As many transition to temporary or full time remote work, employees and managers alike are finding themselves trying to navigate the nuances of a virtual working relationship. And, as with any learning, there can be some challenges associated. 

When I started my role as Remote Inclusion and Program Manager, I met individually with many remote employees to discuss their experience. One of the most salient pieces of feedback, to my surprise, was the anxiety experienced over simple communication with one’s manager and larger team. 

In thinking about how to alleviate this pain, and solve for the scaling population, we created a list of common questions and concerns that are present in a remote relationship. From these questions, we created a conversation template for managers and remote employees to review together when an in-office employee elects to go remote or when a new remote employee is hired. 

The document guides the employee and their manager through a collaborative conversation that allows them to outline expectations for various facets of the remote relationship. Here’s what it looks like: 

Communication:

When you lose the ability to turn to the team member next to you, communication can easily start to fall through the cracks. Communication is central to success and it’s important to be intentional and set expectations at the start. A few questions to ask on this topic are:

  • How do we each prefer to communicate (channels, style)?
  • How often will we communicate?
    • Will this be on the calendar as a standing time or will it be as needed?
  • When an urgent situation comes up, how will we reach each other?
  • What channels will the remote employee use to get help?
    • If they are moving to a different time zone, how might this change?
    • Who will the remote employee turn to when the manager is unavailable?
  • Is there an SLA with regard to our communication?
  • When and how will we recognize that the other is stressed? 
    • How should we communicate with each other during these times? 
  • On what topics, and in what form, do we want to give and receive feedback? 

Work Hours:

In the office, we’ll often step away from our desks to go for a run, grab a coffee, or run an errand. It’s no surprise that remote employees want and need to do the same, yet, it can often feel like there is additional pressure to be “ready at your desk” as a remote employee. For this reason, we encourage employees and their managers to talk through these points to ensure everyone is on the same page.

  • Are we each expected to be online and available to each other during specific hours? 
  • Is it necessary to signify when we’re offline for a certain period of time? 
    • If so, will we do this through any specific method (ex: a calendar block)?
  • If the remote employee is moving to a new time zone, will they work standard business hours on their time zone or will they remain consistent with the manager’s time zone?
  • Does the employee need to log their hours in any specific way?
  • How should the employee communicate when they need a sick or mental health day? 

Work Productivity and Performance:

As a remote employee, it can be tempting to spend 8+ hours sitting in front of your laptop while focused on work. Use these guidelines to make sure you’re balancing productivity in a healthy way.

  • What metrics and results will the manager look at when looking at performance?
  • How will the employee know when they are not meeting expectations?
  • Outside of metrics, are there any other ways that the manager expects the employee to demonstrate that work is in progress?
  • Where will the employee be working (home, co-working spaces, coffee shop)? 
    • Are there any expectations around location in certain scenarios (for example, customers calls must be done from a private location for security reasons)?

Camaraderie and Team Connection:

Remote inclusion is only effective when it’s everyone’s job. Bring these questions up with your team to ensure that everyone is actively invested in making the team environment remote inclusive.

  • Will we use video for team and individual meetings?
  • How will we ensure that our remote employees can actively engage in team meetings? 
    • Do they prefer to jump in on their own or would they like to be called on directly?
    • Is it possible to have “all-remote” meetings where everyone signs in on their laptop?
  • How will we foster psychological safety and camaraderie within the team?
  • How will we handle team lunches/dinners/outings?
  • How will the remote employee connect with new team members in the office?
  • How will we as a team commit to supporting our remote employees?
  • How will our remote employees serve as a resource or leader to other team members?
  • How should our team Slack channel be used?
  • How will we ensure that discussions on the floor are communicated to remote team members?

Corporate Connection and Career Growth

In order to ensure remote employees don’t become siloed within their teams and departments, we encourage asking the below questions to strategize how our remote employees can collaborate cross-functionally.

  • Which departments and individuals will the remote employee be collaborating with?
    • How will they build a relationship with these stakeholders?
  • How will our remote employees stay up to date with company news and updates?
  • What groups and programs is the employee interested or currently involved in and how will they join or remain involved once remote? 
  • How will the employee go about networking while remote?
    • How will the manager support these efforts?
  • What are the employee’s career goals? 
    • How will we foster these together?

We know that the answers to each of these questions will look different for every manager and every employee depending on work styles, communication styles, role, metrics, and even the makeup of the team. With this in mind, we don’t prescribe or try to steer the respondents towards any particular answers. Truthfully, it’s less about the answers, and more about the conversation -  what matters most is that they’ve considered the possible situations and agreed upon the expectation up front before it occurs - and before it becomes a stressor. 

Originally published Apr 8, 2020 10:30:00 AM, updated April 08 2020