How to set employee expectations for remote work

Marlo Oster
September 13, 2022
6
Minutes

Remote work is no longer a new concept, but just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean everyone understands and follows the expectations of their remote role. Working from anywhere provides added freedom, but that freedom can cause confusion if managers are not clear and transparent about what’s expected from each employee. Let’s discuss the value of remote work, the importance of setting clear expectations, and how to set employee expectations for remote workers, including current and new hires. 

Benefits of embracing remote work

Before we jump into all that can go wrong if remote expectations are not managed, let’s refresh ourselves on the positive aspects and undeniable value of remote work. 

Widen your pool of available candidates for any given hire

One of the largest benefits of remote work is the fact that your talent pool is no longer limited to the candidates who live close to your place of business. You can now choose the most qualified candidate from anywhere in the country or even around the world. 

This opens up many doors for your hiring team and removes any limitations you may have had when trying to recruit local talent. 

Increase the diversity and viewpoints of your workplace 

Pulling from a wider talent pool, whether nationally or globally, helps to build a diverse workforce. You’ll have more experiences and viewpoints on your team, which helps contribute to new ideas and innovation. 

Additionally, spreading your workforce across multiple time zones can help bring your customers direct services for longer hours. 

Reduce supply and operational costs

Paying for office space is a huge expense for businesses. With employees working from home, that cost is eliminated or drastically reduced. Even if you provide employees with financial support to set up their own workplace, it’s still much less than what it would cost to rent and maintain a physical workspace. 

Give employees the freedom they desire

The unexpected jump to remote work during the pandemic gave many employees a taste of remote work for the first time. They were able to work from home and other offsite locations, and many grew to depend on that freedom. Many employees are now used to the freedom of remote work and, for the most part, don’t want to lose the flexibility it brings. 

Offering remote work lets employees work however they work best, and it shows your team you trust them to complete their work without you micromanaging them at all times. This increased flexibility leads to better work-life balance, which is something many employees are not willing to give up post-pandemic. 

Why you need to set expectations

Clear expectations are essential for any business, but they are all the more important to remote workers who complete work while physically isolated from their teammates. A hybrid work model, in which some employees work remotely and others go into the office, can cause even more confusion around expectations for team members. How do you arrange meetings with employees in different locations? How is rapport built between team members in the office and those who work from home? 

As a manager, there’s a lot on your plate, and you need to balance trusting your employees with ensuring the job gets done efficiently and effectively. 

So, what are some of the largest consequences of not setting remote work expectations?

Not setting expectations leads to micromanaging

Without clear expectations in place, managers are forced to step in, again and again, to give instructions and answer clarifying questions. While the manager is there to answer any questions an employee may have, these interruptions can be mitigated with clear instructions and forward-thinking. 

Whether they intend to or not, when employees don’t have a clear direction, managers begin to micromanage. This could mean repeating the same instructions over and over again, checking in too often without allowing employees to take the reins, or taking on any work that an employee is unclear about or is struggling to finish. 

📚 Worried you might be a micromanager? Here are 9 Signs of Micromanagement Behavior.

While micromanaging offers a quick fix, it’s not sustainable—it leads to stress and burnout for managers, and it makes employees feel as though they are not trusted to complete their own work. This creates dependencies on the manager while also making direct reports feel less valued. If allowed to continue, an environment of micromanagement will stifle motivation, morale, and enthusiasm for the job. 

💡 Want to ensure you don’t become a micromanager? Learn how to become a macromanager instead with our guide: Unlearning micromanagement: How to become a better leader with macromanagement.

Not setting expectations causes misunderstandings and conflict

When employees don’t have clear instructions or expectations, they are left guessing. A manager’s idea of what’s expected may be completely different than an employee’s, which can cause misunderstandings. An employee might underdeliver without understanding they are doing so, or they may work in a constant state of stress trying to overdeliver to make up for the lack of clarity. 

Misunderstandings, and in some cases, even conflict, can arise between team members when each has a different idea of what’s expected from their roles. This puts strain on team relationships and prevents trust from developing between team members. 

Not setting expectations puts pressure on employees

When employees don’t understand the scope of their role or what is required of them, they need to fill in the blanks themselves, which can lead to increased stress and burnout. In addition to being confusing, this puts extra and unnecessary pressure on the employee to determine what their manager and the business as a whole is looking for. 

Direct reports may choose the wrong tasks to focus on or make poor communication choices since they were never given clear instructions on how to best communicate remotely. There’s enough work to go around as it is without wasting time on aspects of the job that aren’t important. As a manager, you can ease this strain by being clear and transparent about what you expect from each individual team member. 

How to set remote work expectations for current employees

Be honest and transparent about your expectations

It may sound a bit obvious, but all too often, we aren’t clear about what we expect. As a manager, it’s up to you to lead with transparency and clarity. Your direct reports cannot read your mind, and keeping your expectations to yourself will only lead to disappointment and more work for you, as you will constantly need to redirect your team members. 

