How to be a great boss for remote employees

Remote working is here to stay, whether it’s full-time WFH or a hybrid mix of office days and days at home. It means that being a good manager increasingly requires you to work with some of your employees at a distance.

Since the pandemic began, you’ve probably come across some of the challenges: a lack of oversight, staff feeling disconnected, social isolation and the distractions of home life. So we took a look at what some of the experts are saying about how you can address these issues and be a great boss for your remote team members.

Establish clear lines of communication

You can’t communicate too much with remote employees. Make sure you’ve got multiple methods of staying in touch – such as emails, instant messaging and video calls – with rules of engagement for what to use when. Erica Dhawan, an expert on digital teamwork, says it’s important to make space for quieter team members to speak up and to give extroverts an opportunity to sound off. She says bosses should learn to adapt to the different communication styles of their team, just as they would strike up a rapport in person. “The key for leaders is to create a digital environment that fosters and encourages a range of communication styles so that everyone can engage authentically,” she says.

Set up regular structured check-ins

Many of the problems of remote work – supervision, disconnection, isolation – can be tackled with a regular daily call. That may mean a series of one-to-one meetings or a joint Zoom meeting for more collaborative teams. “The important feature is that the calls are regular and predictable, and that they are a forum in which employees know that they can consult with you, and that their concerns and questions will be heard,” saymanagement experts Professor Barbara Larson, Dr Susan Vroman and Professor Erin Makarius in Harvard Business Review. Others suggest making sure your calendar is available to your team and maintaining a virtual open-door policy, so staff know when they can message you to chat.

Encourage social interaction

It can’t all be work, work, work. Be sure to build in some opportunities for social connection – the equivalent of those watercooler chats in the office. That doesn’t have to mean cramming social Zoom hangouts into your employees’ calendars. It might just be a matter of a few minutes of chat before or after your regular meetings. “Share positive feedback, open a fun chat channel, or try and ‘grab coffee’ together—whatever helps maintain a sense of normality [and] solidarity and reminds everyone they’re not an island working alone,” suggests Scott Bales, a vice-president at time management company Replicon, speaking to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Prioritise remote staff

Hybrid working creates a difficult political problem for managers: how to avoid making your WFH colleagues feel left out? Wayne Anderson from the Leadership Science Institute says the answer is to put your remote staff first. “Treat your remote people like they are local and treat your local people like they are remote. Give remote people as much access to you as possible. Remember, your local people see you in the halls, eat with you at lunch, stop by your office, etc. The remote people don’t have that access and can feel distant,” he says. He suggests making a point of responding to messages from WFH staff as quickly as you can, and making your colleagues in the office book appointments for your time.

Increase recognition

When you’re isolated at home, you can feel more vulnerable. Are you really doing a good job? A remote boss can address that insecurity by making time to give a shout-out to great work. “During periods of disruption, employees’ desire for being recognised for their contribution increases by about 30%,” says Brian Kropp, vice-president at Gartner. Recognising great work doesn’t just motivate the recipient, it sends a signal to everyone else about what you want to see more of. Use your one-to-one meetings to probe team members on what barriers they have overcome or who has helped them. Then you can bring these achievements to the team meetings and give them public recognition.