Management and Leadership in a Remote World

January 26, 2021

In the world of remote working, HR and payroll tools make it easier to stay connected, track important metrics, and hold teams accountable.

Blog Post

Many organizations are operating in a “new normal” of a fully (or at least partially) remote workforce. But a quick look at the data shows us that remote teams are nothing new — COVID simply expedited a trend that was already well underway.

According to a recent McKinsey report, about 25% of employed Americans worked from home even a few years ago. The same report revealed that in April 2020, nearly 62% of employed Americans worked from home due to the COVID crisis.

The results of this large-scale remote work experiment have been better than imagined for many of these companies. Some even launched their businesses during the pandemic with fully-remote staffs, never having met their teams in-person. Clearly, there’s a lot of potential for remote work when executed well.

And while most organizations have settled into the remote work routine, it’s a shift that, understandably, many leaders weren’t prepared for — and some may still be working to find the best tools to maximize the potential of their employees.

Keep reading to explore a few tips and strategies team leaders and HR pros can take to support their remote workforces.

Streamlining Performance Management with Digital Tools

Going fully remote shouldn’t slow down regular check-ins, goal-setting, reviews, or feedback. Though these might initially feel more challenging and disjointed with a fully remote team (you can’t wave someone into your office for a quick meeting, or stop by a direct report’s cubicle to chat about progress), most of these gaps can be filled with the right set of digital performance management tools that make regular check-ins and two-way communication easy when it comes to things like performance reviews, goal-setting, and feedback.

Plus, the benefits of setting up a more formal, digitized performance management system are two-fold. First, you can keep feedback loops open and make sure your direct reports are on the right track through ongoing conversations. Second, you’ll have more data at your fingertips to help fine-tune your approach and streamline workflows. Plus, you’ll have multiple ways to record and track which goals have been met, review any feedback that’s been given, and keep better, more detailed track of each employee’s performance all in one place. 

Leveling Up Collaboration in a Remote World

Unsurprisingly, experience and research have shown that clear communication and face-to-face interaction are two of the most important factors of successful collaboration.

“Effective collaboration helps teams bond and builds trust as people get to know one another’s thought processes and working styles,” writes Rebecca Bakken of Harvard Division of Continuing Education. “When staff are able to build on each other’s ideas and play to their strengths, relationships flourish.”

But in the absence of in-person communication, how can teams create valuable remote collaboration? The Harvard Business Review recommends getting in as much face time as possible through video calls, “which are a much better vehicle for establishing rapport and creating empathy than either e-mails or voice calls.“

Not only that, but synchronous and asynchronous video communication has been proven to be more effective at capturing and keeping attention than text-only or audio-only communication. (Get our infographic on how video levels up engagement, learning, and performance.)

“Face-to-face interaction is information-rich,” writes Carol Kinsey Goman of Forbes. “We get most of the message (and all of the emotional nuance behind the words) from vocal tone, pacing, facial expressions, and body language. And we rely on immediate feedback – the instantaneous responses of others – to help us gauge how well our ideas are being accepted.”

Video tools can enhance the sense of community and familiarity while easing some of the uncertainty of not working in the same physical space as our colleagues. It can do so by giving us the same cues we would have if we were in-person.

Effectively Leading Remote Teams

Structure, support, and collaboration are key in leading teams remotely. For leaders who have found themselves responsible for managing a 100% remote team, the Harvard Division of Continuing Education Studies recommends focusing on creating a sense of cohesion and structure by zeroing in on ways to support team members, establish goals and accountability, and create frameworks to guide your teams.

Establish common goals

It’s critical “that your team has a shared goal (or goals) and a common understanding of how progress will be measured,” points out Rebecca Bakken of the Harvard Division of Continuing Education Studies.

Creating a shared goal — and enabling it through centralized communication tools — is vital in creating engagement, promoting productivity, and establishing trust among remote teams.

Create systems of accountability

Establishing expectations early on and providing project management tools to help employees stay on-track with tasks is critical from the outset with remote teams.

Additionally, team leaders can lean into centralized, automated solutions to keep their teams on track. Think: time and labor dashboards that automate time and attendance tracking, and give team members the ability to clock in/out, request time off, access checks, tax forms, schedules, timesheets, and more anytime, anywhere.

Engage in regular recognition

The staples of in-person recognition no longer exist for remote employees, which is why it is critical to set up a support and peer recognition system that can withstand the stress test of remote work.

“Employee engagement requires consistent, frequent action from managers and leaders,” writes Nate Dvorak and Ryan Pendell of Gallup. “Consider that your remote employees may be starved for recognition. A passing word of praise that may have gone unnoticed in a physical workplace can make someone's entire day at home,” they point out.

Make every effort to regularly provide recognition and feedback, both during your one-on-ones and team meetings. The bonus? Recognition begets recognition. When employees see managers calling out performance, they’re more likely to do it themselves. Encourage them to praise their colleagues’ work with peer recognition tools.

Learning and Development in a Remote Environment

Organizations simply can’t afford to push pause when it comes to upskilling and developing the workforce. To shift successfully, companies must embrace virtual learning opportunities.

“Digital and virtual learning programs were already on the rise before COVID-19 struck, and we already see a marked increase in such learning programs, which many younger employees embrace,” points out one McKinsey report.

The same report goes on to outline several best practices organizations can employ to maintain the momentum and benefits of employee learning and development, including:

  • Adapting delivery
  • Promoting digital learning
  • Exploring alternative digital strategies

“A key aspect of engagement is ensuring that employees continue to stretch and grow and that often involves learning and development,” says Charlie Chung, VP of Business Development and Solutions Consulting at NovoEd, as reported by HR Daily Advisor.

Practically speaking, meeting the challenges of engaging remote employees can be simplified through learning and development. The key is to organize your efforts, which can be done through utilizing a centralized learning hub or learning management system. Chung also recommends approaching remote learning and development in a variety of ways, including:

  • Providing courses that allow learning to happen over longer periods of time, which promotes retention
  • Giving employees the opportunity to practice and apply what they learn in real-world situations in the business and discuss how they’d apply what they’ve learned in their jobs
  • Holding employees accountable through mentorship of managers
  • Curating learning opportunities from a wide range of existing and new training content, including customized modules directed by an organization’s subject matter experts
  • Providing a variety of ways to learn, including videos, reading material, decks, quizzes, and more
  • Stimulate collaboration by “including discussions, sharing assignments, and providing informal and formal feedback”

Plus, beyond giving your workers more warm fuzzy feelings toward your organization, investing in workforce learning and development means employees get the knowledge they need to do tasks more quickly, take on more complex projects, and launch initiatives faster.

Supporting a Fully-Remote Workforce with an Integrated Platform

Though the pandemic has upended work life as we know it, many organizations are adopting new tools — or throttling existing ones — to navigate these changes and support their workforce and keep employees on the right course.

As companies and employees continue to embrace the “new normal” of remote working, the HR and payroll solutions that have emerged can help ease the transition while making it easier to stay connected, track important metrics, and hold both employees and managers accountable.

Download your copy of Deloitte’s report to see the how the right human capital management solution can offer potential time and cost savings in ten core HR responsibility areas, including performance and learning management.

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