Successfully Managing Remote Employees:  10 Tips for Improving Your Remote Leadership Skills

I recently met with a friend and asked him what his current greatest challenge was. He responded that managing a number of remote employees was proving to be harder than he anticipated. When I asked him where members of his team were located, he indicated that he had team members in Singapore, Houston, Seattle, Beijing, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and London. Then he said that if I could give him a number of tips that would add some degree of structure and certainty to how he managed remotely, it would help improve the quality of his leadership. 

After visiting for an hour or so, we outlined 10 tips for more effectively managing remote employees: 

  1. Clearly identify company goals. Often team members have differing interpretations of what the company’s objectives are and how they contribute to the achievement of those goals. It’s important to be clear about what the company’s goals are and how both the team and each individual contributes to the attainment of those goals. When individuals clearly understand their roles and the importance of the work they do, they are usually more motivated by the clear vision and distinct purpose that their work serves to achieve.
  2. Establish clear accountabilities. Sometimes people who work remotely have a presumption of autonomy. Although no one is on site to insure that they are actually doing the assigned tasks, being very specific about your expectations for performance will help to increase employee engagement and accountability whether you are there or not.
  3. Set milestones for achievement. After you have identified a performance goal, it is helpful to establish a clear set of milestones that will help the individual reach that goal. Doing so makes it easier to hold accountability conversations along the way. Setting clear milestones will benefit them and those who might also rely upon their work for the achievement of their own objectives. Be sure to involve those doing the work to insure that the goals set are realistic and attainable.
  4. Emphasize a customer focus. Not everyone interacts with external customers. However, sometimes individuals become so caught up in their work that they lose sight of how their actions impact others, whether inside or outside the company. Having a clear understanding how their work directly affects those they are trying to serve will help them to meet expectations and demands in an exemplary manner.
  5. Foster open relationships. Just as you would work to build an open relationship with a person in a face-to-face setting, it’s essential to build a relationship with remote employees. Taking the time to speak with everyone will help you maintain a pulse on the needs of your team. Notice in virtual meetings who is speaking up, participating, and making suggestions. Also notice who is not as engaged. These less-engaged employees should be a focus of your contact and attention as you try to understand what and how they are doing. It is difficult to address concerns and challenges that you don’t know exist. Reaching out to everyone signals that you care and are concerned about their success.
  6. Be accommodating. When you have a team whose members live in a number of different locations and time zones, it would be wise to consider and accommodate some of those differences. For example, holding a meeting that is convenient in Singapore but not terribly convenient in the United States says you care enough about your Singapore employees to adapt to their needs. Taking the opportunity to rotate times among team members establishes fairness that will be accepted and supported by everyone.
  7. Reflect on the needs of others. Taking a minute to silently contemplate and anticipate the needs of remote employees will help them in the achievement of their goals. As you think about what each individual may need, incorporate those considerations in your questions when you meet with them one-on-one. Doing this will signal that you have their best interest and their progress in the forefront of your mind. This will increase your credibility as a leader while insuring the success of each individual.
  8. Check in frequently. You should meet with your remote employees on a regular basis, just as you would routinely meet with the entire team. Given the nature of the work, you may want to hold a weekly staff meeting that includes your remote employees. Likewise, you should check in with each individual employee at least once a month. This might seem to be a daunting task, but it’s important to remember that good relationships are a key factor in success. Individuals need encouragement as well as a frequent invitation to identify issues of concern or note where additional support may be needed.
  9. Establish development and growth goals. If we assume that everyone would like opportunities to grow and develop, then providing such opportunities allows people to improve their skills and abilities. Don’t use remoteness as an excuse for not making plans to help people improve. Creating a development plan for each of your employees helps individuals to stay engaged and motivated in what they are doing, as well as strengthening their skills, increasing their confidence, and improving their outcomes.
  10. Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate. Because you may not physically be together often, creating the opportunity to celebrate team and individual successes will go a long way to establishing rapport with one another and building a positive team culture. You should celebrate in team meetings, when you meet one-on-one, and when you have the opportunity to physically be in the same space. Look for ways to be creative in how you celebrate success. For example, you could send a gift to a remote employee, and then have them open the gift during a teleconference. Or you could create a team page on Facebook and ask individuals to post positive messages or to express appreciation to one another. Regularly do something that recognizes and celebrates the efforts of everyone. 

Managing remote employees is becoming an ever-increasing way of doing business. This reality necessitates a deliberate and conscious effort to ensure the success of your teammates. Taking the time to communicate your expectations clearly, to establish clear goals and milestones, to connect with others, and to celebrate individual and team accomplishments will increase positive results and the success of your team—guaranteed.