Managing Remote Workers: 23 Strategies for 2023 + Tips for Hybrid Teams

managing remote workers
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Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys sailing her catamaran and hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

When people have the chance to work flexibly, 87% of them take it. This dynamic is widespread across demographics, occupations, and geographies. The flexible working world was born of a frenzied reaction to a sudden crisis but has remained as a desirable job feature for millions. This represents a tectonic shift in where, when, and how Americans want to work and are working. (McKinsey, 2022)

In a survey by FlexJobs, 56% of employees said providing flexibility was the top way their employers could better support them.

In a TINYpulse survey with 200,000+ participants, only 25% of respondents reported feeling like they are highly valued at their organization. In other words, three fourths of the workforce frequently feel under-appreciated! 

In a study of over 100,000 employees who were hired since 2020, there was 13% less turnover for those classified as remote workers. This could save a business up to $84,000 per year in replacement and productivity costs. (Gusto, 2022)

Are you managing remote workers and don’t feel like your team is firing on all cylinders? The following strategies are helping small businesses in a broad range of industries improve remote team management.

Because many organizations have a mix of remote and onsite workers, or have employees that work a hybrid schedule (our team at Swipeclock has employees in both camps), these practices apply to those models as well.

1. Be Proactive About Employee Engagement When Managing Remote Workers

This is the first strategy because it is the greatest challenge for a dispersed team. There is a well-established connection between engagement and key performance outcomes including profitability, productivity, turnover, absenteeism, quality and customer ratings. Thus, the majority of these strategies focus on specific ways to improve engagement, though we also discuss some important operational and compliance issues.

Daily Manager Check-ins

Engagement starts with frequent communication. Ensure managers talk regularly with their remote team members. Daily check-ins are a best practice for employees who are new to remote working. After a few weeks or months, managers may want to do them less frequently, but should discuss it with the employee. Some workers may wish to continue daily check-ins, even if things are going well. Others may want to do them less often. Be flexible.

The stakes are high when it comes to engagement, so never take your eye off the ball.

managing remote workers

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels

2. Revisit Job Roles and Processes

Analyze job descriptions, reporting chains, standard meetings, review cycles and other processes. Make sure they make sense for roles that are now physically distant from co-workers and supervisors. Be as clear as possible to avoid misunderstandings that might be easy to spot in-office but undermine good working relationships in a remote work environment.

3. Provide Flexible Schedules Where Possible

Traditional shifts had to consider commute times and in-person requirements. With a remote work culture, you can potentially offer flex scheduling that gets the job done while respecting employee time. For example, an accounting clerk could work a split shift that accommodates family needs without negative impact to your business. Workforce scheduling software makes it easy for you to create schedules that meet both business needs and worker preferences.

4. Offer Career Advancement

Career advancement has become a priority for employees. Mapping career paths and providing training and development can improve retention for remote employees who may not feel as connected to your organization. Train your supervisors on performance management and give them the tools to make it easier.

5. Improve Remote Onboarding

This remote working tip assumes you already have a digital onboarding platform. If not, the first step is to get a good virtual onboarding system. Then add the personal touches that help a new hire feel part of the team. Learn more here: Digital Onboarding for Remote Employees or download our eBook: Quick and Efficient Remote Employee Onboarding

Managing remote workers

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6. Provide a Virtual Shift Swap Board

A virtual swap board eases the scheduling burden for managers and allows workers extra freedom in managing their schedules. Employees can post shifts they don’t want and volunteer for extra shifts that become available. The team leader can retain the ability to oversee and approve all shift trades for their remote staff. Furthermore, supervisors who trust their teams can let them work out shift coverage amongst themselves. This is all done in a mobile employee self-service portal.

7. Make it Easy to Track Work Time

Toss your spreadsheets and hand calculators. Simplify and streamline timekeeping with online tools for capturing working hours. All you need is a web browser to access the time and attendance system. Employees can punch in with any web-enabled device and supervisors can monitor timecards on their cell phone or tablet. Time and attendance software with GPS adds an extra layer of timesheet oversight.

If you have hourly employees working remotely, automated time tracking is essential. But don’t discount it for salaried workers. Learn more here: 8 Reasons to Make Attendance Tracking a Priority for Salaried Workers

 

employee timekeeping

Web-based employee timekeeping dashboard

8. Set Alerts and Threshold Warnings

Alerts help you keep your labor costs under control. Configure scheduling and timekeeping systems to send an alert when an employee is approaching unplanned overtime or fails to punch in. Both of these problems can cause havoc with tight budgets. There are also compliance issues such as predictive scheduling laws, overtime rules, union contracts, and hours limits for certain types of jobs.

9. Track Time and Labor Metrics

HR metrics quantify how well a company is optimizing their human capital. You can track metrics for all core and non-core functions. This includes hiring, compensation, time and labor, training, engagement and retention. By running frequent reports, you can optimize your remote workforce.

