How do you keep an eye on managing remote employees who may be miles (or several states) away? What can you do when remote workers need coaching, support, or maybe aren’t measuring up?

It’s easier for remote workers and managers to struggle a little or to start developing bad habits without the support and camaraderie that can happen in a face-to-face office setting.

Here are the warning signs managers should know, as well as strategies for managing remote employees to improve their performance.

Monitor Engagement and Performance

Employees who are less motivated to perform often start checking out mentally from the workplace. When managing remote employees managers should be aware when formerly responsive employees begin to drift.

Does the employee answer phone calls, or are more calls going to voicemail? When calls go to voicemail, does the employee respond in a timely manner? Are day-to-day assignments meeting deadlines? Is the quality consistent? Is an employee always leaving their camera off during meetings?

These are early signs that an employee may be less engaged. One best practice is to require that cameras be turned on during meetings. Another is to set clear, reasonable expectations for using communication tools.

For example, consider mandating that instant messages, such as Slack, should receive responses the day they are sent. Emails should be answered within one business day. Telephone calls should be returned within four hours. Remember to use the timing that best suits your professional operations.

Regularly scheduled Zoom meetings and virtual one-on-one meetings are also helpful. Managers should ensure that communication resources are available and that employees have opportunities to communicate with managers. In addition, managers should advise employees that they are required to be accessible during business hours, with or without notice.

At the same time, employers must refrain from visiting remote workers unannounced. Although the remote worker’s home is now their workplace, the employer should schedule a time to visit the site with the employee and avoid visiting for inspection or any other business reason without providing advance notification.

Employers also should not expect staff to work outside of normal operating hours. All requests to engage in work-related assignments outside of normal operating hours should be discussed. Employees are still entitled to work-life balance. Overtime should be requested by the employer or employee in advance when possible. Although employees are working from home, they are still entitled to time off and should be encouraged to take off even if they have no travel plans.

Understand Distractions

Office etiquette has changed for remote workers. Most organizations understand that employees on a Zoom call may be interrupted by people or pets. Employees may not have viable childcare options at this time. Many are juggling family and work responsibilities with fewer options and less support than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the distractions do not impact performance, avoid penalizing an employee due to the extenuating circumstances. Feel free to have an open dialogue and offer support and resources, as well as empathy. If the distractions are having an impact on the employee (or on co-workers during meetings), the matter should be addressed confidentially with the employee.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Employees should be held to performance standards while working remotely. Those standards should be comparable to pre-pandemic, in-office precedents as much as possible.

Working remotely is a privilege, even during a pandemic. Employees who abuse the privilege may need to be supervised differently. An employee may also need to be reminded that the remote work privilege can be revoked and that they may be required to return to the office at any time, for any reason.

Managers should clearly advise employees of the need to meet performance standards and business requirements. Employees must also meet attendance standards, and employers should provide a process for employees to verify attendance and hours worked.

Remote workers should continue adhering to a standard work schedule. For example, a person who typically works from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. is not authorized to work from 4:00 p.m. until midnight without written permission. Employers should set clear expectations and advise employees of the steps to request a change in schedule—or any other dynamic—in their working relationship.

Most importantly, employers should treat all employees as equally and fairly as possible. Make allowances when necessary and when required legally for special circumstances. Do not show preferential treatment by allowing some employees to get away with breaking rules that others are required to follow.

The Lindenberger Group can help organizations manage remote and hybrid (some workplace, some remote) set-ups. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.