Managing Remote Employees

culture building harmony human resources management organizational culture remote work strategic management working remotely May 25, 2021
Managing Remote Employees

Managing remote employees is a new challenge for many nonprofits that traditionally provide onsite services. For many nonprofits, in-person group activities, sharing a common purpose, sharing office space, staff meetings, and supervisory sessions are essential to staff management and culture-building.

This is Part 4 of an ongoing special series of articles aimed to help nonprofits to transition their work into virtual spaces.

Sharing a work space inevitably results in spontaneous socializing that creates a sense of connectivity at work. In a remote setting, though, employee supervision and engagement have to be more intentional. As with any other work function and activity in a remote setting, you will find that culture-building and supervision are much more labor-intensive online than in-person. The following are some effective strategies for managing remote employees and making everyone feel connected to the organization. 

Team-Building Activities

Team building activities should become a regular practice in managing remote teams. Working remotely can feel isolating and lonely. Employees inevitably miss the emotional connection that employees develop while working onsite. Virtual work teams that do not feel connected can leave employees feeling undervalued. Thus, incorporate icebreakers into meetings. Also, incorporate video and non-video games into activities. Other fun activities can also be scheduled like virtual trips and activities on a shared screen to places like the theatre or museums since many of these places around the world are offering free entrance for everyone. 

Schedule co-working activities that allow people to connect. Schedule shared lunch hours where people can eat together. Some organizations also block out a joint working time where everyone works on their projects while on the same communication platform (e.g., Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Slack, etc.). 

Organize Purposeful and Efficient Meetings

Make sure that every meeting is designed to be time efficient; communicates concrete and relevant information; and ends with action items. Although this is a good practice to maintain regularly, it is much more important in a remote setting. All materials should be made available beforehand to participants via email, in chat functions, or in a shared drive. Staff meetings should cover big-picture issues, so everyone can share what they are doing, understand what their roles are, and learn about the achievements and challenges of the organization. Small sub-committee meetings should be scheduled to follow up with any action items from larger meetings. The output of these meetings should then be reported back to the larger group when it reconvenes.  

Regularly schedule both group supervisory check-ins and individual check-ins. These meetings are key to managing remote employees. They provide an opportunity to troubleshoot, commend staff members on their work, provide feedback, and remind people of how their work is tied to the organization’s objectives.

Regular check-ins also create multiple touchpoints of communication that help supervisors monitor the evolution of staff dynamics. Unlike in person where you have a first-hand view of how employee relations are evolving, online there are few opportunities for informal mediation. Employees also have much more time to replay and aggrandize incidents in the privacy of their own homes. These meetings provide an ongoing touchpoint of communication that allows supervisors managing remote employees to de-escalate problematic relationships and track pressure points that are under too much stress.

Regular check-ins allow supervisors to monitor the efficacy of communication systems in order to minimize people being left out of the loop. It is essential to vigilantly monitor the information flow in the organization to ensure progress on the organization’s mission and that everyone has the tools they need to do their jobs. When communication breakdowns occur, it is important to immediately troubleshoot. Otherwise, employees are unable to perform their jobs effectively, and they do not feel respected or connected to the organization’s mission.

Managing remote employees requires establishing a balance between meetings and work time. If meetings are scheduled without purpose, do not focus on problem-solving, are too frequent, go for too long, or do not allow employees to schedule blocks of work time, they inevitably feel overwhelmed and underperform. They end up feeling like they are being impeded from doing their jobs because they are wasting their time in unnecessary meetings. In nonprofits, in particular, when employees feel like they can’t fulfill their responsibilities to the organization’s clients, they inevitably begin to feel disconnected from the organization’s mission. Thus, allowing employees to work purposefully is essential.

Use Program Management Software

Utilize an easy-to-use program management software that does not consume everyone’s time filling out documentation. The information that should be shared should include the group project, assignments, a timeline of progression, task assignments for staff, date-stamped updates, and next steps. Project software will allow you to also limit confidential information for relevant individuals. Also, choose software that does not force employees to spend more time documenting their work than actually doing it. It should also be compatible with any mandated reporting system the organization must use to report to the government.

Align Work With Organizational Plan

Implement or develop a cohesive and cogent organizational work plan with objectives for each department with regular check-ins and opportunities for modification. If you have a strategic plan, this is the moment to make sure everyone is really familiar with it and it is visible to everyone. If not, develop departmental work plans with quarterly objectives. Ideally, you should hold regularly scheduled bi-weekly, monthly, or quarterly sessions where one employee provides an in-depth overview of their work and how their work is advancing the plan. 

Focus on self-care

Practice self-care and make sure employees do not over-extend themselves. Working from a remote setting is much more labor intensive. You are able to focus better, get more work done, and devote more time to your work. As a result, employees who are not paying attention to how they are managing their time can easily find themselves working 12-hour days and constantly checking their emails. This is attributable to the fact that the line between their personal life and work life are blurred. Supervisors should inquire specifically during supervision sessions what employees are doing to set boundaries between work and personal time.

For employees that provide mental health, counseling, clinical, or other potentially emotionally taxing professions, supervisors should check in with employees regularly to monitor:

  • How they are doing?
  • How they are internalizing the situations they are confronting with clients?
  • Whether they are accessing support as required?
  • Whether they are maintaining healthy therapeutic boundaries?
  • Whether they are practicing mindfulness?
  • Whether they are debriefing with colleagues regularly?

This helps employees connect to the organization and other people. 

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If you would like to schedule a pro-bono nonprofit session with me to facilitate the transition for remote workers, please email [email protected] with the heading “COVID-19 #Pro-bono.” I will be happy to help you during this very difficult time.


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