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Managing a Remote Workforce

What to Do When Your Employees Have Left the Building

Life as we have known it has clearly changed since the Coronavirus pandemic began. Education has gone online, social distancing is a daily topic, and droves of employees have left the building and started working remotely.

Supervision is challenging in the best of times. Now, with many employees working remotely, it may feel impossible.

The truth of the matter, is, you have the skills to do this. Leadership skills do translate to a virtual environment and can be applied to remote supervision assignments. Successfully managing a remote team requires clear communication and good leadership practices.

Actions that will help you be more successful in leading your team remotely include:
• Clarify Expectations
• Focus on Results
• Ask Questions
• Make Frequent Person-to-Person Contact

Clarify Expectations
You will experience a range of initial reactions from employees when it comes to working remotely. If no boundaries have been put around work time, some people will burn themselves out trying to get things done by working ridiculous hours. Others may be hard to corral and focus, spending time on everything except the job.

Identifying clear expectations up front with your staff helps them understand what’s expected as they move into their home office. What schedule will the employee keep? When does she/he need to be available? Is it okay if they leave to run an errand? Go for a bike ride? Make dinner? Do they need to let you know if they leave their workstation for an extended period?

A key expectation will be how you want them to manage overtime. It can be challenging for some to put a fence around their working hours when work Is “calling” them from their home office. It is important to remember that labor laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are still in effect no matter where your employees do their work. Consult with your HR department to make sure you understand the nuances of work time and schedules.

Identifying parameters isn’t about chaining an employee to his/her desk in the home office, it’s about having a mutual understanding of the ground rules of working remotely.

Focus on Results
In a traditional work model, a great deal of energy is spent managing employees’ time. Timecards, formal work hours, in/out Boards are key management tools. If a person is at work for 8 hours, the assumption is they are productive.

Managing remote employees requires that we change our assumptions about productivity and manage results instead of time. The priority focus shifts to what the employee is accomplishing.

Employees may realize more efficiencies at home than they do in the workplace. A Stanford study of 16,000 employees who work from home found that employees who work from home see a 13 percent performance increase, including more minutes worked and more work done per minute ( While this number may decrease when children are in the home, there are ways to balance workload with family care and still be productive. It’s important to recognize your employees will not be productive 100% of the time. They aren’t productive 100% of the time at the job site—colleagues drop by the office to chat; they leave their office to celebrate birthdays, retirements, anniversaries, etc.

Be clear on the goals and roles of your team. Be prepared to describe to your team the tasks to be completed; expected results, standards and deadlines; and team roles (who does what). You were likely doing this before your employees left the building. Now is a good time to revisit and ensure there is absolutely clarity.

Ask Questions
With a remote work force, one of the most important things you can do is ask questions. Micromanagement in this situation is a recipe for failure. Ask questions that help you identify how the employee is doing, what she/he may need help with and how you can help move things forward:
• What are you working on?
• What have you accomplished?
• What obstacles are you running into?
• What do you think is the best way to mitigate the impact of those obstacles?
• What’s next on your list?
• How are you finding the workload (too much, too little, balanced)?

Make Frequent Person-to-Person Contact
It can be somewhat isolating to suddenly be removed from your colleagues, support system, and informal network. The isolation is compounded if there is a lack of communication, feedback and acknowledgement from you, their leader.

Telephone calls and video teleconferencing play a key role in helping your employees feel important, engaged and relevant to the agency. Your regular contact with employees will help them feel grounded and build their confidence. Make time in your conversations to check in with them personally. If you have the technological capability, you might be able to set up a virtual break room where employees can go to chat with their colleagues. We recommend supervisors and managers overcommunicate. This situation calls for overcommunication on steroids.

Successfully transitioning to a remote team requires you use your best communication skills to clarify parameters, focus on and communicate expected results, use questions to determine what’s happening with workload, and make personal contact a priority. As response to the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, it is important to stay in touch with your own supervisor and HR to make sure you are up-to-date on the latest information and regulations.