The Future of Managing Remote Workers in 2021 and Beyond

Hiring Remote

After the year that changed everything, effectively managing remote workers in 2021 now takes a specific skill set and following these 8 best practices.


What does managing remote workers mean in 2021 and beyond?

For many businesses, 2020 was the year that changed everything. Though the trend of working remotely was steadily rising, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the transition and forced many into adopting a work-from-home mindset sooner than anticipated.

Now, after seeing all the benefits that come with working remotely, companies are taking a full-time approach to WFH in 2021. Unfortunately, a study from Harvard Business Review shows 40% of supervisors and managers have low self-confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely[*].

So if you fall in this category, you’re not alone. But the good news is that learning a few tips and techniques to improve the quality of your remote management can elevate your employees’ overall well-being and work performance from here on out.

The Future of Managing Remote Workers in 2021 and Beyond Means…


In order for your team to be a shining success, the future of managing remote workers means:

Learning How to Manage Yourself First

If you’re struggling with self-confidence, your first step is to learn how to balance managing yourself while supporting your remote teams. After all, you can’t expect your employees to follow your lead if you’re not progressing in the right direction yourself.

One of the best tips to manage a high-performing remote team is setting expectations early on -- both for yourself and your employees. 

This means everyone will know what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you. Simply outline a remote work policy that clearly states:
  • How work is assigned and deadlines are tracked/managed
  • Communication protocols
  • Remote work tools the team must use
  • Personal work schedules and “on” times
  • When/how to reach employees/managers
  • How sick leave/vacation days work  

Once you have this in writing and your employees sign off on it, you’ll have an easier time operating on the same playing field and eliminate uncertainty and anxiety. 

Understanding There’s a Learning Curve With Virtual Work

If you recently hired new remote employees for your team, don’t expect them to make the transition without navigating the learning curve that comes with remote work. 

Many people struggle with finding the discipline to ignore distractions at home. Others don’t quite know how to schedule their time. Even more have no idea how to use a remote tech stack of CRMs, project management tools, communication apps, etc. to their full potential.

Assigning employees easy tasks and partnering new hires with a “welcome buddy” are some of the best practices for your new virtual onboarding process

They’ll help your crew learn the finer points of working remotely, get them more comfortable in their roles, and empower them to use the tools your company invested in to improve overall efficiency.

You should also give them reading material about easing into their new remote work life. Here are a few of our guides to use as inspiration:

These best practices can help your team unwind the tangle of their responsibilities to ensure productive workflows follow.

Giving Everyone The Tools For Success

Don’t assume your remote workers have everything they need to get their jobs done; give them the tools and show them how to use them.

Your employees may have a laptop and smartphone, but do they have high-quality cameras and high-speed internet access to attend your virtual meetings? 

What if there’s a COVID-19 outbreak and their children need to stay home from school and use the family computer for virtual learning?

By allocating resources to give every employee the technology to get their work done, you alleviate some of these issues (and stress!). Depending on their job responsibilities, this may mean you need to equip them with a computer, internet access, VoIP phone, headset, ergonomic desk and chair, printer/scanner, etc.

Along with teaching them how to create a flexible workspace, you may also need to provide or direct them to tutorials about using project management tools and other types of cloud-based software.

Give everyone the same chance to succeed, and you’ll leave no team member behind to struggle.

Practicing Empathy

People all over the world faced extraordinary uncertainty during 2020. From the pandemic to market crashes and political events, they had to deal with the stress anxiety of things that were entirely out of their control.

Your employees may have been sick, lost loved ones, or had to deal with a partner losing their job. Couple these with the isolation and loneliness of lockdowns, and it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling excited and motivated to work.

That’s why it’s essential for managers to practice empathy. Studies show 78% of employees will work harder for an empathic leader[*]. Empathy shows you care about the person, not their output as an employee.

Opening up a genuine two-way dialogue between you and your employees shows that you’re ready to listen and truly hear what they’re thinking and feeling. You’ll be able to put yourselves in their shoes and understand what they’re going through. 

