Technology has made it easier for employees to work from anywhere and be productive while working from home. More and more employers offer remote opportunities to reduce real estate costs and attract top talent. With the presence of Coronavirus (COVID-19), many organizations are working from home for the first time.

Remote work isn't without its challenges, and remote employees often struggle with loneliness and feeling disconnected from their colleagues and company culture. When these feelings go unresolved, deadlines, company morale, and all-around productivity are negatively impacted.

For organizations and employees to reap the rewards of remote work, a culture of open communication must be sustained in the workplace. The health and success of any team are determined by the quality of communication between colleagues. Here are the top skills managers must demonstrate to best support their remote employees.

As a manager, you need to know how to manage remote employees. Although it can be tricky, we've narrowed it down to these must-have skills.

1. Set clear expectations.

Everyone has a different idea of what doing something "quickly" or "well" means to them. Ensure you communicate your expectations, whether it be syncing your calendars with your team members or showing specific examples of what you expect to be done. Not only will it ease the transition from the office to remote, but it also keeps all employees on the same tier of expected productivity.

2. Treat remote team members as if they're on-site.

Make sure your remote employees have as much access to you as the ones you pass in the halls, eat lunch across from, and who you see at the water cooler. Create a virtual water cooler like a Slack channel dedicated to general chit chat where no one will get frustrated if the conversation turns from work to Stranger Things and back. When remote employees feel like they're barred from having the level access to you that's allotted to on-site workers, they can feel distant and their work can suffer.

3. Trust your team.

Some companies are hesitant to embrace a remote workforce because they're uncertain about whether or not the work will be completed at the same level as if they were in office. In fact, a two-year Stanford study showed that remote employees were twice as productive as their in-office counterparts.

To combat this fear, set up remote work guidelines that you feel comfortable with, such as emails must be responded to within 24 hours and texting for urgent matters. These can also be incorporated into a remote work policy. Once these guidelines are communicated with your remote team, you'll feel more comfortable with their absence from the office.

4. Focus on goals, not activity.

When transitioning from exclusively in-office employees to remote workers it's important to manage your expectations and stay focused on the big picture. Train yourself to worry less about what's being done on a micro-level, instead concentrate on what's being accomplished.

If your team is meeting the goals you have set, then great. If not, that's when you can look closer into what exact aspects of your remote team are lacking. More often than not, it's a communication issue that can be solved with an open dialogue between you and your remote employee.

5. Schedule video-based coaching.

Face-to-face connection is important, especially with remote employees. If you don't schedule times to talk with one another face-to-face, silence can become very loud and remote employees might end up wondering how they're doing. Scheduling a regular cadence of video calls can help you stay connected, and video conferencing is 30% more effective for communication than audio-only setups. Make sure you use video conferencing technology, like the Meeting Owl Pro, to help your virtual conversation feel inclusive and more natural.

6. Create a communication strategy.

Managing a productive team remotely begins with a strategy for communication. First, arrange for the appropriate number of weekly formal report-ins. Consider software like 15Five as a method for checking in. Second, set guidelines about daily needs. Some people work better with a shopping list of tasks while others need more freedom. An understanding of what's urgent will further mitigate inefficiency, leading to ultimate productivity.

Remember, not all remote workers are built the same. Trial runs for communication strategies are not to be feared. In the long run, you'll be glad you took the time to adapt your means of communication to individual employees, instead of settling on a blanket strategy that could stifle the productivity of your otherwise brightest employees.

7. Connect employees' goals with yours.

The world is shifting quickly to a workforce more interested in learning and skills advancement than stability. This is especially true in regards to companies with a high percentage of hybrid or remote employees. Take a personal interest in your team's learning and life goals while connecting them to the goals of the company.

Engagement and performance stay much higher when your team believes their work for your company is directly associated with their personal goals. And it will keep your remote employees from keeping a tab open to LinkedIn since no one but their dog is there to peek over their shoulder.

8. Use technology to build community.

Building and sustaining a community is crucial to maintaining an engaged remote workforce. Use the technology available to you to create a space dedicated to celebrating special days (employee birthdays), company milestones (months or years of service), as well as community recognition. Whether it be a celebration-only shared calendar or a hump day celebratory newsletter, being intentional about creating community helps develop a corporate culture that inspires connection. This results in increased productivity and a boost in team morale.

9. Prioritize relationships.

Team building and camaraderie are important for any team, remote teams are no exception. The best managers go out of their way to form personal bonds with remote employees. They use appropriate check-in time to ask about employees' families and hobbies.

Allow time at the end team video conference meetings for open, casual conversations that the whole team can use to create, strengthen, and sustain those personal connections that are necessary to keep a company functioning at the highest levels.

10. Reward achievement.

When you're in an office, it's easy to give a shout-out and recognize the hard work that a team member does. But if your team is scattered around the country, or even operating out of different time zones, it can be difficult to find the appropriate time to do so. However, finding a way to acknowledge a job well done is important.

Whether it's by sending out a company-wide email or notifying your entire team on a work messaging service, remote employees need to feel valued in the same way they would if they were working exclusively in-office. Try a tool like TINYpulse which allows employees to send signed or anonymous "job well done" recognitions to anyone else at the company. You can then use this system to reward those who go out of their way to help others and who consistently get great feedback from colleagues.

Given the ease and rapidity of modern communication, remote employment is progressively alluring to both employers and employees. Unless managers make extra efforts to connect and engage in dialogue with their hybrid team, remote workers can quickly grow unproductive. However, if managers employ the above skills they stand a good chance of fostering collaboration, commitment, and cohesion.

The competencies required for successfully managing remote employees don't differ significantly from those in on-site management roles. As long as you maintain a strong level of communication and are comfortable providing feedback and supplying recognition, managing your remote team should be as easy as turning on your computer's video feed.

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