Managing Employees from Your Remote Office
Working remotely is drastically different from managing remotely. Not only do you have your own to-do list, but you need to monitor your team, keep them focused and motivated, and answer their questions. Topping it all off, you can only communicate via text, audio, or video.
Remote management walks a fine line between micromanaging and giving employees complete autonomy. With too much freedom, you run the risk of your team members wasting time and failing to hit milestones. Although too many checkpoints can breed distrust and hinder the project’s momentum.
While there is no boilerplate to managing a team from home, here are a few things to consider.
- Be clear about work expectations and deadlines. Communicating deadlines and expectations clearly is an important part of managing effectively—especially when working from home. If your remote team has a list of tasks to do and dates to complete them by, they have clear goals that will keep them focused and motivated.
- It is better to over-communicate at first. When you are just starting out, set up daily check-ins with your team (not unlike daily stand-up meetings in agile project management) to review their work and plans for the day. Put meeting notes into follow-up emails and check in regularly. You can back off over time, but you want to use the first few weeks to build a remote work cadence with your staff.
- Make sure your “virtual door” is open. Let your employees know how they can reach you and when. Consider holding virtual office hours where you are available online for any questions or issues your team may have.
- Look into time management tools. You don’t want to hover over your employees and overanalyze their workdays, but you should consider investing in tools like RescueTime or Toggl. These time management tools are easy to integrate and can provide more visibility into your team’s work.
The key to successfully-managing your remote team is to trust your employees and give them freedom while also creating policies and finding solutions that hold them responsible for goals. If you can develop a remote culture that gives employees autonomy and builds self-accountability, then you’re going to see incredible results from your virtual office.
Streamlining Communication Across Your Team
Whether you are in a management role or not, communication is key when working from home. It affects both your productivity and morale.
From a productivity side, you might not be able to answer all the questions you have or get project updates in the same way you would in the office, making your work harder. From a personal standpoint, you could feel disconnected or isolated when it’s not easy to talk to others.
You can follow a few key communication best practices when working from home and consider rolling these out to the rest of your team.
- Double-check your tone and word choice. 93% of communication is nonverbal, which creates a challenge when you are communicating solely through text or audio. Your words may be harsher than you realize or may be perceived negatively. When communicating by text, reread your message before sending it to make sure it has the intended tone.
- Be proactive with communication. Don’t wait for your boss to reach out or to take the floor during a meeting. Be proactive with announcements and news. Use this opportunity to connect with people who you never have in person and learn to develop your virtual voice. If you feel isolated, you can bet your colleagues do, too—so don’t be afraid to start a conversation.
- Set up a “fun” workplace chat group. Socializing as coworkers can increase collaboration and improve employee satisfaction. If you’re using an internal communication tool like Slack or Microsoft Teams, create a channel for employees to discuss topics other than work. This outlet allows you to still have your “water cooler talk” from the home office.
- Consider investing in a headset and microphone. If your conference calls are hard to hear and confusing to participate in, improve the quality of the call. Consider getting a headset where you can cancel out noise to hear your team clearly and respond audibly through an improved microphone.
For a bonus tip: make sure you are clear about whether a conference call is by phone or video, that way your employees have time to put clothes on and look presentable before the webcam turns on.
Setting Boundaries Between Work and Home
Modern technology has blurred the lines between work and home. Does it count as work if you check your work email at night or pick up a call from your boss over the weekend? A survey of 1,000 Americans found that 70% of employees check their email after 6 pm, usually when they’re relaxing after dinner, watching television, and otherwise surfing the web.
Working from home further blurs the work-life balance. It only takes a few steps to sit back down at your desk where you can review documents and answer questions, getting sucked back into work even when you’re off the clock. Therefore, setting boundaries is essential when working from home.
There are a few ways you can set boundaries to prevent your work life from taking over your home life. You don’t need to implement all the ideas below, but you should consider trying and using the ones that help you the most.
- Set your work hours and stick to them. You wouldn’t drive back to the office after you just got home from work, so don’t be tempted to log back in from your home office. Set dedicated hours that you clock in and out each day—and stick to them.
- Create a “mental commute.” Sitting in traffic or connecting on different trains may be frustrating, but it allows you time to transition from work to home. Find a way to step away from work each day and become present at home. Your mental commute should be some deliberate action like taking a walk around the neighborhood, jumping into the shower, working out, or reading a few chapters in a book.
- Actually take your lunch break. It may be easy to grab a sandwich from the kitchen and hang out at your desk, but you are still owed that time off. Use the luxury of a full kitchen (instead of a dingy break room) to make a legitimate lunch—and take the time to eat it slowly. Not only will the food taste better, but you’ll be able to take a mental break while cooking and eating that will recharge you.
- Put your computer away at the end of the day. If your laptop is only a few feet away, you may be tempted to turn it on while watching TV or when you have downtime. Instead, power it down fully and place it in a drawer or closet for the night. This way, accessing your work will take multiple steps and becomes more of a hassle.
Similarly, you will need to learn how to keep your home life away from your work life—which we’ll touch on next.
