11 Questions To Ask Remote Employees

By LeeAnn Renninger, PhD

At LifeLabs Learning, we study managers. We’ve found that managing an employee virtually requires the same skills as managing  in-person, but with a few added twists. One twist includes asking the right questions at the right time. Why? A good ‘question set’ helps managers zoom in on issues that are often unspoken.

Here are 11 questions from our research that you can use to create better dynamics with your remote employees, faster. Ask these questions when you first start working with any remote employee, or at regular intervals (e.g., every half year), to check in on changes.

1. What do you like best and least about working remotely?

Follow-on questions:

  • What is the high point of a typical day (for example, yesterday)?
  • What is the low point of a typical day (for example, yesterday)?

What this question uncovers

Motivation analysis: Find out what motivates and demotivates your direct reports. Learn more by asking for more context on comments. For example, if they say “My high point is getting into a flow state with a project,”  ask, “what creates flow for you?”

 

2. What is your work setup?

Follow-on questions:

  • What equipment or process improvements would make things 10% better?
  • What technology issues have you encountered?

What this question uncovers

Environment analysis: Listen for ways to optimize setup and workflow. While doing so, you can also arrange for your direct report to interview other remote employees from other departments to learn their setup tips.

 

3. What is your daily routine?

Follow-on questions

  • What do you do to take breaks / recharge?
  • Are you able to fully disconnect when on vacation or at the end of the day?

What this question uncovers

Energy management: Listen for spots to help optimize time boundaries. A big danger for remote employees is burnout. When working at the office, it’s easier to have delineated boundaries for starting and stopping work.

 

4. How has working remotely been for you in the past?

Follow-on questions:

  • What were some challenges in your previous setups?
  • What were some of the learnings you had?

What this question uncovers

Support analysis: There is a presumption that working remotely is easy – one simply does what one would normally do, but at a different location. This isn’t true. What we’ve found in our research is that working remotely requires a unique skill set you hone with time, including over-communication, clarifying expectations, assertiveness, proactivity, and more. Asking about prior experience with remote work helps you gauge your direct report’s skills to determine if they need more guidance or training.

 

5. What challenges do remote workers have compared to those in office?

Follow-on questions:

  • What could make things easier?
  • What benefits/advantages do remote workers have compared to those in the office?

What this question uncovers

Perception/fairness markers: The brain is wired to track comparisons, in this case, in-person vs. remote dynamics. This question helps you surface unspoken issues and re-set expectations if there is a feeling of misbalance. This includes a conversation around perks. The downside of working remotely is not getting access to snacks or onsite company celebrations, but the positive tradeoff is flexibility, autonomy, no need for a commute, etc.

 

6. Would you say our meetings are remote-friendly?

Follow-on questions:

  • Can you hear and see well?
  • On a scale from 1-10, how easy is it for you to contribute during a meeting?

What this question uncovers

Meetings culture: Team meetings are often harder on folks who are dialing in, yet easy to optimize. This question will help you get small optimization ideas from your remote employee’s perspective. As an example, one hack we use at LifeLabs to quickly improve perceived meeting quality (PMQ) is to have each person dial in using their laptop, with cameras on and a Jabra mic in the room. With this setup, all people in the room can speak to each other like normal, and remote members can see a close-up view of each person too.

 

7. Who do you connect with most often at work?

Follow-on questions:

  • Which coworkers or departments do you wish you had more connection with?
  • Who do you go to when you need support or have process suggestions or improvement ideas?

What this question uncovers

Support network: When working remotely, it’s harder to make connections, yet an essential brain craving for all humans is belonging. Asking these connection questions helps you realize if your direct report needs help building their network. Creating relationship capital for your direct report is easy: you can link them to other people doing similar work, find ways to make their work more visible (e.g., creating demos), or set them up for informational interviews with relevant departments.

 

8. How do you feel about how often you visit the office?

Follow-on questions:

  • Is this the right amount or would you like it to be more or less often?
  • When you meet with other teammates, do you/ they turn cameras on?

What this question uncovers

Belonging: These questions give you a chance to find out how your direct reports feel about the amount of contact they get and allows you to explain the decision criteria for in-person gatherings. Having the right amount of in-person time matters when working from afar. Our research shows that ‘frequency beats length’ when it comes to having contact. What this means is that flying a direct report in for in-person time is important, but having cameras on to see each other frequently is even more important.

 

9. What are some things your last managers did that you liked?

Follow-on questions:

  • What’s something you didn’t like?
  • What’s something I could do 10% better?

What this question uncovers

Managerial relationship: This question helps you understand how to work best with your employee. It opens feedback lines by normalizing that your team cares about work dynamics. It also helps you improve 1-1 meetings for the future.

 

10. How consistent are our information systems?

Follow-on questions:

  • Which apps do you most use in your daily workflow? When do you use Slack, text, Jira, etc.? When do you feel confused about which systems to use?
  • Where are we consistent/inconsistent as a team?

What this question uncovers

Communication systems: When working remotely, it is particularly important to know which medium to use for which type of information. This question helps assess and improve confusion spots in the system.

 

11. What do you want to learn more of about our team or company?

Follow-on questions:

  • Have any news surprised you recently?
  • How included do you feel in team decisions?

What this question uncovers

Information flow: When working remotely, people sometimes feel out of the loop. This question helps you hear if they feel or are excluded. You can then optimize systems or explain the context.

 

Originally published on the Culture Amp blog.