We talked about best practices for working from home, but what if you’re not only working from home, but you’re managing a team as well?

For many people managers, this has presented a new challenge — they’re managing employees remotely for the first time. But, for many other managers, this is something they’ve been experiencing regularly over the last few years as remote work increases.

Research shows that over the last five years, remote work has increased by 44%, and that number will continue to trend upwards.

So, what are some best practices to keep in mind while you manage remote employees?

Establish a Relationship Built on Trust

For many managers, it can be difficult to let go of the control that comes from being in the same office as your employees. You send a message on your Teams chat, and they don’t respond right away — what could they be doing? If you don’t have that foundation of trust, your mind could drift to the extreme — are they sitting on their couch watching TV? Taking a nap? — when they’re probably in a meeting or heads down in a project.

The fact is that remote employees are actually more productive than office workers, largely due to the lack of distractions they find from other employees in the office. However, when you work in an office with someone, it’s easier to establish a professional relationship with them. You have one-off conversations while waiting for the microwave, you can pop by their desk to say good morning, and you’re there if they need to stop in for a question.

Without the organic ability to build those relationships, you may feel disconnected from your employees — and them from you.

So, what are some ways you can build a trusted relationship? Here are some ideas:

  • Hold a virtual happy hour: If your office culture allows happy hours, ship some beverages to your employees, and get on a video meeting call while you all sip and chat. Sure, it’s not the same as being together, but it creates a more relaxed atmosphere to get to know your employees.
  • Check-in regularly: You should communicate with your remote employees just like you would in-office ones. Send them a good morning message, shoot them a funny or helpful article you came across, and check in after any company-wide emails go out to let them know you’re there to answer their questions.
  • Schedule regular one-on-ones: A weekly one-on-one meeting with your remote employees can be the perfect opportunity to get to know them better, ask any questions they may have, understand any challenges they’re experiencing, and check in on project progress.

Clearly Communicate Expectations

Clearly communicated expectations are important for any employee — remote or not — but they become even more essential when you’re not seeing your employees and the output of their work day-to-day.

As a manager, it’s your job to communicate with your team what you expect from them.

This can include:

  • The hours you expect them to work each day.
  • How they should be reachable (by phone, email, chat, text, etc.).
  • The goals they’re working toward.
  • Deadlines on any projects or deliverables.
  • How to communicate or request time off.
  • And more.

While you don’t need to get into the hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute task list they’re working on, they should understand what success will look like to you. This will also allow them to communicate what’s doable and what might not be doable for them based on their workload and work style.

Be Available

Just like you’re communicating expectations with your employees — communicate expectations you have for yourself. Let them know your regular work hours and the best way to reach you during those hours and before or after. Make sure they know how you like to receive questions — do you want an email, a chat, a text? And regularly remind them that you’re there for questions, brainstorming sessions, or just to talk.

Whether you’re managing remote employees in the interim or all the time, these three best practices go a long way in enabling them to feel supported, engaged, and productive.