Working from home is complicated for everyone, including managers who are navigating remote work for the first time. To maintain a high level of performance, it's vital to implement remote work best practices when hiring and managing a virtual team.
Of course, hiring remote talent and delegating tasks to remote contractors aren’t new, and flexible work arrangements were already becoming more common before the pandemic.
However, virtual working arrangements have now become the norm for a sizable portion of the global workforce. That means that understanding remote work best practices is more necessary than ever.
If working with a remote team is new to you, you will need to adapt to the challenge quickly to ensure both business continuity and employee satisfaction.
In this article, we’ll first look into the challenges of remote work and then give you ideas on how to overcome them as a manager.
Finally, we’ll discuss twelve of the best practices for remote work, which you can implement to support and manage your team efficiently and make sure everyone has the right conditions to work from home and continue delivering outstanding results.
- What are the key challenges of remote work?
- What are the most critical remote work best practices?
- 1. Set clear expectations from the start
- 2. Define your team’s standard operating procedures for common tasks and situations
- 3. Define your remote hiring and onboarding procedures
- 4. Check in with your employees regularly
- 5. Avoid micromanaging
- 6. Define what success looks like and focus on outcomes
- 7. Promote dialogue and listen actively
- 8. Make sure everyone has access to all the tools, equipment, and resources they need
- 9. Help team members collaborate efficiently and stay in sync
- 10. Set healthy boundaries for yourself and your employees
- 11. Use a few different communication channels
- 12. Help your employees optimize their work environment
- Create a smooth process and set clear expectations to facilitate remote work
What are the key challenges of remote work?
Remote work comes with its own set of challenges and difficulties, both to managers and employees.
Some of the challenges your employees might face are:
- Social isolation. Working from home can feel lonely, especially for people who formerly work in dynamic in-office environments. Some more introverted people might be genuinely enjoying working in their pajamas, while others might feel isolated.
- Added stress. Some work-related stress is inevitable, of course. However, remote work is stressful in a different way than traditional office work, and not everyone is prepared to deal with it well.
- Suboptimal working conditions at home. Not everyone has a separate room to easily transform into a dedicated office space or even a comfortable chair and a desk. In addition, distractions might be plentiful and difficult to manage, and childcare might not always be available.
As a manager, working with remote employees can be challenging because of:
Communication difficulties. Communication looks and feels different when you’re working from home, and not everyone is at ease with frequent video calls. This might leave managers feeling less in touch with their teams.
Insufficient team and employee engagement. Employees might feel less connected and engaged with their coworkers and their company if personal contact is missing.
Insufficient experience with technology. Remote work might feel like a technological puzzle, and not every company and manager is prepared to deal with it. This puts an added strain on IT and HR teams, as well.
Lack of personal contact. The lack of personal contact can feel isolating for managers as well. Managing a remote team can be challenging, especially if your employees are not particularly at ease with chat messages and video calls. You might consider adding some remote team-building activities to your schedule to help your team feel connected.
By following remote work best practices, you can tackle these challenges and ensure peak performance.
What are the most critical remote work best practices?
In this section, we’ll look into the top 12 best practices for remote work and explain how you can use each one to facilitate your team's work.
1. Set clear expectations from the start
Set clear expectations and rules early on, and make everything as transparent and as easy to navigate as possible for everyone involved. By defining clear procedures, expectations, and boundaries, you take the guesswork out of working from home and make it more predictable and less stressful.
Set expectations about:
- Daily and weekly check-ins and status reports
- Outcomes, results, and performance
- Working hours and availability, both yours and those of your team
- Strategies for dealing with urgent situations
Be clear about what you expect in terms of communication and set clear rules about what defines success. This will help you avoid bias or favoritism just because someone is more at ease with frequent check-ins.
2. Define your team’s standard operating procedures for common tasks and situations
If any tasks are common to a few members of your team, it might be a good idea to define standard operating procedures (SOPs) on how to complete them.
These can be particularly useful when delegating work, as well—either yours to someone else—or redistributing tasks between team members to make sure no one is overworked.
When writing your SOPs, be clear and concise. Nobody will read through 5 pages of text to do a simple task. Also, you'll need to keep them up-to-date.
3. Define your remote hiring and onboarding procedures
When hiring remotely, you have the advantage of having access to a bigger talent pool, possibly even a global one. However, the HR team at your company may need to:
- Establish a new remote hiring process
- Navigate the legal complexities of hiring talent remotely
- Work with you to define a clear remote onboarding process.
Online skills tests can help you and your HR team streamline and optimize remote hiring by letting you concentrate on the data on the candidates’ performance and skills rather than on irrelevant information.
This helps you be objective, make unbiased hiring decisions, and reduce the time to hire, which might be crucial in a remote setting.
Onboarding is another key issue. Remote work can feel particularly isolating for new employees, so make sure you spend enough time and effort to engage with them and make them feel welcome in the team.
Discuss all the organizational and technological logistics early on (benefits, technologies to use, SOPs) and make a checklist to make sure you’re giving all the necessary information to all new employees to allow them to perform well.
4. Check in with your employees regularly
So, how can you, as a manager, best support your remote employees? Communication is key. It’s up to you and your team to define the frequency of 1-to-1 and group calls, but it might be a good idea to schedule weekly video team meetings and daily check-ins via chat.
