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Managing a team isn’t easy, especially when your workers are remote. Home-based workforces pose a unique challenge for business owners. You must approach managing remote employees differently than workers that come into the office.

We offer remote work options at my company, Patriot Software. Employees can work from home on their computers. We’ve set up processes that encourage communication between home-based and in-house staff.

When your team doesn’t meet in a physical space, encouraging teamwork can be difficult. Learn how to manage remote employees to increase engagement and productivity.

Remote employee management

Just because you don’t work in the same place as your team, doesn’t mean you can’t monitor productivity. Do these five things to manage your remote employees.

#1: Use video communications

Employee engagement matters, no matter if your workforce is in the office or remote. It’s especially important to maintain face-to-face contact when your employees work from home.

Remote work is often isolating. Using video can help your team members feel connected. Video calls let every employee play an equal role in meetings. With video communications, distance does not slow down decision making and progress reports.

Video lets remote employees see each other’s faces in real time. Employees can pick up on facial expressions and nonverbal cues, creating a more productive workforce.

Using video chat also encourages employee attendance. The employee has to be present for the conference call, and you can see where they are working. If there are a ton of distractions in the background, chances are they won’t get much work done.

Set aside time weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly to check in on employees via video. A scheduled meeting reinforces company culture and teamwork among remote employees. Workers have a chance to regroup and get on the same page.

#2: Set up a time & attendance system

Many work-from-home employees take advantage of the option to work flexible hours. Usually, in-house employees must work during your office’s hours. But, a remote employee can build a schedule around nonwork activities and preferences.

This perk helps your business attract and retain employees. Plus, flexible work hours increase productivity because remote employees can work around their distractions. One study revealed that 91% of people who work from home feel that they’re more productive than when they’re in an office.

Although remote employees choose their schedules, you should still have an attendance management strategy. It’s important to make sure that employees are putting in the full amount of work expected.

Use time and attendance software to log employee hours. Time management solutions allow employees to enter their hours. At the end of the pay period, employees submit their timecards for approval. You can then approve the timecards and run payroll.

Many time & attendance applications are offered as add-ons to payroll software. You can import information from time & attendance into your payroll software. The payroll history is automatically saved in your records.

Clocking in and out helps you accurately keep track of hours worked. It’s also a great way to stop employees from overworking. Sometimes, remote employees get caught up in a project and lose track of time. They don’t have other people around them leaving the office. Logging hours can prevent burnout.

#3: Share events on a cloud-based calendar

Teams are most productive when they can work together. Remote employees need to know what’s going on in each other’s workflow.

When workers know their team members’ schedules, they have an idea of when they can contact them. Employees can also see what is being worked on, deadlines, and company events.

Use a cloud-based calendar to schedule work activities. The calendar is on the internet, so employees can access it from their devices. Create color-coded categories within the calendar. For example, you might have categories for meetings, project deadlines, and time off. Employees can keep tabs on what’s going on and add their schedules.

#4: Create a virtual water cooler

Your workers are people, not robots. Interactions with co-workers make work more enjoyable, which increases engagement and productivity. Translation—happy employees do better work.

It’s difficult to foster relationships when everyone works in a different location. The “water cooler effect” gets lost, meaning employees don’t have a spot to talk about non-work related topics.

Establish a virtual water cooler for your remote employees. A virtual water cooler is an online space where home-based workers can interact. This provides a place for employees to connect beyond work talk. Casual conversations provide an outlet between tasks.

We use Slack at Patriot Software. With this tool, employees can create channels that relate to various topics. Remote employees use the channels to keep in touch and unwind between work responsibilities.

#5: Formalize your expectations

Remote employees tend to have a lot of freedom and work independently. But, they need some guidelines to keep the workflow moving. As a manager, you need to set expectations for home-based workers.

Establish the number of hours remote employees should work in a week and which days they are expected to work. Also, note if there is a certain amount of work the employee should accomplish.

Talk about your paid time off policy. In your attendance policy, let employees know how much time off they have, when they can use it, and how to request it.

Create a shared place where workers can find your expectations. You might upload an employee handbook to an employee portal. Remote employees can access the portal with a login.

Do performance reviews periodically to make sure employees are meeting your expectations. Reward workers who exceed your expectations.