Developing employees and helping them find opportunities to advance is more complicated when workers are remote. How do you provide equal opportunities for people who are fully or partially remote? How do you help them develop and sharpen skills when they’re not right down the hall? How do you replace the daily, spontaneous interactions that happen when people work in the same building?
When managers can’t count on running into employees in the hallway, they can create opportunities for growth and advancement in the following ways:
- Recognize the need to communicate expectations more clearly
- Build understanding and rapport by creating social moments for personal connection
- Provide concrete and focused opportunities for employees to develop new skills
- Demonstrate trust by measuring productivity, not hours spent online
Developmental interactions with your employees can occur via coaching or mentoring. Go here for a quick overview of how coaching and mentoring differ.
Communicate Expectations More Clearly
Communicating expectations means giving clear directions on tasks and projects and providing timely, candid feedback, both positive and corrective. That feedback should include an opportunity for employees to ask questions or request clarification. Ask questions geared toward learning what support employees need to succeed. In addition, make sure they understand your management style and all policies about performance, raises, and promotions.
Establishing a pattern of one-on-one weekly meetings gives direct reports an opportunity to share their accomplishments, challenges, and solutions to problems. Such meetings can also be used to re-prioritize tasks based on current projects.
Consistency is key, whether that means treating deadlines and other responsibilities equally for all employees or establishing clear expectations about working hours and availability. Employees will notice if deadlines, processes, goals, or other issues are handled differently for different employees (especially if some are remote and some are on-site). Employees should also have a clear understanding of how quickly they should respond to messages and emails.
One helpful tip: Before sending an email or written instructions, re-read it and ask yourself, “Could someone from outside the department understand what I am trying to convey?”
The key is to help employees—remote and on-site—meet their goals. Choose metrics that will measure progress and success, and ask good questions to understand why individuals made the choices they did so they can be encouraged to continue or to consider alternate approaches.
Build Understanding and Rapport
One key change for managers is that they can’t see what remote workers are doing. They can’t, for example, overhear a conversation while walking down the hall to offer some quick corrections or guidance. There’s no organic opportunity to have a short conversation.
Active internal channels, such as Slack, can help. In addition, managers should use regular one-on-ones and project meetings to understand:
- How each employee is doing
- What’s working well and what isn’t for each employee
- What the manager can do to help each employee, whether with a specific project or generally
- How the employee wants to interact and any challenges the employee may be facing
Because remote communication is more challenging, on-camera participation should be mandatory, and managers need to pay attention to employees’ personalities and how they communicate. Do they pause and think before responding? Do they need to express their feelings about a situation or task before discussing potential solutions? How do they respond to thanks and positive feedback?
In short, managers need to consistently make an extra effort to communicate with and manage remote employees effectively.
Provide Concrete and Focused Opportunities for Development
Coaching virtually or in-person is very similar, with one key difference: providing development remotely should include having a broad developmental network of contacts in the employee’s location to help the process.
For example, if the goal is to help an employee improve their presentation skills, a manager would want to connect the employee with a nearby training company or other resources to support that process.
For larger challenges, such as offering individuals new experiences on the job or a project that’s challenging, the manager and employee should jointly decide how to configure and manage the development opportunity and be flexible and creative about how to do that remotely.
Collaboration among employees with different skills can benefit all participants as they learn from each other; encourage collaboration when it makes sense. Such efforts can tie into a more in-depth conversation with each employee about what they want to learn and the new skills they want to develop. Then, create and plan together to help the employee acquire the necessary skills.
One way to accomplish this goal is to give the employee a project that will expose them to other leaders. Having employees work on a cross-functional team whose work would be approved or overseen by different leaders or having them temporarily transfer to another department often works well.
Demonstrate Trust in Employees
How do managers know when trust needs to be built with remote employees? These warning signs provide valuable clues:
- Missed deadlines
- Reduced contributions in meetings
- Caution when asked to provide updates
- Defensiveness when asked to explain the amount of work done or how they spend their time
- Resistance to change, even when the rationale is fully explained
- Complaints that on-site employees are more likely to be recognized and promoted
- Expressed concerns about the safety of their remote work arrangements
To build trust with team members, leadership needs to act with integrity and model the behaviors expected from all team members, including remote and on-site personnel. In addition, managers should define the four elements of trust, which everyone will follow when working together:
- Honesty. Integrity, no lies, no exaggerations
- Openness. A willingness to share and receptivity to information, perceptions, ideas
- Consistency. Predictable behavior and responses
- Respect. Treat people with dignity and fairness
Managers will also demonstrate trust when they concentrate on empowering employees to make decisions, take initiative, and grow and learn. Call it un-bossing: not treating employees like direct reports, but as adults who are eager and willing to contribute.
The Lindenberger Group can help organizations grow and develop their employees, especially their high-potential staff, and train managers to work more effectively remotely. For more information or to discuss your HR needs, please contact us at 609-730-1049 or send us an email.