Keeping a team on track is hard even when you have everyone under the same roof. Since remote or hybrid working became the norm, managing remote teams requires learning new skills to support and get the most from home-based colleagues.
Start by understanding
Empathy is everything. Put yourself in the shoes of your remote employees and you’ve got more chance of avoiding performance dips, disengagement and worse. Remote working brings a range of potential pitfalls: face-to-face supervision is harder; employees have less access to corporate information (both official and informal); people can feel socially isolated and less motivated; it can be easy to get distracted; and it’s harder to reach across silos to colleagues in other teams.
The good news
With imagination and some practical techniques, you can help your people adapt and thrive. For example:
1. Insist on daily check-ins
Every day may sound like overkill, but it’s the key to bonding with every member of your team. And don’t settle for a quick email or text. A phone call at the very least – and preferably a video call – is essential to keep remote workers feeling involved and supported.
2. Establish communications rules
Set expectations and stick to them. For example, you might decide that Teams or Zoom is the best medium for a daily update, but IM or Slack is better when you need an instant response. Make people aware of all the communications methods you’re likely to use and when you’re likely to use them.
3. Manage expectations
It’s always been an important part of managing people, but it’s even more important now. Some team members may have had to adjust their work priorities over recent times and you need to keep on top of their motivation and performance. Set clear expectations and make sure you get accurate feedback. Don’t assume everyone understands what the business needs – especially if it’s changed since everyone was last together in the office.
4. Focus on outcomes
Micromanaging people is mostly painful and rarely productive. Happily it becomes nigh-on impossible if they’re working remotely. Instead, you can make your team feel engaged and empowered by clearly defining objectives (both what and why), providing the right training and resources (especially technology) and encouraging them to develop and execute an effective plan.
5. Stay sociable
Yes, they may sound a bit forced, but virtual happy hours, lunchtime chats, awards ceremonies and the rest actually work. Don’t overdo it – everyone has their Zoom limit – but take time out of scheduled team meetings for contact that’s either non-work-related or just a more light-hearted take on the daily routine.
6. Be flexible, have empathy
The biggest challenge of all is that every member of a team has a different home environment. And because they can no longer leave it behind when they’re at the office, everyone else has to deal with it much more frequently.
Some will live alone, others will have families or share with friends, some will be carers or live with someone who works night shifts. Some may be having relationship problems. Some will have well-equipped home offices, some will be sharing the kitchen table with their flatmate. Some may escape to Costa whenever they can. We just don’t know – at least to begin with.
Managers have to get to know the unique circumstances of each employee – and allow for them. Acknowledge stress and listen to concerns. Be a calming influence, especially in unusual, unpredictable times.
7. Become a mentor
To be honest, it might be better to avoid the word ‘manager’ altogether. The best leaders of people are more mentor and coach. They also understand that sometimes it’s best to introduce a new voice, an outside expert, a different direction.
Managing remote teams demands originality and a willingness to learn. It requires time, attention, and consistency. But, done well, it can lead to the ideal outcome: an energised, motivated, productive group that enjoys the work and delivers exceptional results.