3 Ways to Manage a Team and Talent from Afar

When the pandemic began, working from home seemed like a temporary solution. Now it’s a permanent fixture, as companies like Facebook and Twitter let many employees stay remote forever, and the research firm Global Workplace Analytics predicts up to 30 million U.S. employees will regularly work from home within the next two years. (That’s six times as many as did before.) “It’s been a forced experiment that has proven for a lot of companies that this can work,” says Paul Wolfe, senior vice president of HR at Indeed, the giant job posting site, whose 10,200 employees are remote until at least September. None of that should shock researchers: In the past few years, studies have found that working from home leads to higher employee satisfaction, lower turnover, and greater productivity. But new workplace settings come with new workplace needs. How do you recruit, manage, and keep employees? Wolfe, who previously oversaw HR at Match.com, Orbitz, and Condé Nast, explains.

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There are many benefits to hiring remote workers. You’re not limited by geography, which may give you access to a more diverse range of candidates, and you can hire based on talent alone…not whether you’d like to sit next to them all day, every day. But that means you’ll be sifting through many more résumés. The solution, Wolfe says: Stop being reactive in hiring, looking at candidates only when there are open jobs, and start being proactive. “So you meet a candidate and go, ‘Oh my God; you’d be a great addition to our company. I don’t have the perfect job for you right now, but let’s stay in contact.’”

Interviewing these candidates will also feel different; it’s harder to get a sense of someone without being in the same room. “You just really have to hone your interview skills to ask the right questions,” he says. Ask about how they set their schedule at home, including examples of challenging days. Another good question: “How did you and your last manager work out goals and objectives and keep each other updated? And if you saw a roadblock, did you raise the red flag early or try to figure it out on your own?”

Running a distributed staff means ramping up what good managers already do — which is to say, make sure everyone feels like they’re on a path to success. “You need to be really clear about goals and expectations, timelines and project plans,” Wolfe says. You should also be empathetic. Not everyone will manage their workload at home the same way, so you’ll need to learn their individual patterns and needs. “Always check in with them to ask, Is the work meaningful? Do they like the people they work with? Do they feel they’re having an impact?” Wolfe says.

Related: 5 Tips for Hiring and Team Building Remotely

The old workweek may slip into obscurity for some industries, Wolfe says. Employees might, say, take off Wednesday for a kid’s play and catch up on Sunday. This kind of goal-based work — as opposed to hour-based work — is something employees have wanted for ages. Companies have resisted it, stuck in their outdated office mentality, but Wolfe believes that the companies who embrace it will drive engagement and boost loyalty.

To keep a team on task in this new time-shifted world, managers should break up projects into short- and long-term deliverables, with clear systems to communicate who’s hitting them. “Giving people the ability to manage their work lives is a really powerful thing,” he says.

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