Many leaders are facing a universal, ongoing challenge at the moment – supporting and managing a remote team. How well are you doing? That is a question facing countless managers at this time. Everyone who can do is working from home and some employees are hoping to make this a longer-term arrangement. But managing people who work remotely is much harder than managing people who come to the office every day. These challenges can cause work-from-home experiments to fail, and they are why some leaders were historically sceptical about remote work.
If you are leading a remote team, it is vitally important to make sure you have, or can learn, the skills it takes to be an effective remote manager.
Being a clear communicator is vitally important when your only contact with a team member is by email, text, phone, or video chat. There is a much greater danger that you or your team member could either misunderstand each other or miss out on vital information. Begin by making sure to schedule regular check-ins and talking by phone or video on a regular basis. And if you’re in any doubt, work with your fellow managers or a coach to ensure your communication skills are as good as they can be.
Of course you care about your employees, but how good are you at letting them know it? Working at home can be tough on some people, particularly those who must care for children at the same time. They will most likely need logistical support, such as your willingness to be flexible about work times and even deadlines. But given the isolation and frustrations many face while working at home, they may need extra emotional support as well. Make sure to let employees know you and the company are there for them with whatever help they may need.
Organisation Is Key
There is a lot more to keep track of when you manage a remote team. There are daily and weekly check-ins with team members, metrics you use to evaluate each employee’s performance, and an ongoing record of who has been assigned which tasks, so that no team member has too much or too little to do. The only way to make this work is either to meticulously keep track of all these items yourself, or get a highly organised and dependable team member to track them for you.
This is important for every manager, but it is especially vital when managing remote employees because if, for example, you cancel a check-in a few times, they may read the wrong meaning into those missed meetings. It is easy for people who are stuck working at home to feel cut off and insecurity will increase. If they know what to expect from you at all times, it will help them regain that sense of security.
Barking dogs, slamming doors and interrupting children might not normally be welcome at a business meeting. But their presence is now common. These times are stressful enough for your employees without adding in worries about things like dressing professionally or having a pristine workspace in the background during video meetings. So let your team be their whole human selves while working at home, and be your whole self as well. It’s a chance to bond with the people who work for you on a deeper level than you ever could in the office.
These are uncertain times with no end in the near future. Your team members are bound to be concerned about the future of their jobs, as well as worried about the future in general. So help them out by being as upbeat as you can. This does not mean lying to them or sugarcoating bad news. This will damage the levels of trust you have built. If there are problems, let them know that, along with the steps you’re taking to solve them. Projecting a sense of optimism can go a long way towards making employees feel more confident and better able to focus on their work.
Always Be Listening
This may be the most important remote management skill of all, because if you do not invite employees to talk to you, and then genuinely listen to what they say, you are guaranteed to miss important signals and information. From time to time, call your employees on the phone or video and simply ask them how things are going. Then really listen to their answers. If they are struggling, do not immediately butt in with solutions. Just listen. And when you do respond, consider what is best for them as well as what is best for your team.