Talking, timetabling and trust are key to being a successful manager based outside the office

Traditional office-based roles are changing as working from home becomes an increasingly popular option. According to job site Monster, 40% of Britons work from home at least once a week – with 1 in 10 working from home full time.

Working from home can be a positive influence on people, with most workers surveyed by Monster saying it leads to higher productivity, less time (and money) spent on commuting, a better work-life balance, and lower stress levels.

And these benefits shouldn’t be reserved for those without line-management responsibilities: many busy, in-demand managers would likely benefit from working remotely, too. But how do you manage employees when you work remotely? Here’s some of the best tips we’ve come across.

Use the correct medium for conversations

Remember, even if you change your working patterns to include more time working remotely, your role as a manager hasn’t changed: you’re still responsible for nurturing and supporting your team. Technology lets you guide colleagues effectively, with at least four communication channels to use depending on the type of conversation you want to have:

  • Email is perfect for short, neutral interactions that involve objective discussions. You can’t easily pick up tone in a typed message, so emails are more likely to be misinterpreted
  • Instant messenger programs are good for general news and having group chats. If you’re a manager, you could even initiate these conversations to build team rapport
  • Video conferencing is best for longer talks – especially if it could be detailed, difficult or involve multiple participants. You can also see how the conversation is going by looking at facial expressions, gestures and body language. Liza Andersin, HR director of findcourses.co.uk, says: “Whether you need to see their reaction to a change in plan or are trying to judge their mood and morale, then a video will tell you a lot more than an audio call”
  • Finally, there’s the good old-fashioned phone. Again, this is best for longer, detailed conversations, and if you can’t have a video call

Ace your one-on-one meetings

It’s important for employees to know they have a set time to speak to their manager – and it’s your responsibility as a manager to make that happen regularly. If you manage your team remotely, there are two things you could consider.

First, make your one-on-ones longer than you might if you were office-based. If you all work in the same space, you naturally build a rapport with each other: that opportunity is reduced or removed if you don’t see each other every day. So set aside an hour to cover everything your employee may want to bring up, including what might normally occur in ad-hoc conversations.

The other is to not cancel a one-on-one. “One of the fastest way to build resentment on your team is cancelling one-on-ones,” says Andersin. “One-on-ones provide an opportunity to handle all the little things that build up over a course of a week. Pick a time that works for both parties and make them sacred on your calendar, but if you have to change, reschedule – but never cancel.”

Show trust in your team

There will be times when you’re unavailable, yet someone needs to make a call on a pressing problem.

So it’s important to give people in your team the power to make decisions on smaller issues if you’re not around (with you still having the final say on others). It can make them feel valued, and may also enhance collaboration with other team members. Showing them this trust will get people to do their best and take responsibility for their work.

Just talk

The common theme here is to communicate – and to do it well. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only remote worker or you all work in different places: getting to know each other will ensure your team meets the goals you’re working towards.

Simon Heath, who worked as a senior manager on a global outsourced contract (and has distilled essential management skills to just 25 words), says of his experience: “I speak with team members individually and get to know who they are, what their interests are, how they got there, and what their motivators are.

“I can then see what kind of communicator they are – whether they’re introverted, extroverted etc – and what their personality is like, so I can then pair them up with other team members to play to their individual strengths.”

Kate Turner, director at leadership development consultancy Motivational Leadership, adds: “When you have conversations with a team member about their motivations, you are sending a very clear message that you care. This is a leading factor in employee engagement.

“Understanding what is driving a team member right now (after all, motivations change through age and stage of life), means you can tailor the way you work with them to get better results.”

So talk about how that tricky task is going, the latest blockbuster film or the family pet: getting to know each team member in work and play – and communicating with them in a way that suits them – is the first step to successfully managing a team remotely.