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How to Manage Effectively in Remote and Hybrid Environments

Managing employees in a remote or hybrid environment isn’t so different than managing them in the office. It has its unique challenges, as any environment does, but these aren’t barriers to success. The fundamentals of management are the same. You’re still working with people, helping them do their best work. The key is matching your management practices to the partially or fully remote setting.




How you manage may look a little different. We recommend the following management practices when you supervise people who work at home some or all of the time.


Schedule Regular Video Meetings

Spending time together in person with others is important. It goes a long way toward helping you make connections and form relationships. While video meetings aren’t the same, seeing others face-to-face does make a difference.


If you don’t get the opportunity to interact with your team in person very often, consider scheduling regular video meetings. Use these to ask your direct reports about what’s going well and what could be better, whether they have everything they need to do their jobs well, and what you can do to better support them. Pay attention to their facial expressions and body language. Managing people means managing emotions; it’s important that you can see and hear the state they’re in. But by the same token, remember that when people are working from home their mood may be affected by non-work stressors in their immediate environment—not every frown will be yours to fix. Also, some people’s expressions may suggest they’re bored or grouchy when they’re really just relaxed. Others may be most comfortable sitting or standing with their arms crossed. Try not to read too much into body language unless you have reason to believe that something is wrong.


Video is also beneficial for full team meetings, both formal and informal. If you can swing it, schedule a periodic optional “coffee hour” for members of your team to pop in and chat about whatever. Attendance doesn’t have to be mandatory, but those that make time to attend will get to know their colleagues better, which is an important component of team building and collaboration.


Define What Success Looks Like and Manage Performance Accordingly

If you’re in the habit of micromanaging people—and we hope you aren’t—remote and hybrid environments are going to be a big challenge for you. Unless you’re using tools to monitor keystrokes or physical presence at one’s desk—and we’d generally advise against it—you’re not going to know how your employees are spending every moment of their workday. The good news is that’s perfectly okay. That information isn’t particularly valuable.


What you want is for employees to do work that ultimately makes or saves your company money, and there are much better ways of measuring that than the minutes spent being (or appearing) busy. Namely, define success as an objective measurable outcome and evaluate performance accordingly. Were the assigned tasks completed on time? Was the output of suitable quality? Were targets or goals achieved? These are the sorts of questions to ask and explore when evaluating performance. Not being in person shouldn’t be a barrier to answering them.  


Consider Employee Preferences When Messaging Them

In a physical workplace, where you’d regularly see your team, it’s often customary to check in with them daily, at least with a stop by their workstation to say “Good morning” or “How are you?” Some remote employees may want and expect that casual communication to happen daily. Others, however, may be just fine hearing from you once a week or at a different cadence.


If you’re not sure about their preferences, consider asking them how often they’d like to hear from you. Your schedule and the needs of the company may prohibit you from following their wishes to the letter, but understanding their preferences can help prevent you from reaching out too frequently and annoying them or too infrequently and leaving them feeling isolated.


Clearly Define How Quickly Direct Reports Should Respond to You

When you send a person you manage an email or direct message, do you expect them to drop everything and answer you? Do they know whether they need to respond immediately or can wait until it’s convenient? To avoid confusion and loss of productivity (which is significant when switching between tasks), make sure they know when they need to get back with you right away and when they can respond at their convenience. Because of the high cost of task-switching, you may even want to encourage employees to set aside “focus time” when they can turn off notifications from email and instant messaging and give their full attention to projects or deliverables.


Be an Example of the Work-Life Boundaries You Expect to See

While the home office has its own distractions—laundry, dishes, that bookshelf you’ve always wanted to organize by color—it can also tempt us to work too much. The same is true of the people you manage, and they’ll look to you for cues on what their boundaries between work and life should be.


If you’re emailing them late at night because you have a few minutes to spare before hitting the hay, they may feel like they need to stay up to check their inbox and respond. If you always eat lunch at your desk while doing work or attending video meetings, they may wonder if that’s what’s expected of them as well.


Do your best to model the work-life boundaries you’d like to see from them. Share what you do to balance your home life and work life, like scheduling emails to send during work hours. If you seldom take time for yourself, your direct reports may think that talk about healthy boundaries and flexibility is just that—talk, not to be taken seriously if they want to advance in the organization. On the other hand, if your company doesn’t prioritize work-life balance and you expect employees to be immediately available at all times, that expectation should be communicated and modeled instead.


Trust Your People

If you’re new to having direct reports work where you can’t physically see them, it may be tempting to closely monitor their daily work or ask them for frequent updates on their progress. But unless you’re working with someone who’s struggling to meet expectations, such scrutiny is unlikely to be a good use of time and will instead cause frustration and resentment for your employee.


You should be able to trust your people to do their work. All successful work environments are built on trust—it’s what enables people to work together.

 

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