How to Manage Remote Employees in The New Norm

For some, working away from the office is a new and disorientating phenomenon.  Thrust suddenly into a home work environment can seem as distracting as toiling in front of a giant movie screen looping Tiger King all day!  Between kids fighting, dog walking, isolation, and worries about the shutdown, your employees may find it all hard to manage.  

Last month’s blog, Munchkin Survival Guide: Tips to Getting Work Done at Homeoffered helpful ideas for managing workloads with kids.  But what can supervisors do to ensure that inexperienced virtual workers can be productive at home?

First, ensure your people have the right tools.

Remote work has key essential requirements.  Basics are access to hardware, software, security, and a place to work. Some companies can afford to give everyone the necessary equipment:  laptop, phone, subscriptions, and security and productivity software.  Small businesses may ask people to use personal equipment.  Whichever option you choose, you need a system that works for everyone.  Incompatible hardware and software could lead to big problems in productivity and security, so devise a tech plan that includes policies about shared equipment, security and storage requirements, remote access, and software standards.  Be reasonable; upgrading at personal expense can lead to resentment if you don’t explain why you cannot be financially supportive right now.  Be appreciative and transparent about your financial situation, so people understand that sacrifices are temporary.  

Understand that each person’s level of virtual intelligence is different

Makarius and Larson (2017) suggest that people have various levels of “virtual intelligence.”  In other words, some are better able to “recognize, direct, and maintain cognitive resources” working virtually.  Virtual intelligence translates to vital self-supervision, focus, and task-orientation behaviors.  Also necessary are the abilities to use software communication tools to work within teams.  Having these critical skills will determine how often you will need to supervise and control.

To effectively manage new home workers, supervisors should perform an individual situational analysis, taking note of personality and aptitudes, available technology, and the home situation (do they have a workspace, what work hours are best, etc.).  Then, call and ask: “what can I do to help you perform successfully at home?”  With a list of critical success factors, work out training and technology needs, goals, and benchmarks.  You should see higher levels of productivity right out of the gate for those with high virtual intelligence.  But for low or moderate levels, plan to check in each day to coach and review goal achievement.  

If you can afford it, invest in employee monitoring software for tools like time tracking, goal setting, and output dashboards to help you maximize worker productivity.

An “open-door” policy is equally important online

Connectedness is key to influencing how “un-remote” and successful a new at-home worker feels.  Checking in, and not just about work, will set up a personal relationship that will help you ensure a positive impact when you do need to coach.  

If people must be on-call, clarify timeframes, and require Bluetooth or phone availability.  Two-way communication goes both ways, though, so be available and promptly return messages so that employees don’t feel ghosted.  If time is a factor, match high-output people with less experienced at-home team members to create accountability teams so pairs can problem-solve first.

Re-create a positive organizational culture online

Without time to plan, company culture was the last thing on your mind when you sent people home to work.  But online learning theory has taught us that it is not hard to create a great virtual office community.  Here are three ideas to get started:

  • Set up a virtual break room or “water cooler,” so people can stay connected on a personal level.  Encourage them to support each other with tips about how they are coping with work and family during this stressful time.  A “we’re all in it together” attitude is far healthier than buried frustration with work-at-home challenges. 
  • In addition to daily contact as needed, schedule weekly team meetings so everyone feels engaged and committed to the mission.  Post the schedule, agenda, and preparation requirements in advance so people can closet barking dogs and keep kids occupied.  Keep sessions focused and short and limit interruptions.  Re-emphasize goals and benchmarks but ask for ideas on best practices for reaching them.  To keep information flow interesting, you can use different media, like posting video announcements or using web hosting software like Zoom for meetings instead of conference calls.  
  • Continue your employee recognition programs.  Execution happens when people feel valued.  Remember to take the time to show you care with written and verbal praise during your coaching sessions.  Consider awarding a weekly prize such as a gift card for ideas and best practices that help the team adapt and master virtual work.  

Finally, recognize that not everyone is cut out to be a digital worker.  For those who cannot adapt, this might be a time when you must decide whether to furlough or terminate.  Ultimately, be proud that in such a challenging time, your new remote employees are working hard to reach higher levels of self-motivation, time-management, communication, and technology skills.     


  1. Joost.  (n.d.).  Destroy the Hierarchical Pyramid and Build A Powerful Network of Teams.
  2. Makarius, E. E., & Larson, B. Z. (2017).  Changing the Perspective of Virtual Work: Building Virtual Intelligence at the Individual Level. Academy of Management Perspectives, 31(2), 159–178.