10. Use a Compliance Checklist

Don’t let a distributed team increase your risk of a wage and hour violation. Make sure you are in compliance with federal and state-level employment laws. You can use our Small Business HR Compliance Checklist.

11. Do a Security Audit

Maintaining security protocols is vital whether or not you have remote employees, though remote working certainly adds additional risk and complexity. Small businesses have never been more vulnerable to a data breach. Seek professional help if you don’t have in-house security expertise.

43% of cyber attacks target small businesses and 60% of those hacked close their doors within 6 months. (Small Business Trends, 2022)

12. Provide Self-Service Human Resources When Managing Remote Workers

Employee self-service HR gives employees access, information, and timing control. Whenever they choose, they can login to a secure portal to submit requests for PTO, volunteer for shifts or update their information. Think about how remote workers can otherwise make requests or check information. They could send an email or text to their manager. And wait. All too commonly, they will also end up calling to be sure that the request was received, potentially causing multiple interruptions. With self-service, employees can securely access the information they need any time of day or night, and they can be sure that no requests are ‘lost in the mail’.

13. Train Frontline Managers on Remote Team Management

All managers can benefit from training that focuses on managing remote workers. If you have the budget, consider professional training. If not, start by ensuring your managers do the following:

  • Increase the ratio of positive vs. negative feedback
  • Say thank you to team members for big and small things
  • Tell employees they are valuable – letting them know when they handled a situation or a customer well helps motivate them to do it again
  • Set goals with employees instead of simply handing them down
  • Seek employee feedback throughout the process
  • Modify processes to accommodate asynchronous collaboration

Learn more here: Help Managers Support Remote Employees 

14. Provide Mental Wellness Resources

The prolonged COVID-19 crisis and related disruption has had a significant impact on our collective mental health. When it comes to mental wellness, remote working has been an advantage for some and a disadvantage  for others. For example, some employees who struggle with anxiety do better working at home in their own space. On the flip side, remote working can create feelings of isolation which can intensify depression.

A survey conducted by FlexJobs found that 76% of respondents said that workplace stress affects their mental health, leading to depression or anxiety. 

Compassionate employers are addressing mental health issues by offering resources tailored to the needs of their employees. Though every workforce is unique, the following suggestions from SHRM are applicable to most organizations:

  • Offer training that builds empathy and compassion
  • Be consistent and transparent in communication
  • Subscribe employees to a meditation app 
  • Host self-care training workshops 
  • Have leadership and managers practice vulnerability
  • Make employees feel comfortable taking time off (more on this ahead)
  • Hire internal coaches for employees (SHRM 2022)

15. Encourage Employees to Take Time Off

The increase in mental health issues for some remote workers is exacerbated by several months (or years) of skipping vacations. In addition, the blurring of the line between work and life increases the need for frequent breaks from work. The oft-heard phrase ‘I don’t work at home, I live at work,’ sums it up succinctly. Therefore, work to create a company culture that encourages employees to use their PTO. Furthermore, don’t expect employees to check in or answer emails while away! Leadership should set a good example by taking vacations and completely unplugging.

Software can be a big help here. PTO systems integrated with timekeeping provide a transparent, standardized procedure which makes it easy for employees to plan for and use time off. With 24/7 online employee self-service, they can do it all without the hassle, delays and risk of paper-based processes. Time and attendance integrated with PTO tracking saves countless admin hours and prevents payroll problems due to miscalculated accruals. There are important compliance implications as well, since PTO and protected family leave can overlap. Here is a screenshot of the time off request tool in the WorkforceHub Time and Labor platform:

employee self-service HR

 

16. Formalize Virtual Open Enrollment

Health insurance, retirement matching, wellness programs, tuition reimbursement and other benefits are a major investment for employers. A thoughtfully-designed virtual open enrollment process helps ensure your employees can use these benefits to improve their lives. Indeed, that’s the ROI you’re hoping for.

If your employees make informed benefits choices they will be better equipped to manage their health, finances and family responsibilities – and that’s good for everyone. Effective communication about benefits should be a priority. For a step-by-step guide to virtual open enrollment, see Open Enrollment for Benefits in a Hybrid or Fully Remote Work Environment.

17. Start an Employee Recognition Program

When managing remote employees, frequent appreciation is essential if you want to keep them engaged. (Or simply keep them, period.) But businesses are still underperforming when it comes to employee recognition. In a TINYpulse survey with 200,000+ participants, only 25% of respondents reported feeling like they are highly valued at their organization. In other words, three fourths of the workforce often feel under-appreciated! 

To excel at remote team management, make employee recognition a part of your culture. HR portals with a recognition wall allow managers or co-workers to recognize team members in a company-wide forum. If you don’t have an HR portal, start a Slack or Microsoft Teams channel for peer-to-peer shoutouts. Encourage managers and executives to lead the way. Remember, an appreciation program doesn’t need to be complicated to be powerful.

