While some of these changes will prove to be temporary, many are likely permanent. Remote work is probably here to stay, especially as more workers realize they’re more productive when they’re freed from their long commutes and horrible bosses. According to one study by FlexJobs, more than 36 million Americans will be working remotely by 2025, representing 22% of the workforce.
But the rise of remote work has also led to some unique challenges for the managers who have to coordinate a staff that may never be in the same state, much less the same room.
Define the work being delegated
It’s hard to delegate work if you don’t have a precise understanding of exactly what you’re delegating. This is important regarding in-person work, too, but it’s especially important in a remote setting since so much of the delegation is going to be done in writing, which necessitates some very detailed and specific instructions.
Start by surveying the work you need done, and establishing some basic parameters like the scope of the work, the objectives you need to achieve, and the timeframe you’re working in.
You can start by breaking a project down into manageable, self-contained parts that can be assigned to a single employee. Figure out what, exactly, needs to be done in each phase of the project, and define the desired outcome — something concrete, like the delivery of a schedule, presentation, or datasheet. After all, it’s impossible to effectively delegate a task if you can’t communicate what it is and what you need out of it. Delegating a task is like making an offer on a home: a vague ballpark figure isn’t good enough, you need to send them a hard number.
Once you’ve done that, determine how long each task will take, so you can set realistic deadlines.
As a manager, make sure you’re considering the total project from a bird’s eye view throughout this process, so the project components actually fit together to form a complete deliverable.
Understand your personnel
Once you’ve defined the tasks that you’ll be delegating, take a look at your employees. You’ll need to match the tasks with the capabilities of your people.
The term “capabilities” can include a lot of different characteristics, from their unique skills, to their experience level, to their collaboration style, to their bandwidth at that moment.
Skill is fairly self-explanatory. If you need graphics done, you assign them to your graphic desigjer, if you need a website revamp, talk to your web developer. Experience is a more complicated consideration, since the tasks you delegate won’t always be urgent enough for the attention of your most experienced employee. On top of that, you want to season and develop your junior employees by giving them tasks that help them grow.
Collaboration style refers to how people work together. Some love to work in large groups, others prefer pairs, and some are lone wolves. Assign work that plays to your employees’ strengths, and you’ll get the best outcomes.
Finally, bandwidth simply refers to how much time and attention an employee can give your task. A certain employee may have the perfect skills and experience for your task, but if they’re already involved in two other projects, they may not have enough bandwidth to handle your needs. It’s like if you’re selling a house — the best agent for you is probably going to be the one who can devote the most time to your sale.
Give your employees a look at the big picture when you give directions
One of the challenges of delegating to remote teammates is that it’s more difficult for each employee to see how they interact with the rest of the company. For example, in an in-person setting, your graphic designer handling the infographics for a big report might understand the urgency of their deadline because they sit across from the technical writer handling the text for the report. Or maybe they’ve heard their manager talking about presenting that report at the meeting the next morning.
If you’re delegating remotely, telling the graphic designer that you need their work done by the end of the day is technically communicating the same thing, but it doesn’t have the same urgency, and won’t inspire anywhere near the same buy-in.
When you delegate to your remote employees, give them a look at that big-picture view of things. You’ll subtly motivate them by letting them know that there are other people depending on them to complete their tasks.
Build in face time
Maybe the biggest challenge of managing a remote team is how hard it can be to forge those personal connections. Email and Slack are fine for getting the basics across, but make an effort to jump on a phone or video call with your employees on a regular basis. Sit down with them both in a group setting and one-on-one. Use this face time to go over the progress made on your projects, and to address concerns or questions.
Keep communication open
No matter how careful you are to define and communicate your tasks precisely, there’s going to be some ambiguity. Whether this comes from miscommunication on your side or misapprehension on the employee’s side, there will inevitably be little problems that crop up during your workflow.
Keeping two-way communication open allows your team members to feel comfortable asking for clarification. One major challenge of remote work is that some employees may be reluctant to touch base very often, simply because each discrete communication feels like a big deal. Having a back-and-forth with your team members also helps you hone your communication skills, so the next project can go even smoother.