Based on this information and their perspectives, you may need to give certain employees more control over their workloads while others may need extra time between project deadlines. 

Once they feel heard and accepted, and you give them what they need to succeed, you may notice higher engagement levels and greater productivity.

Prioritizing Mental Health

Stats show 2020 was a record year for people experiencing depression, stress, and anxiety. Research revealed that 44% of those who transitioned to WFH during the pandemic admitted that their mental health declined[*].

Remote managers must be on the lookout for the signs of burnout in their team. Once an employee gets to this critical threshold, they’ll lose excitement for their job, stop caring about their performance, put off challenging tasks, and take longer to complete assignments. 

Engaging in direct conversations will give you a glimpse at the challenges your employees may be facing. And it’s your best time to ask how you can support them. 

In that same study, 38% of employees said their company never asked if they were doing okay, which caused further declining mental states. But more than half (58%) of workers felt comfortable with their manager proactively asking them about their mental health, and 41% actually wanted their manager to check-in.

So in addition to one-on-one convos, get in the habit of sharing helpful emails and articles that:

As a manager, you can’t have anxious, stressed, and sick team members and still hope for high performance levels. You must prioritize the physical and mental health of each employee. You may even want to consider creating remote fitness challenges to use physical activity to banish stress, improve moods, and promote more movement during the day.

Acting On Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I)

Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM) and anti-Asian violence have been shining a spotlight on the need for unity and DE&I in the US and abroad. But while you may be preaching this in your company culture and mission statement, your employees will be demanding you “walk the talk” and act on these buzzwords.

They’ll be looking for signs your remote company is committed to DE&I, such as promoting diversity in management, helping underserved communities during volunteer efforts, and providing routine bias training to employees to dismantle structural racism and bigotry.

Remote managers should also take time to learn:

Remember, DE&I also extends to the LGBTQ+ community, older employees, people of different religions, women, and people with disabilities. Be a leader and champion for everyone, and your employees will follow suit.

Continually Giving Out Recognition

Remote employees often feel like they’re working in silos far away from upper management’s recognition. However, we all desire to be recognized for our contributions, especially during challenging times.

So when remote managers make it a point to highlight team members for their hard work, it not only motivates that all-star, it also shows the rest of your crew what they should be doing to win this coveted praise.

A few ways to show your appreciation and make these contributions visible to the rest of the team include:

  • Shout outs on Slack or your other messaging platform. You may want to create a #kudos channel to call out employees who go above and beyond, then everyone else can clap them up too.

  • A Friday afternoon off for the employee of the month. Pay attention to which employees are putting in extra during projects, or send out a quick survey during your project’s post-mortem to see which team member your employees think was critical to the job’s success. Reward them with a few hours off to thank them for their hard work.

  • Sending out surprise gift cards or care packages when clients or upper management notice an outstanding job. Thank your team with these small gifts, and they’ll be more motivated to give 110% next time.

These acts of recognition and reward tell your team you care about them and believe their hard work matters.

Investing In Team Building and Personal Development

If you want to keep your employees on the cutting-edge and reduce turnover, investing in team-building and personal development is a no-brainer.

Personal development catapults remote careers. This ongoing learning creates more confident team members, and as a result, a more empowered remote team. Investing in employee development also enhances loyalty to your company and proves you’re interested in them for the long haul.

In fact, survey data shows that offering career training and development would keep 86% of millennials from leaving their current position[*]. 

Team-building activities should also be considered. Routine rituals that allow team members to get to know each other -- both in the work context and outside of work-related-activities -- boost engagement and collaboration. 

Check out our 5 non-cheesy team-building tips for remote employees if you need a few ideas here.

The Future of Managing Remote Workers Starts With You

While the landscape of remote work is ever-changing, remote managers must stay in touch with their teams and adapt as their needs and circumstances evolve. 

Follow these eight best practices, and you’ll find more confidence managing remote workers while encouraging your team to do their best and stick around well beyond 2021.

Looking to add more awesome remote employees to your team? Post your job ad on We Work Remotely, the largest remote work community in the world. With over 3M visitors, WWR is the number one destination to find and list incredible remote jobs!

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