The more honest and transparent you are, the more trust you will build with your team. They won’t have to wonder if you have an ulterior motive or decipher your hidden meaning. They will know you mean what you say and trust that if there’s ever a problem or concern, you will be open about it and work through it together. 

Check in regularly with consistent one on one meetings

One on one meetings are an ideal opportunity to connect directly with each of your direct reports. They allow you to have private conversations around how the employee is currently performing within their role, how they feel about their placement within the team, and what their short and long term goals are. 

If your own expectations do not align with theirs, this will become clear during your one on one time. You can tactfully direct your team members towards the goals you have for them and how they can help the company reach its larger objectives. 

One on one meetings are most effective when they are regularly scheduled so that employees can anticipate and prepare for the meeting. When set sporadically, your direct reports may wonder if something is wrong when called into a one on one meeting with their manager, which will cause them to go into the meeting nervous and with their guard up. Choose a regular cadence for your one on ones that makes sense for the size and needs of your team. 

📚 Learn how to choose the right meeting cadence for your 1:1 meetings

During the meeting, ask a variety of questions—some that are lighthearted and meant to build rapport, and others that dig deeper into how an employee is feeling about their work. Ensure you leave plenty of time for them to ask you any questions they have as well. 

📚 Learn more in our guide: one on one questions you should avoid (and what to ask instead).

Provide (and ask for) constructive feedback

When constructive and regularly provided, feedback is an incredibly valuable tool. Instead of getting upset or judging a direct report for not meeting your expectations, you can use constructive feedback to help them grow and succeed in their role. Plus, this gives your remote employees a chance for some face-to-face time when they otherwise might be feeling isolated in their work. 

Ensure your feedback is always constructive and that you also share what you think the team member is doing well. One on one meetings are an ideal time for this feedback since you don’t want to center anyone out in front of their peers. 

Be sure to ask for feedback on your own managerial style. What is working, and what could you be doing better? How can you better support your team?

📚 Read our guide to constructive feedback

Differentiate between synchronous and asynchronous communication

Remote teams require specific protocols around communication expectations. Although remote work tools, such as Slack, Zoom, and Hangouts, provide remote and hybrid teams the ability to communicate from anywhere, they can also be the cause of constant interruptions. Ensure your team is able to differentiate between communication types and that they are able to make smart decisions about how and when they communicate. 

Synchronous communication occurs in real-time, with examples being videoconferencing, phone calls, and Slack conversations. This type of communication will interrupt fellow teammates and could completely derail their focus. Asynchronous communication happens separately and not in real-time, such as email, voice messages, and Slack messages that are viewed at a later time. Both types of communication have value, but there’s a time and place for each. 

📚 Learn more about the differences between asynchronous and synchronous communication

How to set remote work expectations for new hires 

Be clear about expectations when hiring

The first step in setting expectations begins during the hiring process. As you look for ideal candidates, provide complete transparency about what will be expected from the role. 

Who will the potential hire report to? What tech will they be using? What does a typical workday entail? How often are they expected to be available for meetings? What’s the earliest or latest in the day that they may need to be available for calls, meetings, etc.? How might the role evolve? What remote work software, resources, and technology will be provided, and what costs are the employees responsible for?

The more a potential hire knows in advance about the role and their expectations, the better prepared they will be. 

Develop a thorough onboarding process

The onboarding process of any company should not be overlooked or underutilized. It’s a critical phase for new employees, which sets the tone for their time with your company. A good onboarding process makes an employee feel welcomed while providing all of the tools and resources they need to hit the ground running. 

Where can they find essential protocols, documents, style guides, etc.? Who can they speak to when they have questions? What passwords do they need? 

Having a clear process in place that’s continually refined will help ensure nothing is overlooked. Plus, taking the time to set up a thorough onboarding process will help you duplicate it for each new hire. 

💡 Utilize these onboarding meeting questions to welcome new team members.

Ensure processes are easily accessible

Sure, you hopefully included clear expectations as you were onboarding, but as with any new job or role, it can be a whirlwind of new information. There’s a lot to remember and soak in during the first few days to weeks on the job, so ensure all new hires know where to find onboarding materials and other important documents that they may need to reference later.

Where are these documents stored? How often are they updated? Any change you make to your protocols, processes, brand, communication preferences, password management, etc., must be added to these documents to avoid confusion. 

Set Clear Expectations With WorkPatterns

With WorkPatterns, expectations are always clear through regular one on ones, continuous feedback, effective synchronous and asynchronous communication, and transparent goal setting. You’ll find all of the tools you need to manage remote expectations built into one simple platform designed to help both managers and remote workers focus on what they do best. 

We have a library of resources for managers on the WorkPatterns blog, including how to build your leadership skills, how to run effective meetings, and how to give constructive feedback. If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas for future guides, reach out to our team at any time. 

Start having meetings that work together with WorkPatterns