Do not make them exclusively about progress. You should also remember to make sure you ask about eventual challenges and obstacles and the general well-being of your employees. You might even decide to have a dedicated Slack channel or a 1-to-1 chat with every team member, asking simple questions like “What did you accomplish today?”, “What will you work on tomorrow?” “Are there any obstacles you’re currently facing?” and so on.
Make daily reporting quick and easy to do. If everyone needs to file a lengthy report after each day, this will soon become a burden, drain your team’s resources, and become a source of frustration. This leads us to the next point:
5. Avoid micromanaging
Micromanaging your team won’t be helpful to anyone. It will erode your employees’ trust and confidence, and you risk creating an atmosphere of fear and dishonesty. If you cannot trust your employees when working remotely, you won’t be able to delegate efficiently, and they won’t be able to work efficiently.
If you’re bothered by a lack of visibility into what everyone is doing, define clear procedures for:
- Regular check-ins and team calls
- Progress tracking
- The outcomes you’re expecting
Have shorter but more frequent meetings to make sure everyone’s in sync, but do not expect everyone to share the same level of detail of what they’re doing.
6. Define what success looks like and focus on outcomes
One of the best ways to manage remote employees is by focusing on the outcomes. So first, define clear performance measurement metrics and discuss them with your team. Then, track them regularly and analyze them together to make sure you’re aware of everyone’s progress and roadblocks.
When tracking teams’ and employees’ progress, it’s easy to concentrate on metrics of little relevance, such as time spent on a specific task or the number of emails sent, instead of on the outcome.
Here are some tips that will help everyone in your team to be more efficient by concentrating on the results:
- Define what success looks like for each new project or task
- Set clear and reasonable expectations about the project’s timeline
- Communicate all the important information and due dates well in advance
- Make sure everyone has the resources they need to perform well
- Let your team members know that you’re available to help
- Don’t obsess over (micro)managing everyone’s work daily.
7. Promote dialogue and listen actively
Do not let communication be one-sided, where you simply tell employees what to do and then simply expect results by a given date. Instead, ask questions, be open to feedback, and discuss roadblocks and strategies to overcome them. Let your team know they can always reach you at specific times of the day for help and advice.
Active listening will help you spot signs of distress in your employees and address specific issues before they have a dramatic impact on their performance or well-being or the team's work.
Be on the lookout for the following issues related to remote work:
- Social isolation
- Burnout and excessive stress
- Suboptimal working conditions at home, including inadequate childcare arrangements
- Conflicts between colleagues
Of course, health problems (both physical and mental) might also affect the productivity of your team members, but you should always respect your employees’ privacy.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines what you can and cannot ask your employees concerning their medical history and current health status. Questions about the general well-being of your employees are absolutely okay.
You might want to consider specific benefits to add to your company’s compensation policies to address the challenges of the pandemic specifically. These can be insurance with comprehensive mental health coverage or an allowance for home office equipment or online gym classes. Check with your employees what they need most.
8. Make sure everyone has access to all the tools, equipment, and resources they need
Always provide adequate (and equal, if roles are similar) access to information and resources to avoid creating organizational and data silos. As a part of your onboarding process, or when transitioning to remote work, define a list of resources, tools, and equipment everyone will get, to make sure your employees are fully prepared to work remotely.
This will probably include a work computer, a mobile phone, a good camera, a headset, and access to information (files, folders, servers, etc.), and software tools.
9. Help team members collaborate efficiently and stay in sync
Nowadays, there are many different ways to collaborate in real-time and give everyone access to the same files and software tools. Applications designed to make remote work easier will help your team work together efficiently and stay on track. These include:
- Google Drive and Google Docs
- Microsoft Teams
As a quick fix for a specific situation, you can use a tool's free or trial version, but it’s always a good idea to define carefully what your technology stack should include, together with your company’s IT manager/CIO.
Be careful to avoid overwhelming your team with countless applications, or switching to a new system every 2-3 months. Make simplicity a priority.
In addition to that, a software integration platform can help keep all your tools in sync.
10. Set healthy boundaries for yourself and your employees
Working from home allows you to be flexible to a much bigger extent, but it often means that it becomes all too easy for work to seep into other areas of your life.
Set clear and healthy boundaries for yourself and for others, by defining:
- Working hours and flexibility
- Reasonable response times
- The teams’ communication channels
- Procedures for urgent situations.
11. Use a few different communication channels
Email will probably not be enough. Set up a team chat workspace, and have video calls every once in a while.
Keep in mind that everyone works differently and needs a different level of communication and support. As with office work, don’t let meetings take too much of your employees’ time. Respect your employees' schedules and let them keep big chunks of time for their most important tasks, on which they can work without distractions.
Some employees might benefit from frequent 1-to-1 calls, while for others, calls might sometimes feel stressful and disruptive. Respect that and ask for feedback.
12. Help your employees optimize their work environment
Not everyone will have a separate room to work from, and some of your workers might not even have a comfortable chair and desk at hand. Dedicate company resources to optimizing your employees’ work environment. Check proactively what everyone needs and what will help them accomplish more and be less stressed.
This can range from assisting with childcare arrangements to investing in ergonomic chairs, desks, and keyboards to making sure everyone is taking breaks from time to time.
Create a smooth process and set clear expectations to facilitate remote work
Remote work best practices have been developed and honed over the last decade to allow virtual teams to operate as well as, if not better, than in-office teams. But remote management isn’t easy, and chances are, you might be doing it for the first time, at this scale at least.
By applying the above remote work best practices, you’ll help make your remote work procedures simple, transparent and predictable, which will ease the added stress of working from home for your employees and help them perform well.