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How to manage a remote team

How to manage a remote team

12 December 2020

The new world of work requires new skills and approaches from managers. Here’s how up your game and lead with confidence. 

There’s no place for old-school management techniques in the new world of work. That’s the message that’s emerged loud and clear during 2020. “In the remote work world, the role of the manager has shifted from gatekeeper to coach and social connector,” explains Slack Vice President Brian Elliott.

To get the best from your workers, it’s clear that new skills and approaches are needed, as well as a new way of thinking about ‘work’ itself. Below, we share expert advice to help you manage better, for the benefit of everyone.

Set clear working policies
“Having consistent work processes is important for keeping those who work remotely in the loop,” says Wade Foster, CEO of workflow automation app Zapier, in an interview with Chief Executive. “You have to talk about: here’s how we debate things, here’s how we communicate things, here’s how we raise issues. And that can be a bit different from how you do it in an office, so that’s a skill set that we had to hone over time.”

Establish ‘rules of engagement’
Remote work becomes more efficient and satisfying when managers set expectations for the frequency, means, and ideal timing of communication for their teams,” says this team of researchers in Harvard Business Review. “For example: ‘We use videoconferencing for daily check-in meetings, but we use IM when something is urgent.’

“Also, if you can, let your employees know the best way and time to reach you during the workday (e.g., ‘I tend to be more available late in the day for ad hoc phone or video conversations, but if there’s an emergency earlier in the day, send me a text.’) Finally, keep an eye on communication among team members (to the extent appropriate), to ensure that they are sharing information as needed.”

Make time to connect on a personal level
“Keep in mind that, for many of your employees, pandemic-forced remote work is not necessarily optimized remote work,” says Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify and the author of Redefining HR (Kogan Page). “They’re balancing a range of external factors from childcare, eldercare, anxiety, isolation, and other variables that impact their work and wellbeing. Spend time discussing these impediments with them in your one-to-ones and be sure to let them know those can extend beyond traditional ‘work’ blockers. Now is the time to really connect, understand, and support them to maintain their productivity and growth.”

Trust your employees
Managers may be concerned and even frustrated to lose the constant visibility they once had into their employees, but don’t respond by micromanaging,” says Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Research, Gartner. “That will only disengage and fatigue already stressed employees…The best thing you can do as a manager right now is to suspend your disbelief and put utmost trust and confidence in your employees that they will do the right thing – which they will if employers provide a supportive structure.”

Embrace asynchronicity
“This may seem counterintuitive, but take steps to make things as asynchronous as possible,” says Shelley Brander, author of Move the Needle (Hay House Publishers). “Using tools such as Slack and Asana enables our teammates to work at the times most optimal for them as individuals. That may be early in the morning in Australia when they’ve just had their coffee, or late at night in California after the kids are in bed. It gives them a valuable sense of agency over their time and lets them bring their best self to their work. When you do all get together at the same time – make it fun! Create new rituals that make virtual meetings something to look forward to, rather than a chore. For my team, it’s time to knit together over Zoom at wine o’clock.”

Focus on outcomes
“It’s not possible to manage every aspect of the work done by a remote team,” says Jason Aten, tech columnist at Inc. “For what it’s worth, you shouldn’t be trying to manage every aspect of any team’s work, but especially when your team is distributed across different locations. Instead of focusing on activity or hours worked, focus on the outcomes and measure your team accordingly.”

Be a true leader
“Leadership is a privilege and a responsibility,” says Patricia Peyton, co-author of Physical Intelligence and Director of Companies in Motion. “In addition to ensuring that work responsibilities are being met, managers should make an extra effort to ensure that team members are doing well mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Wellbeing is a team sport. Managers should alert everyone to keep an eye out for signs of burnout across the team – allowing space for rest and recovery after extreme effort, scheduling non work-related events to foster connectedness and encouraging physical movement throughout the day. It’s also important to show genuine appreciation, set reasonable expectations, and adjust expectations to allow people to work around the challenges of their unique remote working environment.”

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