The typical nine-to-five office job is no longer the norm. More than half (58.6%) of the total U.S. workforce now works remotely, according to a recent Upwork study, which also found that 41% of those workers are fully remote. This comes after companies like Twitter and Square gave their employees the option to work from home forever.
While remote work arrangements benefit both employees and employers, they do present some unique obstacles. One study revealed 46% of managers see managing remote workers well as their primary challenge.
So, how does one master remote performance management? In this post, we’ll share some helpful techniques and tools you can use to make it work.
Common challenges of managing a remote team
A remote team requires plenty of trust to thrive, but building that trust is easier said than done. The truth is, there are many challenges that remote managers face, including…
Lack of in-person supervision
The sudden shift from seeing your team members every day to scheduled video calls can be jarring. You lose visibility on the specific projects your employees devote their time to, and if they’re working as efficiently as they could be. (Working remotely inevitably welcomes more distractions.)
Different work schedules
Employees can take certain liberties when it comes to remote work. Some may choose to roll out of bed and immediately get to work, while others may squeeze in a gym session or grocery trip in the middle of the day. Employees may also choose to take extra liberties when it comes to holiday time or trips, requiring you to establish clear guidelines.
Team members working in isolation
Some employees may not feel like part of the team as a result of working alone. They can’t interact with colleagues as much as they would in an office setting, where it’s easy to walk up to another person’s desk for a quick chat.
Difficulty getting a hold of someone
There’s always that one person who’s really bad at answering his or her messages. This can be a big problem when your main form of communication is email, Slack, or phone calls. You’ll need to set clear expectations so team members don’t neglect to check their messages, or to proactively keep the rest of the team informed.
Weak team bonds
Even if team members interact with one another during the work day, many conversations may solely focus on work, especially among team members who’ve never met in person. Lack of personal bonds between team members may dampen motivation in some employees or exacerbate issues with people working in silos.
How to successfully manage remote employees
Despite the challenges, there are plenty of steps you can take to promote a cohesive remote team. Here are several tips for keeping your employees productive and happy.
1. Share the big picture
What are the company’s overarching goals? How does each department contribute to them? How does each team support departmental goals?
If you want to keep your remote workers engaged and productive, they need to understand how their work fits into the overall business plan.
Get everyone on the same page
When working remotely, it’s vital that everyone feels like part of the team, because knowing their contributions matter increases employee happiness and productivity. You can achieve this in a few ways:
- Hold quarterly town hall meetings. You can run an in-person or video meeting where you update everyone on company performance and company goals, then show them how each department fits into the big picture.
- Run quarterly presentations with department heads. Ask various department heads to share their successes and failures for each quarter.
- Schedule one-on-ones or small team huddles. Get together with your members over Google Meet and discuss how the project they’re working on furthers overall business goals.
2. Establish clear individual goals
Aside from sharing your company goals for your entire team to rally around, remember to establish KPIs and milestones for each team member. Every employee should know what’s expected of him/her at the individual level so s/he can gauge and monitor personal performance.
Individual progress should be reinforced through regular performance reviews, as well as routine reporting. This helps to keep your employees on track and motivated to reach certain milestones (which are often associated with raises and/or progress towards a promotion).
3. Create a solid onboarding process
New employees can easily get lost in the mix when everyone is working in different places. This can lead to a bad experience — one in which your new hire feels unsure of how to get started with his/her new position.
Avoid this by assigning a clear point of contact for new hires alongside a process to properly onboard them. Make sure they’re equipped with your company history, organization chart, and other critical info that will help them do their job well.
4. Offer equal promotion opportunities
If your company has both remote and on-site workers, it’s crucial to make sure remote employees have access to the same opportunities as everyone else.
This can get a little tricky due to the availability bias (our tendency to make decisions based on information that’s top-of-mind). In mixed teams, this bias can quickly turn into “presenteeism” — the phenomenon of promoting people who are seen in the office over those who work from home.
To overcome this, give everyone equal access to promotion opportunities and tell them what’s involved.
5. Communicate clearly and often
A successful team requires open communication between members. Whether meetings are scheduled or impromptu, all necessary members should be dialed in.
Have important conversations in a shared space
Using a company-wide shared messaging tool like Slack can open communication by housing all conversations in one place.
Slack is a great solution for performance management because you can create sub-channels for each project and invite team members to them. The channel is searchable, so everyone in your group will have access to relevant conversations. This prevents important communications from getting lost or buried.
Use screen-recording software for smoother communication
It’s not always easy to read someone’s tone in emails, and, despite our best efforts, messages can be misinterpreted. Sometimes, recording a video is easier and faster than writing a long message.
You can also use these tools to gauge your team’s recent work. Ask remote members to record a one- or two-minute video at the end of the day walking you through the work they did. To make this more fun, ask them to share their favorite part of the day and their most frustrating task. This will give you a better sense of what’s working, what isn’t, and how you can help.
