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by Samantha Rupp | April 21, 2020

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As COVID-19 upends the world as we know it, companies have been forced to innovate and rethink the way they work. One widespread change occurring is the move to working from home. Although around 5 percent of U.S. workers worked from home regularly before the pandemic, that percentage has shot up as a direct result of shelter-at-home and quarantine orders from federal and state governments.

If you’re a manager, you might feel overwhelmed at the prospect of managing a remote team in these uncertain times. The good news is it’s likely your team members will be more productive when working from home. In fact, 91 percent of employees have reported more productivity when given the chance to work from home.

With that said, it’s still important to give your employees guidelines while they work from home. Below are the best practices in remote work management.

1. Create policies that apply to everyone

Your employees will quickly become frustrated if different rules apply to different individuals or departments when they start their remote journey. Make sure you create clear rules about what you expect when your team is working remotely. For example, do you expect your employees to respond to your messages within a certain time frame, 20 minutes or less? Or, do they need to respond to client emails within a set period, maybe within 24 hours?

It’s critical to document these new work policies so your employees can work remotely knowing the expectations. Send out an email with documentation and require an e-signature, so you know your employees actually read the new policies.

Here are a few examples of policies you should consider: 

Productivity guidelines: Complete X amount of assignments per day, send X amount of emails per day or finish X project by X date.

Availability: Set specific work hours employees must be online and ready to pivot projects or talk to clients or coworkers.

Workload responsibility: Set work amount for each month or week, but don’t overload your employees with unreasonable expectations just because they’re at home.

Responsiveness: Create deadlines around the time frame they’re expected to respond to emails or messages.

Procedure: Do your employees know the steps to complete if they’re missing something necessary for completing a work project? Outline all of the procedures step-by-step that they’re expected to follow so everyone is on the same page.

2. Relax working hours

If your business is structured for it, it might make sense to relax your work schedule so your employees can work when they feel best. For example, perhaps some of your employees are morning risers while the others are night owls. If that’s the case, consider allowing your team to work when they’re naturally most productive.

If you have certain business hours, you can create a time period where you expect your employees to be available. But if they’re getting their work done each day, let your employees work when they’re going to be the most productive.

3. Leverage communication tools

Communication is going to be key for managing your remote workforce. Make sure that your employees have easy communication channels to use. Slack, for example, is a great way to efficiently respond or check-in with employees during the day. 

Also, consider videoconferencing with your employees once a week to provide valuable one-on-one time and allow them to explain any issues or wins they’ve had during the past week.

If you’re unsure which questions to ask your employees during your one-on-ones, here are some ideas to keep your employees on track: What are your work plans and project priorities this week? Do you have any questions about any recent changes occurring within the company/department/management? What went well for you last week? What presented a challenge for you? Do you feel confident that you’ll meet your deadlines on time?

4. Use calendar and time-tracking tools

When you have a remote team, it’s extremely important to monitor work—especially if you have hard deadlines like an end-of-month delivery schedule. Use project management tools to closely track what work is being done. Project management tools will give you a high-level view of what’s in progress, what’s not started, and what’s finished—and it will allow you to nip any problems in the bud.

For example, maybe a project took longer than you were expecting. If that scenario occurs, you can move around other work and delegate tasks so that the team member has adequate time to complete a task that requires more resources and time to properly finish. But this will only work if you’re closely tracking your employees’ work progress.

5. Recognize employees' efforts  

If your team has recently gone remote, it’s more important than ever to make sure their hard work doesn’t go unappreciated. If you have workers who are going above and beyond, it’s important to show them that you notice. Consider creating a work-from-home employee of the month and encourage all your workers to take part in the nomination process. Not only will this give your department insight into what other employees are doing but will also give your employees an incentive to work harder. You can even mail out a small appreciative gift basket with gift cards, a hand-written card, and their favorite snacks.

Samantha Rupp holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. She is the managing editor for 365businesstips.com and runs a personal blog, sjruppy.com. She lives in San Diego, California, and enjoys spending time on the beach, reading up on current industry trends, and traveling.

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