Social belonging is a fundamental human need, hardwired into our DNA. And yet, 40% of people say that they feel isolated at work, and the result has been lower organizational commitment and engagement. – Evan W. Carr, Andrew Reece, Gabriella Rosen Kellerman, and Alexi Robichaux, “The Value of Belonging at Work,” Harvard Business Review, December 16, 2019

At Swipeclock, we started a recognition program earlier this year. Anyone on our team can nominate a co-worker for the monthly award with a shoutout in our #HighFive Slack channel. Each month, we feature three of the employees nominated on our social platforms and announce them in our monthly company town hall meeting.

Employee Recognition

LinkedIn post featuring Swipeclock #HighFive winners

18. Create Collaboration Policies

To succeed as a virtual team, set ground rules so everyone knows what is expected.

  • Train employees on your collaboration software
  • Identify which issues require a videoconference
  • Outline an appropriate response time for an email, Slack DM or question in a project management platform
  • Teach employees how to update their availability status and sync it with your company’s scheduling calendar
remote employee management

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels

19. Step Up IT Support

If you’re like most small businesses, you have more software applications than you know what to do with. Tech-savvy employees have probably figured out how to use them and sync them so they work together. Others, however, may have only mastered the basic functions. Have your IT team train remote workers on each collaboration tool and data security practices. Many employees are uncomfortable asking for technical help, so have your IT team take the lead here. Another issue is internet quality – if members of your remote team have poor internet, explore options to get them up to speed.

20. Update Your Employee Handbook for Remote Policies

Managing remote employees is easier with formal policies and systems. Make sure all members of your remote team understand the rules. There are many variables to remote working regarding scheduling, job roles, project management, software use, data security, etc. In the unfortunate event that an employee (or former employee) brings legal action for alleged mistreatment, discrimination or unlawful termination, having a documented policy can help protect you. Of course, managers need to apply the policies equitably to all employees.

You can find a sample remote work policy in our Employee Handbook Template.

21. Start an Anonymous Suggestion Box

Seeking feedback can help you keep a pulse on your workforce and solve problems in the early stages when managing remote workers. You won’t know what’s going on unless you ask. An anonymous online suggestion box allows employees to give feedback and recommendations in a safe space. Of course, be sure to monitor the box and respond to requests. This includes making changes where possible. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose.

Discuss suggestions and solutions in company-wide meetings. When leadership works with employees to solve problems and improve the work environment, it builds trust and unity which can can improve productivity, engagement and retention. If you can’t grant an unreasonable request, explain why. This shows employees you are listening and considering their needs.

22. Level the Playing Field

This strategy applies to all orgs but particularly to those with a hybrid staff (both onsite and remote team members).  It’s important to understand that when it comes to career advancement, your onsite employees have a distinct advantage. This is especially true if their manager also works in the office.

For managers, face-to-face interaction with each onsite employees keeps them top of mind and they are also more likely to have the first pick of projects. Furthermore, they can leverage insider information from informal conversations.

When managing remote workers, be proactive about mitigating the disadvantages of working remotely on a hybrid team. Some companies default to remote-first practices for virtual meetings and encourage asynchronous collaboration. This means that onsite employees don’t meet in a conference room. Instead, they log into the meeting from their workspace, just like the team members working remotely. In addition, everyone collaborates in project management software that allows all team members to know what’s going on regardless of location. Managers should discourage onsite conversations that exclude offsite colleagues.

When managing remote workers, always be aware of the potential for favoritism. If your remote workers believe there is favoritism, they will lose motivation. Resentment can spiral into a toxic work environment, and ultimately, they may look elsewhere for work.

Remote/Onsite Equity

If you have a hybrid team, provide the same perks regardless of location. For example, if you have a monthly lunch for onsite workers, send a gift card to remote team members and videoconference them into the event. Strategy #22 discusses other ways to be as equitable as possible.

23. When Managing Remote Workers, Don’t Stop Mentoring

Many businesses are remodeling their mentorship programs to better serve remote employees. If your business doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, now is the perfect time to start.

How to Start a Mentoring Program (Sarah Kessler, Inc.com) is a good guide for small businesses. In addition, SCORE has resources for finding business mentors outside of your company.

Four decades of research leaves no doubt that employees with access to positive mentoring relationships accrue numerous personal and professional benefits. And when mentoring is a discernible element of a company culture, retention and advancement of talented new employees is enhanced. (“How to Mentor in a Remote Workplace,” W. Brad Johnson, David G. Smith, Harvard Business Review, March 22, 2022).

remote employee management

Photo by Vanessa Garcia on Pexels

WorkforceHub Simplifies Remote Employee Management

You can improve Human Resource management for distributed teams by following best practices, responding to employee feedback and using the right software. The WorkforceHub Time and Labor solution is tailored to small businesses and has everything you need for managing remote workers.

When people have the chance to work flexibly, 87% of them take it. This dynamic is widespread across demographics, occupations, and geographies. The flexible working world was born of a frenzied reaction to a sudden crisis but has remained as a desirable job feature for millions. This represents a tectonic shift in where, when, and how Americans want to work and are working. (McKinsey, 2022)

Resources

 

Top image by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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