Did you know 87% of remote workers feel more connected thanks to video conferencing? Video conferencing software simplifies remote meetings and helps your team stay connected. Use videos for weekly catch-up meetings, monthly training sessions, or regular project updates.
And, unlike in-person meetings, you can record, store, and share each meeting so people who couldn’t attend can watch later and benefit, too.
Take time zones into account
With team members spread across the globe, differing time zones can be a challenge. However, it can also be an asset, because it means you have a group working practically around the clock.
Let’s say your U.S.-based copywriter wraps up the copy for your latest promo at 11 p.m. PST on the 17th. Your Singapore-based designer can then work on it during their day and get it back to you the morning of the 18th. You can use tools like World Time Buddy to help everyone keep their hours straight.
6. Document everything
Transparency is imperative in a virtual team. You need to have procedures in place to ensure the group can locate crucial information when necessary, even if they weren’t part of the original conversation.
One of the most valuable aspects of remote work is the documentation of all communications. I recommend putting some guidelines into place to make these communications easily accessible.
- Keep communication transparent. All critical work conversations should default to your project management tool. Avoid messaging apps like Viber and WhatsApp, because they are designed for personal use and it’s hard to track, share, and organize conversations for the rest of the team.
- Detail project information in one place (for example, a Trello card description). Make sure all team members know where to check first when looking at a project. Avoid repeating yourself on different channels. Put all critical information into one place, and send anyone who asks questions (that have already been answered) there to get the whole picture.
- Managers, train your team on where to find key information. Repeated appeals for your time inhibit your productivity. In an office, a question in passing isn’t a huge interruption. But when everyone is remote, it becomes a barrage of pings that can derail your workday.
The guidelines above will help keep communication crystal clear, while minimizing the time it takes to disseminate everything to a dispersed team.
7. Encourage team bonding
Performance management involves more than KPIs. If you want your group to stay focused and produce great work, everyone must feel included. Spending time together – even virtually – can significantly improve teamwork. You have a few options to accomplish this.
Experiment with virtual coworking days
The idea of a virtual coworking day is simple, but effective.
Here’s how it works: Choose one day to invite everyone to join a video call. Have everyone share what they’re going to work on, then, leaving your cameras on, mute your mics and work on your tasks. Come together for breaks and at the end of the session to share what you achieved.
Virtual coworking keeps employees accountable and motivated.
Plan virtual happy hours and other social events
Schedule more casual meet-ups in person or online. Some companies will designate certain days of the week to hold virtual luncheons, where employees spend an hour eating lunch together in small, virtual pods. Alternatively, you can host events like a mixology class, where employees receive supplies at their doorsteps and attend a fun class together.
Recreate watercooler conversations
Foster more authentic conversations among employees through fun, non-work-related Slack channels or apps like Donut. The Donut app is a plugin for Slack that automatically pairs team members together and prompts one-on-one conversations in order to build camaraderie across your team.
Send team swag
Branded t-shirts, hats, and other swag serves multiple purposes: (1) it delights employees with free merch, and (2) it shows they’re part of a team. While the gesture may seem small, distributing team swag can unify your team (and even help out your marketing team).
8. Track team progress in a central location
You can track people’s progress through multiple means. I’m a fan of project tracking because it allows for greater autonomy, and it’s easier to match project deliverables to KPIs.
Use the same project management system for everyone in the company, whether they work on-site or remotely. Next, spend some time familiarizing everyone with the system so they know how to use it.
Choose the right project management tool
A project management tool makes it easy to break down projects into smaller, measurable chunks and assign them to individual team members. You can attach all necessary assets to the project brief inside your tool, add a deadline, and even discuss the project in the platform — perfect for remote performance management. Targets and KPIs for each deliverable should be clear so everyone knows what they’re working towards.
With so many resources out there, you can find something that fits almost any workflow. Tools like Wrike, Asana, Trello, Monday, or Airtable have their pros and cons, so choose one that most benefits your group.
9. Celebrate success
Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Without external validation, your employees are prone to burn out or could emotionally detach from the work they contribute to your company.
Along those same lines, it’s important to give shoutouts to your employees in both individual and group settings. I’ve joined some team meetings where everyone, from the managers to new employees, was encouraged to thank another member in front of the rest of the team. Alternatively, they could mention a recent success story.
Through exercises like this, you can breed a culture of positivity, accountability, and gratitude.
The bottom line: engaged, happy employees produce better work
How your employees feel about work — and you — affects their productivity. When someone feels they’re part of a team that cares about them, they’re more likely to work together towards common goals.
When isolation sets in, however, procrastination and resentment start to creep into the mix. That’s why it’s important to involve everyone and help them understand how their work affects the company. Remember: your team is made up of human beings, not cogs.
Published: January 16, 2019
Updated: March 13, 2020
Updated: August 23, 2021