Remote work is not the same as traditional office work. We might be working on the same tasks, in the same teams, towards the same goals, but that’s where the similarities end.
In a world of remote work (enforced or otherwise), ensuring your employees are having positive experiences and on successful journeys under your management is more important than ever.
But how do you do it? Just as you can’t expect your employees to do their jobs in exactly the same way when adapting to a new way of working, no manager can be expected to be able to do their job perfectly in a new situation.
The good news is that remote work offers new opportunities to accompany its unique challenges.
This article will give you the five steps you should follow if you want to make the most of those opportunities, overcome those challenges, and create great employee journeys for remote workers.
What is an employee journey?
Before we start looking at the five steps for managing remote employee journeys, let’s first get clear on what an employee journey really is.
There isn’t one employee journey that we all understand and experience, rather, we all have our unique journeys in different businesses. Remote work adds another layer of complexity to this.
Broadly speaking, an employee journey is about the progress an employee makes in their role towards their purpose and significance. It’s about moving past “I write reports and analyze data for Company X” and moving towards “I contribute to Company X’s mission to help people and solve problems, which challenges me intellectually, makes me feel accomplished, and helps me make a positive impact on the world.”
Employee journeys are not fixed, not infinite, and regularly evolve and shift as business goals shift, but the one constant is the person at the center of it. Want to learn more about how this works? Click the link to get in touch for a free strategy call.
This will all become even clearer as we explore some examples in the five steps. Let’s get started with step one!
1) Define purpose and reasoning
Knowing what each employee contributes (and why they do it) is essential – but you need to look beyond processes and outputs.
For example, an employee might be responsible for delivering reports and analysis. Important work and clearly measurable, but what does it mean for the company and the employee on a strategic and purposeful level?
Delivering reports and analysis means the company can create an honest picture of what is going on and make the right strategic decisions.
What that employee is doing, then – at that deeper, purposeful level – is providing a safe foundation for the company’s growth.
Acknowledging each employee’s contribution through the lens of deeper purpose and reasoning will help you understand their journey with more clarity and meaning. This, in turn, will make your efforts to manage and guide the journey more effective and less frustrating.
Try not to focus too much on business results and revenue generation. If you can’t quite pin down an employee’s purpose in the language of growth, KPIs, and OKRs, try instead asking: “What would this person leave behind when leaving the company?” The answer can be both positive or negative.
Do they leave a good structure to build on in the future?
Did they complete the job you brought them in to do and that’s all that was needed?
Or do they maybe make the team happier with their character and kindness?
Go beyond the hard numbers – even if it isn’t natural to your management style – and connect to what people really bring to the business. If you feel they will leave a mess… it might be time to ask what you want out of the journey!
Key question: What do people really bring to the company? Why are they here?
Tip: Separate professional and private feelings – they may represent opposing interests. Doing this will help you find the right focus for managing every employee’s journey, taking the lead and doing what is best as their manager, not their friend (or enemy!)
Exercise: Look back at your last job and choose one word to describe your purpose there.
2) Acknowledge significance
Now you have a clear picture of ‘why’ people are in their jobs and ‘what’ they really do, the next step is to clarify ‘how’ they will fulfill their journey.
To get a firmer grip on the ‘how’, you need to connect with your employee’s significance – their true value.
Again, simplicity here will help you facilitate and manage their journey later.
Try to review situations in which an employee does great work and define how they make a difference. It could be meeting a tight deadline, completing a proposal, unlocking important insights, contributing to team sessions, or delivering outstanding client support.
Take three different examples and explore how they relate to each other – how did the employee manage to get results and how would you explain it?
Examples: They might have offered stability, unique perspectives, a growth mindset, psychological safety, clarity, forward momentum, unity, or creativity.
Acknowledging your employees’ significance is also about accepting what they do not bring to the company. Imagining that every employee is perfect and delivers everything you need is willful ignorance and prevents you from managing their journey appropriately.
And don’t forget – accomplishments will always demand sacrifice. In order to be in control, it is important to know what your employees’ sacrifices might be – and what you are willing to give for what you take.
Managing your employee journey is about having the real conversation that crystalizes:
- What is
- What is not
If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
Be honest about limitations and manage expectations of your vision. Move away from frustrations and connect to what people really bring to the company, rather than any gaps that you can see.
Committing to the hard work of understanding the positives and negatives of an employee’s journey (so far and in the future) will help you get a clearer picture of what everyone involved can get out of the relationship.
3) Structure employee journeys by creating milestones
After defining your employees’ purpose and significance, it is time to break down the employee journey into recognizable, measurable steps.
To start, you must first define the end-state. This sounds complicated, but is achieved by answering two questions:
- When will the role of the employee be completed successfully?
- What needs to happen to reach that moment?
