants, you’ll need to upgrade to one of the paid versions.

Skype is another option when you don’t want to use Microsoft Teams or Zoom. It’s free to use, but in my experience, the connection isn’t as stable.

4. Collaborate on Documents with Cloud-Based Apps

Document collaboration is a necessity when you are managing multiple projects and creating internal documents as well as documents for clients.

Take content creation, for example.

When creating blog articles or other print materials for your company or client, you’ll likely have several team members who need to write, edit, and view the document.

You’ll have a project manager who oversees the whole project and ensures it’s completed on time and meets quality standards. 

Then you’ll have one or more employees to write the copy and edit the work until it’s ready to be turned in to the project manager.

Google Docs is my favorite app for this.

It’s cloud-based, so no matter where you or your staff are, they can access the documents they need.

You can customize permissions, let specific people view and/or edit entire folders, or limit them to particular documents within folders.

Some other benefits your company can take advantage of with Google Docs are:

  • Commenting, chat, and real-time editing.
  • Works with all the popular file types.
  • You can easily see a complete revision history to see what changes were made and who made them.
  • It’s compatible with mobile devices.
  • You can integrate with more apps via third-party add-ons.
  • Work offline when you don’t have access to the internet when using the Chrome browser.

5. Create and Implement Processes

Without processes in place, you’ll find yourself scrambling to keep up with everything. The more employees you have, the worse it can be.

Think carefully about what and how you need to communicate with staff. What kinds of things do you need to discuss and share with them regularly?

How often do they need to be in contact with you? Are you going to require them to give you progress updates?

If so, how will they do that, and what kind of information do you need from them? Will you need to create a document they fill out and turn in? Or maybe you want to require them to submit Loom videos for updates.

How are you going to assign and distribute work to your team? Are you going to rely on chat messaging? Or will you use project management software?

Flying by the seat of your pants and diving in is a common approach for leaders who are in the mindset to “get it done.” But, taking the time to iron out your processes before diving in will save you lots of time, money, and future headaches.

You don’t want unhappy clients complaining about overdue or poor quality work. Your employees need to understand your expectations and you need to know that they can handle your assignments.

Without processes, this is much harder to do.

You need to develop and implement processes for:

  • Communicating and collaborating with your team and clients.
  • Assigning and tracking projects.
  • Tracking and measuring productivity.
  • Measuring your ROI.

I highly recommend using project management software no matter how small your team is. Early establishment of these processes allows you to grow more effortlessly and efficiently when you want to scale your company and take on new clients and employees.

6. Use Project Management Software

There are many options for project management software out there for you to choose from. Some of the most popular options are ClickUp, Trello, Asana, Basecamp, and Microsoft Project.

I’ve even seen people using Evernote for project management — but I don’t recommend it.

If you are looking for something simple for managing small projects, Trello is great for that. It’s perfect for people who like a more visual, drag and drop interface as well.

When you’re managing complex projects or working with several team members or departments, ClickUp is my go-to.

You can easily integrate ClickUp with Slack to give you everything you need for communication with staff and managing projects.

ClickUp even gives you the freedom to customize the view of your workspace so you can organize your tasks in a way that makes the most sense to you.

Quick Recap

Managing remote employees doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Take the time to iron out your processes and determine what needs to happen before scouting for software.

You obviously don’t want to invest too much time and money in software and equipment if you don’t plan to continue working remotely when your business returns to normal. 

Either way, the software I recommend you try out is:

  • Slack: communicating with employees through live chat.
  • Loom: create quick videos to explain tasks or projects to your team.
  • Zoom: host video meetings and conferences.
  • Google Docs for Business: collaborate on crucial documents for internal use or clients.
  • ClickUp or Trello: manage the tasks and details for every project.

Get Advice

Does all the little details of establishing a remote workforce leave you feeling overwhelmed?

Don’t spend hours or days in the dark, trying to research your problem. Take advantage of our experts’ knowledge and get the answers you need now.

Mike and Rhonda have been helping business leaders just like you and they are dedicated to helping you hire, develop, and keep your top performers.

Not only can they help your business survive the hardships brought on by COVID-19 — they can help you:

  • Create a happier, more positive work environment.
  • Improve product and service quality.
  • Develop a high-performing management team.
  • And much more.

Contact us to find out how we can help you and your company with your specific needs.

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