The Core Skills Needed to Effectively Manage a Remote Team
The first change we need to embrace when managing remote teams is our communication style.
Not to get into politics, but in many parts of the country, companies have acknowledged that bringing employees back together on a large scale is going to take some more time.
As a result, remote working is not disappearing before the end of the year and may linger beyond that. In fact, some companies like REI have even decided to sell their corporate headquarters.
That means it is worth the investment to improve your skills related to managing your remote team, whether your entire team remains remote or only a portion. There are growing pains associated with transitioning to managing a remote team.
Luckily, there are some companies who have already figured out best practices for managers of remote teams.
The first change we need to embrace when managing remote teams is our communication style. We need to be more intentional in communicating with our team since we can’t just pop by an employee’s desk, run into them in a hallway, or continue to chat casually post-meeting on your walk back from the conference room.
Even if they could be recreated, these more unplanned communications are more challenging when someone is working from home. Creating more pre-scheduled interactions allows your team to regain a sense of control over their personal schedule.
This in turn can help ease the burden of working from home for your employees.
So what does more intentional communication look like?
It starts with a quick daily “ping” to each of your employees for those who manage teams of ten or less people. This is important to improve connection with your team and remain accessible to them.
According to a HBR article from 2019, about 40% of employees were feeling physically or emotionally isolated in the workplace. I can only imagine that number has grown in 2020 as we have become more physically disconnected.
All hope isn’t lost though! The same article found that 39% of people felt reconnected by something as simple as their colleagues checking-in with them.
For a manager of a remote team, sending a message each day saying hi to see how your team is doing can start to accomplish this.
Another strategy we can use to increase our accessibility and connection to our remote teams is to set up weekly office hours. This allows your team members to reach out when they have blockers. Furthermore, it enables you to talk live rather than trading emails or Slack messages asynchronously.
The rule here is that these questions should take 10-15 min to solve so you have time to meet with multiple people in an hour timeblock. This is especially helpful for those managers who have more than 5 direct reports as it provides access to the manager without having to set aside individual time slots on a weekly basis.
Next, we can move on to one-on-one meetings.
These are meetings that should have existed even before the pandemic, but they are more important now than ever. It is important to hold one-on-one meetings every week or every other week, depending upon the size of a manager’s team.
You can also ask your employees whether they would prefer a video call or a phone call. For those who have “Zoom fatigue”, a phone call can allow you both to stretch your legs and take the call on a walk.
For those who prefer to be able to have a more personal connection, they may opt for the video call.
The point is, let your employee tell you what they need.
This leads me to another important point in regards to one-on-one meetings, they are more than project status meetings. Rather, it’s an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding with your team.
You can find out how your team is doing, ask about their challenges, where they could use more support, and/or discuss their career trajectory. As an example, you may want to support working parents as they have more on their plate this school year. Taking time to talk through those challenges with your employees will make them feel understood.
Additionally, it may provide an opportunity for you to problem solve together how they can still show up as a productive employee, while trying to juggle their other personal responsibilities.
This is also a great segway into discussing expectations. One of the biggest challenges for people adjusting to working remotely is creating boundaries between their work life and home life.
This is one area where you as a Manager have the ability to drive your employees crazy or alleviate some of their stress. Most managers have not had explicit conversations around expectations for when they expect their employees to be working or respond after hours.
Successful managers allow their employees to set their own boundaries and communicate them to the rest of the team. The most successful teams focus on controlling outcomes, not inputs.
That means they do not try and control when an employee works so long as the employee is delivering on their work. As a result, having a team meeting where each team member can share their preferred general work schedule and their boundaries can greatly improve the productivity of the team.
It can result in more focused time spent on work, less stress, and more engagement as employees have more control over their work schedule.
The most important responsibility of a Manager is to provide clarity to their team. As I explained in this article about the causes of team dysfunction, clear goals and roles for your team are imperative.
Now, the trap many Managers fall into is asking themselves if they are clear on those areas, instead of asking their team. It’s not about whether YOU are clear. It’s about what each member of the team heard. Often we find that what we said, what we meant, and what someone heard are three different things.
Lauren Kaplan, who works with startups as the CEO of the HR consulting firm Growth Ops Advisory, offers this, “The key to clarity is to ask for your team members to tell you their interpretation of what they just heard.
This will help tease out gaps in communication. All too often we think we are being direct when in reality our communication and delivery is filled with assumptions. If you look to confirm understanding through feedback, you can avoid misunderstandings and misaligned expectations.”
As a result, your team may be working towards different objectives without you even realizing it. Therefore, you need to explicitly discuss this with your team.
After clarifying the goals, you need to address role clarity. If you do not know where one employee’s role starts and ends and another begins, then those employees are likely wasting time duplicating efforts, engaged in a contentious work relationship , or missing important work because they assume someone else is doing it.
Whatever the outcome, I can assure you it's not good.
Management is hard enough under normal circumstances, let alone when trying to operate from your kitchen table. We have done a great job in transitioning our work to functioning remotely.
Now it’s time to move beyond functional to exceptional. If you want your team to thrive, not just survive, you need to look at what you are doing as a Manager to enhance the communication and touchpoints with your team.
By implementing these changes you will find that you are creating a stronger connection with your team, which will result in a better work experience for your team.
Jess Wass is passionate about helping create more supportive and productive work environments and helping employees find greater meaning and fulfillment in their work. To learn more about my work, visit www.jesswass.com.