Managers of remote employees face unique challenges—mostly with regard to communication.
Even those supervisors who prefer to leave workers to their own devices will need status updates, answers to questions and quick turnaround on small projects. When the boss can’t drop by without boarding a plane, communication can become a frustrating game of phone tag.
The State of the American Workplace Report from Gallup found that 43% of Americans now work remotely. Many work remotely only while on the road, but for an increasing number of employees, full-time telecommuting is a way of life. That brings particular challenges.
Remote employees don’t want special treatment, though. They’re just like everyone else, and they want the same respect, oversight and opportunities afforded their in-office colleagues.
To build solid two-way relationships with remote employees, follow these tips:
1. Hold more meaningful video meetings.
Schedule regular one-on-one video calls at least weekly to keep connections strong, but don’t limit video calls to business. At the beginning of every call, catch up on remote workers’ personal lives, so they feel less like contractors and more like valued team members. No need to pry; just stay up to date at an office-appropriate level.
Do the same for full-team meetings. Leave time during video calls to keep colleagues familiar with faces and help everyone get to know one another.
The International Labour Organization found that 40% of remote workers self-reported high stress levels, compared with just 25% of in-office workers. Remote employees might simply be more prone to stress, but managers can reduce that anxiety by making them feel more like part of the team.
2. Keep communication clear and consistent.
Pay close attention to IMs and emails from telecommuters. They will call when something is urgent, but they shouldn’t have to wait 24 hours to get answers to their shorter questions.
No leader enjoys micromanaging, but remote employees need an extra level of detail in their instructions. In-office employees can drop by for a chat if something comes up. Remote employees can send an IM or call, but those actions feel much more interruptive than an in-person knock on an open door.
In a survey of businesses with remote workers, HiveWork found that clear communication of expectations was one of the most important factors in successful management. Set concrete timelines and measurable goals; then step back and let the remote employee handle the rest.
3. Don’t overload them.
Communication with remote employees can have a Goldilocks solution. Too little makes employees feel frustrated and unappreciated. Too much makes them feel untrusted and creates some of the interruptions they left the office environment to escape. The “just right” amount makes employees feel supported, not smothered.
Ask employees how much communication they like, and then work together to find a system that works for both sides. Some businesses use project management systems to help remote workers see what’s happening. That way remote workers don’t have to ask as many questions and can do their work with minimal interruption.
A version of this post first appeared on the Calendar blog.