5 Tips for Leaders to Effectively Motivate and Manage Remote Employees

Any big organizational change in a company will have employees looking to leaders on how to adapt. Clear communication is key, especially if that change is going partially or fully remote. Airbnb’s CEO was applauded for his layoff announcement that was both transparent and compassionate. Other leaders can certainly learn from his candor and empathy.

In this post, I’ll look at the top five communication strategies leaders can use today with their remote team to set expectations, maintain productivity and support their workforce.

1. Keep Communication Predictable

Encouraging constant communication won’t be as effective as setting expectations for exactly when the team should check-in. Communication should feel predictable and not subject to long delays or arbitrary hours.

Here’s a checklist to consider when setting up communication guidelines with your newly remote team:

Establish working hours. You want employees to feel free to disconnect at the end of the working day. If you have workers in different time zones, reiterate intersecting hours so everyone knows when everyone else is online.
Set availability. Can the team snooze notifications or are there times (like during a weekly product release) they shouldn’t?
Set away times. How do people communicate when they’ll be away? You can set up a “work from home” channel in Slack or other messaging service dedicated to letting everyone know when they’re stepping out for an appointment or otherwise. Or ask people to block off their calendars as “away”–or both.
Discuss meetings. You’ll probably be able to keep your meetings schedule. Consider adding weekly one-on-ones, if you don’t do them already. Block off half an hour per person and encourage them to set an agenda ahead of time (you can do the same). Soapbox is a great resource to set up joint agendas.

2. Use Visual Communication

Instead of the same old Slack messages and emails, enliven your communications with graphics.

According to this visual content marketing survey, 74 percent of marketers said that more than 70 percent of their content contained visuals–up 10.5 percent from the previous year. Clearly, they find it a very effective way to communicate. But, how can executives take advantage of this strategy?

Here’s one example: my office recently went completely remote. To discuss the change, our exec team created an infographic with all of our work from home policies, plus tips on how to prevent catching coronavirus and resources to maintain good physical and mental health.

It was a well-rounded approach that told employees the leadership team cared about both our productivity and engagement and our overall well-being.

Here are a few other ideas:

Make little graphics to celebrate birthdays, employee achievements etc. to include on Slack or in an email.
Create a weekly graphic email newsletter that visualizes results or goals in progress.
Create engaging presentation slides for team meetings.
Encourage people to post photos of their workspaces (if you feel comfortable doing so, not every office culture will appreciate this).
Create a visual timeline of when you expect the company to start and end telecommuting, with any important (virtual) events in between.
Make visual checklists for work from home expectations.

3. Lean Heavily on Video

Using video conferencing as much as possible will make sure people get dressed for the day and engage fully in meetings. It will also make sure they pick a quiet place for the meeting, instead of phoning in, muting and checking out.

Consider asking your reports for a quick video call to resolve anything that’s too cumbersome to discuss online and encourage your team to do the same with each other.

And definitely hold all one-on-ones and regular team meetings over video. You can also consider hosting virtual events or conferences–Vidyard has an amazing guide to creating online events.

4. Invest In the Right Tools

You’ve already invested in collaboration tools like Slack or Monday.com but now is the time to make sure you’re using the best program for your needs.

For example, my company normally relies on Google Hangouts for our virtual meetings however it’s been regularly cutting out. Now is a great time to test out a new service, like Zoom.

Trello is another great service for project management that my team relies on heavily. It’s easy to see what everyone’s working on, assign tasks and refer back to past projects.

You’ll also want to make sure your team has the right remote tools:

Let team members bring home their monitors, keyboards, wrist supports, mice etc. if at all possible (as well as their laptop, of course).
If bringing home equipment isn’t possible, think about budgeting to help employees create a home office. Shopify is reportedly doling out $1,000 per employee to help them buy what they need to work from home. It’s hard to be productive when you don’t have what you need to get your job done.
Use a time-tracking tool to help employees schedule their work hours, avoid overworking and focus on the right projects.
Check in to make sure everyone has a strong Wi-Fi connection.

5. Create Virtual Water Coolers

Team bowling, trivia or drinks nights are now out of the question. So how can you ensure your employees still have opportunities to bond to maintain the trust that’s so critical to team success?

Here are some ideas:

Make a “shoutouts” channel in Slack or other messaging platforms. Encourage your team to praise other members for their hard work, collaboration and achievements.
Create a virtual book club channel. Decide on a monthly theme, let everyone pick their own book, article or podcast episode even and book a video call to discuss what you read.
Start all meetings with some informal team chit chat. Check in with how people are doing and ask them what they’ve been up to (in their personal lives). Company culture will dictate how in-depth you want to go. Since you’re the leader, take the initiative to share. Post photos of your workspace, kids, pets if you like, too.
Encourage your team to share articles about recent events, resources or tips. Just make sure they’re from accredited sources and aren’t spreading false information.

The Takeaway: New Tools, Same Tactics

Communication, whether with teleworking employees or not, is all about setting guidelines and boundaries, encouraging a two-way conversation and employing empathy. Remote work changes the way leaders communicate but the basic rules are the same.

Furthermore, since remote work is on the rise as an overall trend, leaders can take the shift to a remote-only team (even if only partially or temporarily) as an important learning opportunity.

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