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You probably don’t need to see the statistics or articles about it – even though the data and the stories are out there – to know it’s true: More of us are working remotely from home than ever before. In much of the same way that words like “new normal,” “unprecedented” and “essential” have become part of our current vocabulary, working remotely is now becoming commonplace, and possibly permanent in some cases.

In addition to the standard challenges found in an in-person environment – project management, maintaining office culture, productivity, and the mental health of employees – remote work presents additional ones, too. Some employees may be dealing with the stress of taking on multiple new roles (teacher, caregiver, the support system for a now unemployed partner, etc.) at home. Additionally, more extroverted employees may be missing the human connections they get from being around others. Thus, managing a remote workforce can be overwhelming – unless you know and properly implement best practices to help ensure your team’s success.

BE PRODUCTIVE WITH PRODUCTIVITY MANAGEMENT TOOLS

Keeping track of your employees and their projects is admittedly easier when you’re all in the same space, but with the plethora of tools at your disposal, managing a remote workforce has never been easier. Several of our clients use software/apps /web sites like Basecamp, Asana, Monday.com, Dropbox, Mavenlink, Slack, Google Drive, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Quip to manage day-to-day projects and deadlines, content share, and communicate through video and chat functions. These technologies allow for employees to prioritize and manage their work, and work together safely without barriers, such as time zones.

Many content systems are extremely customizable, making it easy to sort and organize tasks, see what employees are working on, view schedules, and collaborate on projects.

ENCOURAGE TEAMWORK THROUGH ENGAGING ACTIVITIES

Now that phased re-opening of the economy is underway, people are anxious to be around others. However, with the need to keep employees safe taking prominence effective managers will need to use creative ways to engage employees while practicing social distancing.

No one likes to feel stuck at home or in a job, which is why creating opportunities for employees to grow, even remotely, is critical to the success of remote workforce management. In addition to encouraging employees to attend industry-specific webinars, online training tools are available through sites such as Entrepreneur.com and LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com), providing affordable training on a bevy of subjects. (Bonus tip – if you have a card from your local public library, you might even be able to access LinkedIn Learning for free!)

Additionally, encouraging employees to learn new skills (and, if able, reimbursing them for their efforts) will help to keep them encouraged and engaged. The website HR Technologist suggests having each member of your team prepare a short presentation that will enable them to “lead from afar.” These mentoring programs where employees can build their skills and understanding of both the company and each other will also ensure they stay engaged as if they were onsite.

Of course, everyone needs and can benefit from downtime in the office, even when working remotely. This is why numerous sources suggest using your online communication tools to create a virtual watercooler in the morning and/or afternoons either daily or a few times a week. People are social creatures and that extends to the workplace as well. Creating a space where lighthearted chit chat can voluntarily take place at specific time periods can do wonders for camaraderie, trust-building and reinforcement of their value (“I belong here,” ”this is my team,” etc.) as an individual.

If casual chatter isn’t your employees’ thing, virtual games such as those available from the popular You Don’t Know Jack can bring out your employees’ personalities – and, if prizes are offered, competitive sides. These types of social endeavors work wonders when done properly, which is why if you need ideas, this list of 12 tested team-building activities from Fast Company may be worth a look.

MANAGE THE BALANCE BETWEEN MICRO AND MACRO

One of the biggest responsibilities any supervisor faces in managing a remote workforce is the frequency of checking in employees – the key is knowing how to do it without micromanaging.

If you’re a bad manager when your employees are in your sights, you’re much more likely to be even worse when they’re working remotely. Thus, if your employees have been productive in the office, expect the same from them now that they are working remotely unless they give you a reason not to. Once you notice a slip in productivity, that’s when you may want to pop up and ask “Is everything ok?” If your employees are being productive and meeting their deadlines, trust them to handle their responsibilities out of the office.

If done effectively, remote work may provide opportunities to empower your employees by giving them more responsibilities and opportunities for growth. It may also be smart to re-evaluate your standards for performance evaluations as well based on this measure. Want to get your employees’ feedback on what is and isn’t working for them without seeming overbearing? Conducting an anonymous survey might be the way to do the trick.

While the point above stresses giving employees a modicum of independence, you can’t take a laissez-faire attitude to remote managing either. This is why you may want to establish a regular meeting schedule with your team and/or individual employees. These meetings will provide a good setting for you to review their work, address any potential issues, and try to resolve them. Remember the potential stress they may be facing and show compassion towards their issue will help them overcome a problem while sending the message to them (and the rest of the team) they matter. Of course, if you have established a strong company culture that you have transferred to working remotely, this shouldn’t be a problem – and if you detect a serious problem, getting your employees the mental support they need should be your first concern.