Are My Remote Employees Actually Working?

Are My Remote Employees Actually Working?

While you’re stressing out about whether your remote is working — Why hasn’t she sent an update? Why isn’t she on chat? —your remote could be stressing out about whether you trust that she’s working. And ironically, these doubts could be taking up precious time and mental space for both of you.

Instead of letting your worry distract you and potentially harm your relationship with your direct report, or even her performance, take action.

What could be going on?

You’re falling prey to unproven fears because you can’t see your remote working, are new to managing remotes, or have been burned by remotes in the past.

The person is, in fact, getting plenty done but not updating you to the extent that you want.

Poor communication tools (or poor use of them) is making it hard for you to keep tabs on the person’s output.

You haven’t provided the person with enough guidance — maybe because it’s hard to do so over chat or video — resulting in work that’s incomplete or disappointing.

The person really isn’t working enough or to a high enough standard.

How to handle it:

  1. Focus on what your remote has accomplished, not on whether you can see him or her accomplishing it.

Remote team members force managers to confront the extent to which they’ve been letting sheer face time bias their views of a direct report’s productivity. Seeing a co-located direct report work late or through lunch, for example, doesn’t actually say much about her efficiency. Yet it could lead you to think she’s getting more done than a remote team member — someone whose effort isn’t visible to you.

To fight this potential bias, make a list of what your remote has accomplished in the last month or quarter. Don’t rely on your memory, which is prone to highlight and corroborate your fears. Instead, objectively assemble the facts: Go back to old emails, lists of goals from planning meetings and performance reviews, and task updates in project management tools.

If you do uncover evidence of underperformance, you’ll need to address the cause, whether it’s a motivation issue or skill gap.

  1. Take steps to build trust and rapport with your remote direct report.

If you don’t trust your remote, it’s all too easy to use the physical distance as an excuse to disengage with the person. Maybe you delegate fewer assignments, check in less frequently, or hold off on providing tough feedback or development opportunities.

To build or rebuild trust with your remote, try:

Getting to know your remote better. Maybe you reserve the first 5 minutes of every 1-on-1 for informal chatting and check in on how being remote is working out for the person: “How are you handling the lack of separation between home and work? Do you have something that helps you decompress?”

Asking your remote for feedback on what you could do better as a manager. When you ask your remote in a genuine way, it sends a signal that you value her opinion

  1. Seek and apply insights from peer managers who have remote team members.

Every organization has its own culture around remote work. To better navigate yours, turn to the knowledge bank that’s already all around you: your peers.

Try out what seems relevant to your situation and reinforce effective management practices across your organization.

  1. Clarify and align your performance expectations with your remote.

What if your remote thinks his or her work is exactly what you’re looking for — when it’s not? This is more common than you might think.

The problem often lies in how you’ve set and enforced (or failed to set and enforce) performance expectations, which can be especially tricky with remotes.

In addition to going over instructions carefully with your remote, try:

Using visual aids. Think slide decks, images, mock-ups, and spreadsheets — anything to help direct reports literally see what you mean when you’re giving instructions.

Probing for input and understanding. This is especially important during chat or phone conversations. Try asking questions like, “Does this approach feel doable to you, given what I’m asking for and your other responsibilities?” or “What do you think will be most challenging about this project?”

Following up. Since remotes can’t tap you on the shoulder for a quick reminder, be sure to send a written recap of what you both discussed, both so your remote has an opportunity to clear up misunderstandings and so you have a written record you can refer to in the future to gauge progress.

To set and uphold expectations around how, and how often, your remote provides progress reports, consider:

The frequency and level of detail you want in 1-on-1 updates. Depending on your situation, you could ask for a status update each morning, or weekly, or whenever your remote hits a milestone in the work. It could be a brief email or call with highlights, or an in-depth report.

  1. Make check-ins more interactive — for example, have your remote screen-share work.

Maybe you need to see a remote’s work, not just hear about it, to take the guesswork out of what the person is getting done. And when you visually review work together during a check-in, you create the opportunity for a back-and-forth discussion that can be used for feedback, coaching, and development. Screen-sharing could also circumvent cultural or language barriers. There’s less to interpret if you’re both looking at the same thing, versus inferring progress from tone and your or your remote’s understanding of a second language.

If you’ll need time to review the work before the check-in, be sure you give your remote enough advance notice.

And my last tip that is THE ONE thing that changes everything is the trust.

In this time of change, crisis and uncertainty, the greatest assets and security any leader has in their credibility. The greatest currency they have is the trust people have in them.

Trust in an accelerator, so if you have to focus on anything it is going to be on trust.

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