Many business insiders believe the 2020 coronavirus pandemic kicked off the work-from-home revolution. On the contrary, it merely accelerated it. Workers were already seeking more flexibility by the time the first toilet paper run hit. 5.7% of workers were already working remotely in 2019, and the number was slowly increasing (source). But there’s no denying that post-pandemic, work-from-home roles have been on the rise. In 2023, many employees assume they’ll be able to work remotely at least part of the time, and this trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
There are some major benefits to having remote workers. If you’re able to downsize to a smaller office space—or have no permanent office space at all—that can be a cost saver, and you can recruit from all over the world, focusing more on talent than physical location. You can work more flexibly yourself if you have fewer people to manage in the office. You become much more attractive in the eyes of potential employees, and you open your doors to people who may be immunocompromised or physically unable to work from an office.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t tricky parts of remote work. If you’re used to managing employees in person, you may be surprised at how rocky the transition can be. Keeping that in mind, here are five things you absolutely shouldn’t do to remote employees. Avoid these mistakes to keep your employees satisfied, your business floating, and your industry thriving.
Forgetting to Establish Clear Boundaries and Expectations
When it comes to work hours, everyone has different opinions about what makes the most sense. Some managers still want remote employees to work 9–5 for team cohesion, while others are much more flexible and don’t care about hours worked if work gets done. That’s a choice your company needs to make for itself. But no matter your decision, communicating those boundaries and expectations is essential. If you want employees to work from home during typical work hours, make sure that’s made known clearly and frequently. On the opposite end of the spectrum, work-from-home employees sometimes struggle with burnout due to living where they work. They may have a hard time turning it “off,” and you may receive communication from them at 3 a.m. on a Saturday. Communicate when you’ll be available to respond, and remind them to take regular breaks and stick to your agreed-upon schedule.
World-class technology is a must when it comes to managing remote employees. You may want to consider giving work-from-home employees a stipend to invest in great tech to ensure they can meet deadlines and work effectively. But a more basic step is to ensure your communication channels are always functioning and updated. If you’re going to be depending a lot on Slack, e-mail, and Zoom, make sure the technology you’re currently using can handle a robust amount of activity. You also want to have a plan in place if technology does fail—is there an IT person your work-from-home employees have easy access to in case of tech failure? Are you regularly keeping your communication applications updated? Can you be flexible on deadlines in case of a tech failure? These are all things to consider when it comes to managing work-from-home employees well.
It’s tempting for managers to micromanage their work-from-home employees. What if they’re just watching TV? What if they have a side hustle taking up all of their time? What if they’re completely slacking? But the best way to handle this temptation is to deal with it on the front end. If you only hire people you feel great about and people you feel you can truly trust, you won’t be constantly anxious about whether they’re working. Micromanaging employees completely kills company morale, and it’s also a suck of your time.
You don’t want to spend time analyzing every move your employees make; you want to trust they’re doing the job you hired them to do. Avoid micromanaging as much as possible, and know you can always have conversations about tightening the reins if you need to. Instead of being zealous about hours worked or processes used, try to focus on outcomes. If work-from-home employees are meeting their goals, that’s what matters, not whether they took a 15-minute break in the middle of the day to watch YouTube.
Leave Employees Out from Company Events
If you’re having a company event, don’t forget to invite your remote employees. If it’s a large event and they live out of state, consider paying for their transportation to your area. Employee morale and connectivity can make a huge difference when it comes to employee retention, and managers often simply forget about including their remote employees, as they assume they won’t be interested or able to attend the summer picnic or holiday party. You could also use technology so people are available to attend remotely.
Give In-Person Employees Special Treatment
Lastly, remember that just because employees are working remotely doesn’t mean they’re any less valuable to your company. When handing out big projects, rewards, or incentives, make sure you give your remote employees just as much consideration as your in-person ones. Consider sending out a survey to remote employees to get a grasp on how they feel they’re being treated; keeping it anonymous will help ensure honest answers. Prioritizing remote workers as much as in-person workers is an active process, and it’s something that’s easy to forget when there are some you’re seeing at the watercooler every day. But it’s essential to company morale. Depending on the situation and your state, this could even be seen as discrimination, and your company could face major consequences. So, if you’re bringing someone on in a remote fashion, keep equality top of mind.
Claire Swinarski is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.