Can You Manage Employees You Can’t See?

Story Highlights

  • Growing work-at-home trend poses challenges for managers
  • Managers need to be more deliberate about managing remote workers
  • Creating virtual communities helps in managing remote employees

Up to 43% of U.S. employees spend at least some of their time working outside of the office — and the trend is growing. This poses new and urgent challenges for managers who may not often see some of their best employees in person.

The term “remote workers” captures both employees who are never physically in the office and flexible remote workers who retain a space in the office but work from home a few days a week.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, many organizations are realizing that creating flexible work arrangements is attractive to both the employee and the organization. Employees who work remotely some of time show greater levels of engagement, and 35% of employees say they would change jobs to have flexible working locations where they can choose to work off-site full time. Many talented workers — particularly millennials — seek flexible work arrangements.

Remote working does not immediately create higher levels of engagement. In order to ensure that this arrangement is successful, managers have to assume an active role in connecting with the employee.

Tactics the Best Managers Use

After speaking with several managers who supervise remote employees, Gallup has found a few key tactics the best managers employ:

Be intentional. Managers must become more deliberate about when and how they communicate with remote employees. They do not need to have daily 30-minute “check-in” conversations, but should make an effort to connect with them consistently — whether through phone calls, email, instant or text messaging, or videoconferencing. Ongoing, meaningful communication can help establish an environment of trust and accountability, while still giving remote employees a sense of independence.

Know the needs of your followers. By establishing frequent and meaningful conversations, managers can begin to evoke trust and accountability in their remote employees. Gallup’s research into the needs of followers insists that trust, compassion, hope and stability are all key factors in building a followership. This also applies to the relationships between managers and remote workers.

Successful managers from large, well-known companies all stressed the importance of getting to know your employees as people and caring for them as individuals. They also send clear, concise and uniform messages to all remote employees and conduct frequent, ongoing discussions about career progression. This individualization and attention to detail help build the foundation their followers need to feel safe.

Create a virtual community. It’s hard for remote employees to feel connected to their teams and the organization if they rarely or never meet in person. Successful managers of remote workers cultivate a social environment through effective use of technology.

One manager, knowing how important it was for the team to experience rituals and events as if they were in an office, held a virtual baby shower for an employee. This manager made sure to deliver the gifts and cake in a timely fashion to the expectant mother and gathered the entire team through videoconference to virtually celebrate and play games.

Not all managers will want to go to this length, but managers should be careful to effectively re-create the office culture through technology, thus giving remote employees the feeling of being part of a larger team.

Meet in person. While technology can help re-create the office culture and connect remote workers to their coworkers, successful managers of remote workers note the immense power of face-to-face team meetings. There is an understated power in sharing a meal, exchanging jokes and stories, and connecting in the same physical space.

The method and frequency of these meetings can vary from person to person. But if the budget and schedules allow, many successful remote teams meet at least once a year in person. After these in-person meetings, managers often say there is renewed enthusiasm and a sense of pride and mission.

Motivating and managing the performance of the employees whom managers rarely see is a unique challenge. However, the good news is that compared with many employees, 100% stay-at-home workers have a greater understanding of their role and feel a more profound sense of ownership for their performance. They know what to do and believe their performance is measured in ways that are fair and motivational.

This article is part of Gallup’s State of the Workplace Initiative.

About jlmakela@gmail.com

Jan is the author of the Best Selling Book 'Cracking The Code To Success.' Jan will help you or your organization make a difference in your organization. He strongly believes in building on strengths and coaching employees to success. He has held senior positions in healthcare organizations, the military, and private businesses and is best known for his solid track record of increasing profitability by improving e employee engagement and job performance through his strengths-based leadership. In addition being a Gallup- Certified Strengths Coach, Jan has an MBA from George Washington University. In his free time he likes to travel, read, watch sports and spoil his two grandchildren.
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