Published on May 21, 2023
5 Tips For Ensuring Your Remote Workers Aren't Slacking Off
Following a global pandemic-accelerated shift, remote work has become the new normal for companies of all shapes and sizes. For some business owners, allowing employees to work from the comfort of their own homes was a non-issue. They trusted them and were happy for them to have more free time and flexibility. Others, though, weren’t so content.
Productivity is understandably the core concern of every business, and every business owner needs to be able to rely on their employee's returning value. The issue some people took with the new pressure to allow remote working was that it introduced challenges concerning management and monitoring. When you’re in an office with someone, you can see when they’re napping at their desk or idly browsing Reddit.
When you’re running a remote team, though, you have no such insight into what your employees are doing. What if they’re slacking off while you’re doing everything you can to keep the company afloat? It’s a horrifying notion — but you don’t need to worry that much. Here are five tips for ensuring this nightmare scenario never comes to pass:
Establish clear expectations from the outset
From the moment you extend a job offer to someone, you should make it abundantly clear what they’re required to do (and what you’d merely like them to do). What are their goals, deadlines, and performance metrics? What should they do if an unexpected event interferes with their working process? You need to be on the same page at all times.
This can be tricky, of course. If you’re too strict about setting expectations, it can lead to workers feeling extremely negative about their performance (and even unmoored if you ever omit that information for whatever reason). If you’re too lax, on the other hand, your occasional crackdowns will feel oppressive and unreasonable. You need a comfortable middle ground.
Since needs inevitably change, you should schedule regular check-ins and performance reviews, giving you opportunities to explain exactly how things are going and what you need from your employees. Be sure to refer to your core employment agreement (this should be provided and signed early: a hiring and onboarding platform like the one from Remote can help with this), and keep written/typed records of the exchanges so key points don’t get missed.
In addition, it's important to be transparent about how performance will be evaluated. Make it clear what metrics will be used to measure success, and how employees can expect to be held accountable for their performance. This can help to prevent misunderstandings and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.
Use the right communication tools
One of the biggest challenges of managing remote workers is communication. Since you don't have the luxury of gathering for in-person meetings, you need to ensure you have the right communication tools in place to keep in touch with your team. Thankfully, there are plenty of communication channels available: you can send emails, use messaging apps, hold video conferences, and exchange notes via project management suites.
Because having too many comms can cause headaches, it makes sense to narrow things down to a core set of two or three tools. Don’t use Slack and Microsoft Teams, for instance, as that will be highly wasteful and lead to messages getting lost. If you want to use Google Meet, don’t bother with a tool like Zoom, because prospective meeting attendees will get confused.
In addition to setting clear guidelines for how and when people should use these tools, you need to make sure they actually like using them — or at least don’t hate them. When you switch to a new tool, give people some time to try it, then pay close attention to their feedback. However much you may like it, it’s probably not worth keeping if all your employees find it frustrating. Taking feedback and acting on it is very important.
Track progress closely (but not too closely)
Tracking progress is an essential aspect of ensuring that remote workers are not slacking off. It allows you to measure the progress of individual team members, identify areas of improvement, and take corrective action where necessary. Here are some tips for tracking progress effectively:
- Use project management tools. Project management tools like Trello, Asana, or Monday.com can help you assign tasks, set deadlines, and monitor progress. Just don’t go overboard with admin tasks, as that can end up costing more time than it saves.
- Set clear metrics. Stemming from the aforementioned clear expectations, establish clear metrics for success and communicate them to your team members. This will ensure they all know what success looks like (and what failure looks like).
- Use time-tracking software. Time-tracking tools like Toggl or RescueTime can help you monitor how much time your remote workers are spending on specific tasks. Again, it’s possible to be too specific about this, so be sensible with your implementation.
- Conduct regular check-ins. Regular check-ins, such as weekly or bi-weekly team meetings, can help you stay up-to-date on your team's progress and address any issues that may arise. Try to achieve the right level of formality.
- Provide feedback. Just as taking feedback is worthwhile, providing feedback to your remote workers can help them stay on track and improve their performance. You may not enjoy being critical at times, but it helps — and it’s satisfying to be complimentary.
You may have inferred a particular omission; that of computer monitoring tools. Here’s why: though such tools (along with browser blockers) are highly beneficial for parents monitoring their kids, monitoring employees that closely is awful for morale, a huge waste of time, and massively counterproductive. You don’t need to be peering over anyone’s shoulder: just paying attention to make sure they’re getting things done.
Encourage rich collaborations
While remote work can sometimes feel isolating, it's important to foster a sense of teamwork and collaboration among your employees. Encouraging collaboration not only leads to better work outcomes but can also improve employee morale and motivation. Here are some ways to promote collaboration among remote workers:
- Push collaboration tools. The software you’re using to track progress will inevitably provide many collaboration systems, so don’t let them go ignored. Tell your employees about the options available to them, and craft scenarios in which they need to try them (assigning a collaborative task in a given system can work wonders, for instance).
- Schedule regular team meetings. Regular team meetings can help keep everyone on the same page and provide an opportunity for remote workers to connect with their colleagues. The aforementioned video conferencing tools are obviously great for facilitating these meetings, but don’t force people to keep their webcams on: think about how rarely you stare directly at someone while having a conversation with them.
- Encourage social interaction. Remote work can be isolating, so it's important to encourage employees to interact socially as well. You can support virtual team-building activities such as playing online games or sharing virtual happy hours, or you can stick to encouraging employees to chat informally throughout their workdays.
Better collaboration leads to improved morale and better results, so why not invest in it?
Provide extensive support
Even the most self-sufficient remote workers can feel overwhelmed or discouraged from time to time. As their employer, you need to ensure they know you’re there to support them when they need it. Make a habit of checking in with your remote team members to see how they’re doing, and make yourself available to offer guidance and feedback.
If you’re not already having regular 121s with your remote workers, you need to line them up, but remember that they need to be relaxed. Touch upon work matters, of course, but be friendly and accommodating. Heaping stress on people won’t make them more productive, and being informal can help them open up and be honest about obstacles, allowing you to address them.
Another way to provide support is to offer training and development opportunities. This not only helps remote workers improve their skills but also shows that you’re invested in their growth and development. Consider offering training programs, certifications, or even online courses. If you can clearly chart their ROI, great: if not, they may still be worth doing.
So there you have it: five tips for ensuring that your remote workers stay productive. If you can find the right balance between cracking the whip and giving people space, you should find that remote operation isn’t the productivity drain many people still assume.