remote work

Covid-19 is upon all us and now most of the corporate world is faced with handling a remote workforce. That means water cooler talk is now digitized into a Zoom format which competes with the occasional crying baby in the background. For some this is a dream- finally being able to have the time to take care of children without paying exorbitant child care fees and avoiding the dreaded hour-long commute every day. However, others, specifically managers, are faced with the new reality that they need to make sure that their team is delivering effectively and in a timely manner. In addition, managers suffer from the lingering feeling that the employee could leave at any time- being ghosted.

If you think the remote world is going away after COVID think again! SmartBrief recently put out a survey asking remote employees what they most missed about their old workplace and the results were a bit shocking: 

Most employees simply don’t miss the office, and with stats showing that employees are often more productive in remote work, there is a good chance that remote work will continue to evolve post-COVID. Hence it’s better to bite the bullet now and master the art of remote management than betting on everything returning to normal after COVID.

For those who dread the world of remote work, I hope this short article will serve as a helpful guide because I too have struggled a lot with the world of remote work. In fact, I grew up in a household where my parents built software companies and 95% of their remote workforce was remote. In addition to learning from my parent’s mistakes in fighting with Skype and Zoom connectivity issues in my early teens, I soon followed their steps and started managing remote teams in 2014. The steps in this article have been polished through the years I have been working with remote employees and the research I have done in the work revolution field so they better help you in some way otherwise I guess I didn’t learn much in the past decade. 

Step 1: Get Clear On Job Expectations and Deliverables

If you improve your ability to manage remote employees, it will make you that much better of an in-person manager because there is enormous common ground in how to lead teams effectively in the two working worlds. However, there is one key difference that managers who transition from in-person to remote struggle with- facetime management. The concept that ‘I can see you, therefore you must be working’ idea. Unfortunately, in the remote world, managers can’t physically watch their employees unless they install cameras in their employee’s room (which I witnessed when I first joined corporate America), thus they have to adapt and really start figuring what should this person be doing every day? 

Each job can be boiled down to particular tasks that need to be done to a certain degree of quality. As a manager, your job is to specify what these items are and communicate them in a way where there is an agreement between yourself and the direct report. Do that and you pretty much have it figured out, but the devil is in the details.

A simple example would be an employee who is a new customer service representative for a cell phone company and their job is to talk to customers who have a hard time updating their cell phone data. 

What Not To Do: A manager who is unclear about the job expectations would probably give the new hire a playbook and set up weekly meetings to see how they are progressing. On the surface, this sounds great, but if you look deeper into the employee’s day words start popping up like ‘customer satisfaction rating’ or ‘average handling time’ which describes how well the employee is doing.

What To Do: Specify the tangible rating that captures how well the employee is doing and where the red zone (you are on your way to getting fired) and green zone (you are doing great and on your way to promotion). By outlining these lines you will have effectively given the employee a tangible target to shot at and what your expectations are of their job. While that may seem over the top for a new hire to have this spelled out, a lack of clarity in job performance can easily lead to a drop in employee engagement or someone sending their resignation email a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, most managers avoid being concise because of the ‘sink or swim’ philosophy- throw an employee into work [water] and they will eventually figure out what to do [sink or swim]. This philosophy is a prime example of lazy management. Sure, it can really show you who is intrinsically motivated, but is it worth spending tens of thousands of dollars to recruit an employee to simply leave it up to chance that they will understand the job in time? That is usually a bet I don’t like making and my personal opinion is a manager should try to maximize the chance of the employee being successful by giving more guidance on how to be a success at work.

Step 2: Transparentize Deliverables  

Now you know what exactly needs to be tracked, the next step is being able to see whether or not it’s being done in a digital format. Hence, a dashboard can substitute as a place where a manager can look to see what is being done. 

When consulting, I often suggest to the client that they should be able to see how well their team is doing by looking at one dashboard that is so comprehensible that can understand it in the dead middle of the night. It should be simple, easy to understand, and all-encompassing.

There are hundreds of different tools that have been created in the past decade to help teams deliver more effectively and track their progress. Below is an example from my own team: 

Here we use a Kanban board to track certain deals and times when employees should reach out to different prospects in order to make sure that nothing is missed. 

Note, in order to get a team to fully utilize a project management software there are a few obstacles that can arise: 

  • Getting everyone to use the new technology for old tasks. 
  • Getting everyone to use the new technology the right way. 
  • Getting everyone to use the new technology consistently. 

When moving over a team onto a new platform, it can feel like herding sheep because, in the beginning, everyone will probably use it differently so I suggest putting together video training videos that cover formatting and the best ways to utilize the platform. 

Step 3: Measure Deliverables on a Consistent Cadence

If you are using a new platform to track employee performance, chances are you will be exhilarated to see that everyone is using it within the first month. However, as time goes on there is a good chance that the team or your new hire will stop using it to track their work.

For instance, I was helping a company recently migrate their leads into a Salesforce Customer Relationship Management system (CRM) and when the client gave me access to the platform I was shocked. I thought for sure that the access was restricted because the last record in the dashboard was back from 2017. Note I was helping them in 2020. Well, turns out, after 6 months of using the platform, half the team eventually gave up using the CRM and the other team stayed. From there the team manager stopped references the CRM on a consistent basis and instead used pen and paper to track the hundreds of prospects. Something no one should try unless they are filling in for Jack Nicholas in the Shining – No work and no play makes Jack [a team manager] a dull boy [employee].

Note: this step really helps avoid micromanaging employees because everything is out in the open and constantly up to date.

Step 4: Streamline First 90 Days

Just like the first days in the office, a remote job can be extremely overwhelming the first couple of days or weeks. Every day there are several new people and meetings being added onto the calendar and keeping track of everything can be extremely stressful. As a manager, one of your responsibilities for new hires to ensure that the employee is onboarded as seamlessly as possible. In order to do this, a manager should outline what the employee should accomplish and do in the first 90 days. 

The level of detail can range when creating this documentation. Sometimes it’s as simple as writing out how many calls someone should do each day to more detailed models one where has every hour mapped out outlining which software should be installed when.

He is an example below: 

While this looks great, know that this can be taken to a whole new level. Invision, a software design company that has 100% of its remote sales force and does over 100 million a year in sales revenue, the first 2 weeks of a new hire being onboarded remotely every hour mapped detailing exactly on what the employee should be doing. The result – faster onboarding and higher retention.

Specificity is king, it can pay huge dividends [royalties] in the long run. 

Step 5: Lay Out a Career Ladder

Just like an in-person job, remote employees want ways to grow in their careers. During the beginning of their tenure, it’s a great idea to map out where they can grow in the company and align that direction with their personal goals. In organizational psychology and management, goal alignment has been a popular idea for a long time. Even Harvard Business Review was talking about this all the way back in the 1970s. Unfortunately, many managers miss putting this together for remote employees, and its a big reason why a lot of remote employees leave companies that they work remotely for

By outlining a ladder the manager can help an employee reach a state of intrinsic motivation. That is, where the employee is motivated from the inside. In that mindset, not only do they have a job, but a place they can grow in their careers and the manager becomes the guide in their job to unlocking the door to their actualization.