I think we can all agree that happy, content employees are more productive and engaged and care about the future of the organization. Direct supervisors can foster a positive work environment by effectively balancing the needs of their employees with those of the organization. But what happens when employees are working remotely and supervisors lose the benefit of developing relationships through face-to-face interactions with their team?
While working remotely offers a great many benefits, effective relationship building becomes more complex. There are some common themes good remote team managers use to establish positive manager-employee relations.
Lead by Example
Be a leader that earns respect. The title of manager or supervisor does not automatically mean your employees will respect you – you must prove yourself to them. Be visible to your team. Roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches with your employees as needed. Never ask an employee to do something you would not do yourself.
Be the boss that you want your boss to be. We have all had good supervisors and some not so good ones. Take the aspects that you liked from the good ones and avoid the behaviors you did not like from the not so good ones. Put yourself in the employee’s place and ask yourself how you would want your manager to handle a situation. Always take the employee into consideration in your communication with them.
Honest communication is one of the most important aspects to developing good employee relationships. Employees tend to respect honesty from their manager, even when the situation or conversation is not the most pleasant. Of course, there are things a manager cannot reveal, but a good manager strives to be as open with their employees as possible.
Avoid communication silos by giving the same communication to everyone. If one employee asks a question or is having issues, chances are there are other employees wondering or experiencing the same thing.
Listening is also an important part of communications. Let the employees finish without interrupting them. And always try to see things from their point of view.
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Respond to inquiries as quickly as possible, but avoid answering the question just to answer it and get it off your plate. Always strive to give the correct guidance not necessarily the fastest answer. If you need to time to research something, let the employee know you are looking into it and will get back to them.
Be available to your employees in a timely manner. Employees should not wait days to get answers to an email or to be able to speak to their manager on the phone. You may not be able to drop everything at a moment’s notice for them, but let them know you will be in contact shortly.
While you may have multiple projects in progress, your employees are a top priority so give their inquiries the attention they deserve and respond as quickly as you can.
Be Fair and Impartial
Be consistent with the members of your team. If you do it for one you should to be willing to do it for everyone. It’s human nature to like some personalities better than others, but avoid picking favorites and treat everyone equally.
Keep in mind, this doesn’t only apply to ensuring employees are rewarded equally. Be sure you are not asking more from higher performers than you do anyone else. It’s not fair to always place more of a load on certain employees because they are your highest performers. Giving everyone an opportunity to learn and grow is your responsibility so make sure everyone has an equal chance to tackle the tough projects. If you’re a health information management (HIM) leader, here are some ideas for "Career Pathing" Your HIM Department.
Get to Know Your Employee
Engage in one-on-one time with each employee. Use the opportunity to get to know them better – find out about their family, hobbies, and interests. If you have common interests dive deeper into that or research something they are interested in so you can talk about it with them.
It’s also important to know your employees’ communication styles so you can tailor your communication with them. For example, find out which employees are visual learners and which ones do better with verbal instructions. Know who is more open to personal discussions and which employees prefer not to get too personal.
Make notes about employees so you can remember the specific details about them. Personal connections are much easier when the employee knows you listen and care enough to remember details about them.
Give Credit Where Credit is Due
A manager or supervisor should never take credit for what an employee or team accomplishes. Recognition should be shared with everyone that contributed.
Recognition is an important aspect of a good relationship between a manager and an employee and one that is often overlooked. Take as many opportunities as you can to recognize good work. If appropriate, recognize the employee during meetings amongst their peers to build both the employee’s and the team’s morale and to give others a goal to set for themselves.
Engage the Employees
A common complaint from remote workers is not feeling like they belong to a team or organization. Many feel overlooked as individuals and may think they are seen as just another number on the company roster. In addition to feeling disconnected from the organization, remote employees may also lack a sense of connection with their peers. Engaging your team into an overall conversation or team communication building exercise can help foster a feeling of camaraderie and personal connection, and when an employee feels part of the team, their performance and level of engagement improves.
Need some ideas? How about starting team meetings by having each employee talk about something positive going on in their lives at the time. You can also use email to share personal stories in creative ways. For example, for Saint Patrick’s Day the team could share stories about something lucky that has happened. These types of exercises are fun and help to establish personal connections between the members of your team. They feel engaged and part of something. They may even make a new friend.
Follow up is critical. If you say you are going to do something, do it and do it timely. Employees don’t see everything a manager does, only what the manager does in interacting with them. They will remember that it took a week to get a meeting or response from you, but down the road, they are less likely to remember the reason why it took a week.
After giving instructions, follow up and make sure they do not have any questions. A manager should never assume that because an employee did not ask any questions that they understood the instructions completely. When assigning new tasks, follow up with the employee after they have completed the task to see how it went and if any questions rose from it.
One of the main reasons employees are unhappy with their work environment is dissatisfaction with their direct supervisors, and negative feelings have a way of spreading into relationships with co-workers and into the organization as a whole. In today’s increasingly remote workplace, it’s important for supervisors and managers to develop strong relationships with and among their employees.
These are just a few ideas of how to keep remote employees engaged, productive, and positive. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you – please share your thoughts and ideas in the Comments section below.