How Can I Best Manage my Teleworking Team?

(Note: This article was written for and published by The Gospel Coalition. It was later posted on the Coram Deo blog.) 

I’m used to managing my team face-to-face. But now we all work from home. I know some of my employees are putting in less time, since they have a lot of family pressure (like homeschooling kids and taking care of babies) they didn’t have before.  Others are alone, and seem to be working a lot more hours than they probably should.  I am praying for each one of them.  I want to be generous but also fair.  How can I figure out how each team member is doing without being too intrusive?  How can I figure out reasonable expectations for them?  And how can I balance the employee that’s putting in too much time and the one putting in too little?

I totally get it!  Teleworking is not as easy as it sounds.  I recently went back to the office after teleworking from home for four and a half months, and it was way different than I expected.

I do want to commend you as a manager for desiring to treat everyone on the team fairly and deal with them as individuals with different needs and challenges. A good manager knows his or her team members well.  Prov. 27:23 teaches, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.”   I also applaud your commitment to pray for your team members.

Let me share a few of my own experiences, some successes and some failures, in managing my own employees from 30 miles away from the office.  I also want to highlight several biblical principles that may be applicable to situations like this.  Perhaps I can also share some wisdom as you move forward and attempt to navigate through these rough waters.  God’s grace is always sufficient!

My teleworking experience

Despite the many ways to communicate, including email, text, phone calls, and video chat, it was sometimes difficult to keep in touch with my employees on a daily basis.  “Out of sight, out of mind” was something we all struggled with.  I seem to recall hearing or reading somewhere that it was the employee’s responsibility to check in, but I felt like it was my lane to be intentional to check on them to ensure they were okay.  I am not sure we laid out expectations clearly from the start.  I missed the daily face-to-face informal interactions with my team that we had in the office. 

I also learned that teleworking took more discipline to stay focused on projects and to manage my time well as I worked from home.  This was my daily struggle, so I knew it was difficult for my employees as well.  This was especially hard for those who had children or spouses at home.  In our empty next, my wife worked hard to not be a distraction to my work, which I truly appreciated. 

Biblical principles regarding work

There are some biblical principles that apply to your situation as a manager of employees who are working remotely, some who work diligently and others who may truly want to work hard but are distracted with family responsibilities.  Let me highlight a few passages that might be helpful.

Proverbs is full of wisdom for the workplace, as its purpose is to give wisdom for life.  Proverbs 22:29 instructs us that a man or woman who is skilled in his or her work will eventually go far in life.  Proverbs 27:18 highlights the general principle of sowing and reaping: “He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored.”  These verses should reinforce your goal as a manager to develop character qualities such as consistency, diligence, faithfulness, and loyalty in all your employees, which will be a benefit to all concerned.

For your employees who were forced to work and attend children at the same time by the sudden quarantine, school kids sent home, or loss of childcare facilities and sitters, I am afraid there are no easy solutions.  Biblically, we know that a parent bringing up children is a blessing and is a huge responsibility.  (See Prov. 22:6; Eph. 6:4.)  Many of these workers have no choice but to work both full-time jobs simultaneously.  You are correct that these workers need some consideration. 

With these biblical principles in mind, I encourage you to continue to motivate your dedicated employees to work hard, but to not overdo it.  They should not feel like they need to work more hours than is normally required because the lines between work and home are blurred.  I encourage you to guide all workers to strive to maintain balance between work and family responsibilities. 

Practical wisdom to guide you

So, what do I recommend to creatively address your valid concerns above?

Spend some time with those employees who are struggling to take care of children while also trying to work.  Help them to assess what they are doing to balance their work and family responsibilities.  They need to figure out how to put in an honest day’s work for a full day’s pay. 

If what they have been doing is not giving them eight hours of focused work time every day, you might suggest that they design a schedule that allows them some flexibility in their work hours.  Maybe they are more productive when the kids are in bed.  If their spouse is teleworking also, they could take turns with  the children to carve out a couple of hours of uninterrupted time throughout the day.  If they are single parents, they might need to consider some part-time child care in their home during the day.

It is a challenge to confront employees when they are not right in front of you. However, asking for occasional updates on projects is a reasonable expectation for a manager.  Discuss their priorities at the beginning of the week and then evaluate their progress at the end of the week. 

You need some feedback to be able to hold them accountable, to ensure they are producing on schedule, and remain value-added to your organization.  You might have them write weekly progress reports, if that seems less intrusive.  If you had not already done so, set clear standards for hours worked and when employees need to check in.  Enforce them consistently, and be prepared to modify them as needed. 

Your compassionate yet firm guidance as a manager who is managing “as unto the Lord” will set them up for success and will increase the probability of productivity in your own organization.

About the author:

Russell E. Gehrlein (Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 39 years, father of three, grandfather of four, and author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He is an ordinary man who is passionate about helping other ordinary people experience God’s presence and integrate their Christian faith at work. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. After serving 20 years on active duty, Russ now works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  More than 50 articles posted on this blog have been published 100 times on numerous Christian organization’s websites, including: the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University, Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Coram Deo, Nashville Institute for Faith + Work, Made to Flourish, 4Word Women, Acton Institute, and The Gospel Coalition.

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