Plan backwards from the end-state and break the journey down into different stages of development. You will know you’ve found your finishing point when you arrive at the present moment. Learn more about ‘backward design’ here.
Focus on distinguishing skills, knowledge, competencies, talent, and potential and synchronize these building blocks with the development plans your company uses.
Tip: Visualize the journey and milestone in a matrix or grid. It helps people to see the bigger picture.
After completing this visualization, you need to bridge the gap by creating steps you and the employee will need to take to reach that end-state. Think of these as breadcrumbs that will guide the employee along the vital steps of their journey, not prescriptive instructions that leave no room for agency or creative interpretation.
This step is where managing remote employees becomes especially complex. You do not have the same immediate access to their everyday progress as you might in a normal office. You can’t look over to their desk and see them furrowing their brow when working on a specific project. There are no ‘water-cooler’ chats or Friday afternoon drinks in the age of remote work.
You need to carve out time and space for regular review sessions that give you a clear understanding of how they’re feeling on a macro and micro level.
Explore what they love to do, things that are holding them back, and the future they see for themselves and the company. Make it a worthwhile conversation by giving them reasons to feel invested in their journey.
Tip: Share the expectations that your manager has of you – it will contextualize your actions and motivations.
To help employees move through their journey with comfort and confidence, we must move away from micromanagement and allow them the space to unfold. A structure is essential, but controlling every detail does more harm than good.
“Do not put on a coat that is not yours.”
It’s important to manage your employees’ learnings, not activities as part of their journey. Otherwise, employees will have no space to become aware or gain new insights and deeper understandings.
Structuring your remote employee’s journey is like creating a roadmap with an end destination and pit-stops. Your job is to hold the compass and prevent any major wrong turns or accidents – not to take the wheel from their hands.
4) Create and manage momentum
So, you know the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ – everything is laid out ahead of you. What can you do now – as a manager of a remote team – to start this journey in a positive way?
Before any movement begins, you must first accept the current situation for what it is. Accept it with radical honesty. This is the only way you can move forward and it has to be a shared conversation.
Both the employee and manager will need to have a common view of what is really going on. It might feel scary or risky to have an honest conversation like this, but on the other side of this risk are great rewards.
“Now we know and accept where we are. What’s next?”
The current state of being is your starting point, the place from where you begin your journey. You cannot take a first step if you are not on solid ground.
For example: if the employee’s journey is about acceptance, you will need to find a situation they feel comfortable accepting to begin with.
Exercise: ‘X’ needs to happen before ‘Y’ can take place.
The next thing is to consciously create, manage, and guide their future development.
By now, you know what is needed to get to the end-state and you know how that can be realized.
So, if there is a deadline coming up, specifically define the employee’s focus in the process besides just doing their job. Onboard them to the journey ahead. Emphasize their journey and how it interconnects with the work they are delivering for the project.
Know that you are not responsible for their journey, but are there to facilitate it. Be clear about how you will support them – and what you cannot or will not do. The only way to guide people is to connect to their potential, even if they don’t see that potential themselves.
TIP: Don’t make other people’s journeys your responsibility. You can guide, facilitate, and empower as much as you want – but they are, ultimately, the only person who can make the progress. Do you feel you get controlled by control? Click the link to get in touch for a free strategy call.
5) Validate and celebrate accomplishments
Doing meaningful work and enjoying the team you work with have been shown to be more important than financial compensation as motivating factors for staying in a role.
Bear this in mind with how you frame your remote employees’ journeys. Bring more meaning to the results employees achieve – give them the acknowledgment and validation they deserve. Even if they don’t find the work itself to be meaningful, you can make it clear that the results they achieve are.
By valuing your employees for who they are and how they make a difference to the team and company, you will stand out and create a happier working environment. This is overlooked too often, as is often the case with ‘soft’ management, but it can turn a job in a remote company from “just a job” into something more meaningful.
Have these conversations in your own words and mean what you say.
Exercise: Fill in the gaps in this sentence: “Because you … we accomplished …”
There is no formula for validation, as every situation is different and every person has different motivations, but try to include these cornerstones in your approach:
- Celebrate accomplishments together
- Express how they made a difference
- Provide perspective on what that means for the company
The difference a great employee journey can make
The true value of an employee journey – whether as part of a remote team or not – is to gain deeper understanding, break free of limitations, and fulfill our purpose.
People will remember their victories for the rest of their lives. They will forget about the circumstantial details. What remains is how you made them feel – how you helped them to overcome their constraints.
In a high-performance environment, it is sometimes hard to look at our work in this way. And, for that exact reason, it is so important to become aware and to connect to what really matters. Creating great employee journeys benefits everyone involved.
People will eventually move on to their next role, job, or journey, but they will cherish the ride you had together.
Let’s make it memorable.
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