In 2017, a Gallup poll found that four U.S. employees out of 10 do some work from home, and the number of employees who are full-time remote employees is growing.
Without constant contact, mentoring and engaging remote employees can prove even more challenging than mentoring and engaging those employees with whom you interact throughout every business day.
Or is it?
Some experts say that managing remote workers isn’t much different than managing other employees. By building relationships and mentoring workers, you can develop employees and keep them feeling very much a part of the team.
Overall, businesses with remote workers need to focus on four key areas.
Set the same expectations
Remote workers need to be on the same page as in-office workers in terms of expectations and policies. The rules should be the same for everyone, regardless of their location, on topics including employee spending, vacation time, business trips, etc. They also need to be stated clearly. To understand how well you’re developing your employee, you need to know that you’re starting with a basic level of knowledge about the company and its policies.
Similarly, understand what each person expects out of the mentoring side of the relationship. Stay in regular contact without micromanaging, and understand how the employee is feeling about issues like workload and deadlines. That will enable you to find areas where the individual needs help developing new skills or overcoming challenges.
Build a relationship first, ideally in real life
One of the biggest challenges of remote mentoring arrangements is being able to build enough rapport so that the employee is comfortable asking questions. Another is getting to know them well enough that you can spot strengths and weaknesses.
A mentoring relationship is a two-way street, so it’s crucial to build a connection with your “mentee” early on so they don’t feel intimidated by you. One expert flew a remote employee half way around the world so the two could work together, face-to-face, for a week. That turned out to be time and money well-spent, as it had a huge – and positive – impact on their communications.
Build in more structure
“Mentoring relationships often fail because they can’t land in the sweet spot between overly casual and overly engineered,” one expert says, noting that remote mentoring relationships need more structure and communication than many business leaders think is necessary. Determine how often you’ll be in touch and through what formats. Maintaining that rhythm will help ensure that you’re communicating regularly enough to have an impact.
When connecting remotely, it is critical to have an initial agenda and a loose plan so that there is some structure coupled with the freedom to adapt. That structure may change over time, especially as the players get to know each other better.
Feedback and recognition
Creating systems for feedback and recognition can help strengthen both formal and informal mentoring relationships. One firm instituted “feedback Fridays” where employees and managers were encouraged to engage with each other and share feedback to improve their communication with each other and recognize both areas for improvements and jobs well done.
Overall, the role of the manager is getting harder. Managers face new challenges and need to be clearer than ever about the definition of success in the job and what it takes to get there. It also requires more effort to stay connected with people to get a true understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, the company’s basic core values should include assuming positive intent and having a very high ethical culture. When a company has remote employees, managers cannot monitor everyone’s actions. Accordingly the company’s values, which should be shared by its employees, become especially important.
For more guidance on how to develop and manage remote employees for your business, contact the Economic Development Collaborative-Ventura County. Conveniently located in Camarillo, California, we’re here to help!
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