How to Help Remote Employees Work Effectively

Michael Glazer is a Tokyo-based Senior Consultant whose client work spans 15 countries across four continents. Learn more about Michael here.

We're more than 18 months into the covid-19 pandemic, and leaders continue to ask me how they can help their team members work effectively while we’re all working remotely. It doesn’t come as a surprise given that up to 40 percent of managers say they have low self-confidence in their ability to manage people remotely. One factor might be that 54% of leaders use just one leadership style regardless of the situation.¹

Most of us at have at times felt some difficulty leading remotely because we can’t see what’s going on. So we ask ourselves, are my people working effectively? And if not, how can I help them? Maybe you hesitate to get directly involved because you don’t want to be misperceived as micromanaging. Or, you might hesitate to give more autonomy because you don’t want to be misperceived as not caring if you they take an approach that is too hands-off.

Getting the basics right is critical to giving employees – remote or not – the leadership they need to succeed. And the basics in this case is having weekly 1-to-1 meetings. Yes, you read that right. Weekly meetings. Because if you’re not scheduling time to talk, connect, get information, how are you ever going to solve this challenge?

 There are three things we want to do when we talk with people every week.

FIRST, set or review goals during your 1-to-1s. We’ve all heard of SMART goals and tasks. Make sure they’re in place and that you and your team member have a concrete shared understanding of them. Be able to refer back to them because you want to focus your precious time talking about progress – not on their activities alone.

SECOND, ask questions during your 1-to-1s to figure out how effectively people are working. Specifically, ask questions like “have you done this before?” and “what related experiences or skills do you have?” to find out if people have the knowledge and skills needed to achieve their goal. Also ask how questions like “how motivated are you to do this work?” and “how confident are you that you can do this work?” to understand how committed people are to completing their goals and tasks.

THIRD, use the team member’s answers to these four types of question to decide what they need from you so they can work effectively. The chart below explains when to use four basic patterns for to help people work effectively: direct, coach, support and delegate.

So, let’s say you’re a sales manager. You have a sales rep, and one of her goals is to use a new CRM tool to follow up on leads. She has little experience using CRMs in the past, but she is highly motivated to use the tool – she told you at the start of the quarter how important it is to her to meet her monthly sales target. In this case, we’d use a directive approach to help her work effectively. Giving clear, explicit, step-by-step directions about how to use the tool.

On the other hand, if we find out the sales rep is already using the CRM to follow-up on existing leads – and she is also using it proactively to prospect for new leads, then we know we can delegate, step back or even ask if she’d be willing to help out others on the team.

It’s important to adopt your approach based on the goal or task itself – not the person. That’s because someone’s skill level and commitment vary from one goal to the next. For instance, the salesperson in the example above might need a directive approach for the CRM and a delegation approach for writing proposals.

The thought of holding weekly 30-minute 1-to-1s might seem daunting to time-challenged leaders. But when done well, that 30-minute investment pays off by lifting your team members’ performance and engagement levels. And that, in turn, lifts your ability to get great team results.

¹Research data from the Leader Behavior Analysis II, The Ken Blanchard Companies