The APQC Blog

Secret to Managing Remote Workers

Secret to Managing Remote Workers

Over the past year, APQC has understandably received many questions about how to manage remote workers. Early in the pandemic, questions centered on managing the logistics of getting employees set up to work from home and helping employees deal with work/life balance challenges. Then came concerns about how managers can support remote worker wellbeing and engagement. 

Currently—with many organizations planning to continue remote work post pandemic—there is strong interest in what effective remote management looks like minus the challenges of a major crisis. As organizations gain the capacity to provide more training and support for remote managers, they want answers to questions such as: What skills should remote managers have? Do remote managers need a different management style? What criteria should be used in selecting new remote managers?

These are important questions for organizations to answer and address. In a remote environment, without appropriate guidance and support, it is easy for managers to fall into one of two counterproductive traps. 
The first trap is to become a micromanager where unease about not being able to “see” employees performing leads a manager to dictate how work gets done, closely track activity, and offer frequent and unsolicited input. The second trap is to become an absentee manager where employees who are “out of sight” are also “out of mind” leading a manager to neglect to provide direction, information, feedback, and ultimately time for questions and support. 

6 Habits of Effective Virtual Managers
There are many downsides to falling into these remote manager traps including unmotivated employees and subpar employee performance. But, organizations should know that there is an alternative that virtual managers can and should adopt. This alternative is to be an empowering manager who draws upon strong leadership, communication, and coaching skills to:

»    Clearly outline objectives,
»    Explain the purpose behind objectives,
»    Provide resources to carryout objectives,
»    Allow employees to determine how to meet objectives,
»    Provide positive reinforcement, and
»    Listen and provide guidance as agreed upon/requested.

These behaviors are hallmarks of effective management in any environment, but they become critical when managing from afar. Absent these capabilities, too often, managers who cannot “see” their employees will feel the pull of micromanagement or be lulled into undermanagement.    

So, the secret to remote management is to avoid falling into the under- or over-management traps, to hone what are effective management practices in any context, and to use these practices deliberately and consistently. As we move past the pandemic, organizations will want to make sure that they have in place a solid program for manager training and development. Such a program can help all managers, including those who may have fallen into one of the remote manager traps. Such a program can also prevent new remote managers from getting started on the micromanagement or absentee management path.  
Solid managerial practices deliberately and consistently executed—this is the secret to successful remote management. 

Learn more about effective management from the following APQC resources.

How Not to Be A Micromanager
Promoting Performance without Micromanaging
Check-In Meeting Discussion Guide: Manager Version
Check-In Meeting Discussion Guide: Employee Version 
How to Lead Virtual Teams
Deciding the Future of Remote Work
Benefits and Challenges of Remote Work