Working from Home with a Spouse and Kids
Most people don’t have the luxury of working from home in a quiet, isolated area. Instead, they are working side-by-side with their significant other and balancing childcare responsibilities in between.
Without the right plans in place, your family relationships could get frayed, and you’ll undoubtedly be less productive.
- Make sure your significant other understands your work. If your significant other works from home also, make sure he or she understands and respects the responsibilities that come with your job. If he or she doesn’t know what you do day-to-day, you may not get the space needed to do your job well. This step goes both ways and is the foundation for clear and defined expectations and boundaries.
- Divide up home responsibilities with your spouse. Create a plan where each of you handles different tasks and chores. For example, you might take out the garbage and do the dishes while your spouse cooks. Having this agreement will prevent resentment from building up.
- Keep your kids in a routine. Routines and consistency are important for everyone—but especially kids. If your children know what to expect, then they can stay out of your hair. Keeping them in a steady routine will give them stability, which, in return, will give you more scheduled time to focus on work.
- Talk to your boss about your home situation. If you need a few adjustments to your work routine because of your family, let your manager know. You may be able to clock in later if you need to take care of the kids or have an adjusted lunch break to accommodate taking care of your family.
- Set aside time for your loved ones. Don’t get so focused on working from home that you forget to spend time with your family. Prioritize family dinners and afternoon games with your kids. Block off “date nights” for you and your significant other. Schedule Skype calls or FaceTime with loved ones you can’t see in person right now. You can disconnect from the office while giving your family the attention they deserve.
Communication is at the root of good work-from-home habits. Talking to your spouse and boss, while letting your kids know what to expect, can help you get the time needed to get work done.
Creating a Designated Home Office
Now that you’re working from home, you will need to set up an office. The first step is to figure out where you can work. Ideally, your office will be in a separate room that’s completely isolated from distractions.
You may want to move a desk into a guest bedroom or convert a playroom into an office for this purpose.
Not everyone has the luxury of finding spare rooms and turning them into home offices. Some people start out working at the kitchen table and “putting their office away” during mealtimes.
Regardless of your home size or situation, you can create an environment where you can focus and get work done.
- Buy a comfortable office chair. Even if you are working at the kitchen table, find a chair that you are comfortable sitting in for hours each day. You can wheel the chair away when you clock out and replace it with your standard kitchen chairs.
- Create a distraction-free workspace. Find a place where you can’t easily get distracted by the TV, your kids, and household chores. You may even want to find a room divider to block everything out and create a new “room” within your home.
- Invest in the tools you really need. Your home office doesn’t need an enterprise-size printer, but you will likely need something to get your work done. Invest in items like a second monitor, filing cabinets, a scanner, and other tools to increase your productivity.
- Make sure you have a quiet place to take calls. Having a home office is great, but not if the washing machine muffles calls or the basement blocks your service. Your workspace needs to be quiet and have the connectivity you expect.
- Keep your family away from your office. Even if your workspace is tucked into the corner of the living area, let people know that it is off-limits.
- Don’t go near your office at night. Once you clock out, follow the same guidelines you set for your family. This will help you create a barrier between work and home.
Once you have an office set up, you can continue to optimize it with new gadgets, decorations, and other additions that a normal workspace would have.
The Best Tools to Work From Home Successfully
After your workplace is set up and your communication strategy in place, you can start to get work done. There are a few popular apps out there that can help you work and prevent you from getting too distracted.
- Offtime is an app that silences notifications except for a set list of contacts that you have whitelisted. This way, you can keep your phone next to you without getting distracted by personal texts, Facebook notifications, and other productivity killers.
- Freedom is a similar app that you can set up on your desktop. This app will block social media sites, blogs, email, and any website you choose for a set amount of time. If you need to stay focused for a few hours, this app forces you to do just that.
- Trello is a collaboration tool that you can use on your own or with a team. You create boards related to different projects and tasks, assign them out to people, and have discussions about the tasks within each card. This tool is free for up to 10 team members, and then you can upgrade to different team-level tiers.
- Asana is another project management tool you can use when working remotely. This tool is ideal for managers who need to assign tasks, track team progress, and review work before the project moves forward.
- GoToMeeting has phone and video options for professional conference calls. While Zoom is another popular video conferencing tool, the rise of “zoombombing” has brought its security into question. You may want a more secure conference connection for sensitive conversations or discussions about private customer information.
- Slack continues to be one of the most popular and useful business communication and collaboration tools on the web. Set up an account for your company for social discussions and professional communication.
- Teamviewer is a popular screen-sharing tool that you can use to check in on your team members and troubleshoot problems. This tool is useful for your IT department to troubleshoot your computer and even take remote control of your laptop to fix issues.
Test a few of these tools, or similar ones, to improve your communication and productivity.
Working from Home Takes Work
Working from home might be a nice break from the monotony of office life, but it’s not a paid vacation—you still need to be productive while working remotely to ensure your job security and increase your company’s likelihood of weathering the pandemic.
As with anything, working from home takes practice. If you can follow the guide above, you should see an improvement in your concentration, communication, and self-discipline while working remotely. With the right mindset, tools, and consistency, you can set yourself up for remote success now and beyond.