New to remote work? Learn how to become a better remote manager with some of the best remote management best practices in this post.
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When you think of the workplace of the future, are you envisioning robot coworkers and food replicators à la Star Trek serving your team’s Taco Tuesdays? (Or is that just me?)
The reality is that the workplace of the future actually looks a whole lot like you working on your laptop from your home office, kitchen table, couch, pool, or your favorite coffee shop.
“Thanks” to the global pandemic, many businesses are now jumping into remote work for the first time with very little guidance. And as a result, managers who are used to leading teams face-to-face now have to find ways to successfully motivate, manage, and track progress for employees from the other side of their computer screen.
The good news is that it’s never too late to start taking the steps you need to more effectively lead your remote team.
Whether you’re leading a team that’s temporarily working from home or you’re committing to remote management for the long haul, you can benefit from strengthening the skills that make you a better remote manager while implementing some of the remote management best practices below.
But first, let’s start with the basics …
- What is Remote Management?
- Challenges of Remote Work Management
- Skills Every Remote Manager Must Have
- 5 Remote Management Best Practices You Can Implement Today
What is Remote Management?
Remote management is when a person manages a team that is working remotely. Whether that team is spread across time zones and countries or all in the same city, the premise is still the same. A remote manager has all the same responsibilities as an onsite, in-the-office manager, but they have to deal with the added challenge of not being able to see their team in person.
That being said, there are certainly some differences between remote management and in-person management. For one, leaders who are managing team members that are all in the same office can easily supervise employees and communicate with them directly whenever they need to. They can also more easily organize a last-minute meeting or check in with employees in real-time.
On the other hand, remote managers often have to work with employees in different time zones or on different work schedules. A remote work environment also doesn’t allow managers to supervise employees in person, which means they have to cultivate a productive work environment that doesn’t rely on micromanagement.
Challenges of Remote Work Management
Remote management has many challenges that in-person management doesn’t. In many respects, remote management can be more difficult, especially if your company does not have established remote work policies or the right remote management tools in place.
Here are just a few of the challenges you might face as a remote manager:
Lack of Face-to-Face Supervision
Depending on your management style, you might prefer the ability to supervise your employees in-person. And while your team members may work just fine without that supervision, the lack of face-to-face interaction may impact remote team productivity and morale. Remote employees still need to feel supported by their managers, which can be difficult when they are not seeing their faces every day.
If you are working with a team that includes members from different time zones, it can be difficult to coordinate meetings and check-ins. Similarly, remote teams may have difficulty communicating and collaborating if they aren’t working on the same schedule. If your team is all in the same time zone, you might still bump into schedule issues with team members who need to work more flexible hours, especially during COVID-19.
Not everyone is great at communicating virtually. That goes for both managers and remote employees. While it may be easy to clear up a miscommunication when everyone is working in close proximity, it can be much more challenging when that communication is taking place online. There may also be a delay in communication, especially if you are working with team members in different time zones or those with flexible schedules.
Distractions at Home
No matter how awesome or productive their team may be, remote managers still have to contend with distractions at home that take their employees away from work. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, these distractions were easier to deal with. (Netflix, the delivery guy, etc.) But in our current pandemic reality, managers have to be conscious of the fact that their employees may be taking care of children during work hours or sharing their tiny workspace with a partner that also works from home.
Social isolation impacts anyone who works remotely. But it may be more of a concern for employees who once worked in an office and are now working from home. This isolation can impact morale, productivity, and focus – which are all concerns for managers who want to provide the best work environment for their team members.
Skills Every Remote Manager Must Have
There is a ton of overlap when it comes to skills that both remote and in-person managers need. However, due to the unique nature of remote environments, managers who work with remote team members need to be especially good at a few things.
While effective communication skills are essential for any manager, remote managers have to be experts at communicating on a variety of platforms.
Whether you’re setting expectations for your team via Zoom, delegating tasks to team members through email, or helping someone solve an issue through Slack messages, you’re going to be communicating with your remote team in many different ways. Demonstrating effective communication as a manager is the best way to get your team to follow suit.
Effective remote managers need to know how to use remote management tools like project planning software and video conferencing apps. Not only do they have to understand the tools themselves, but they need to be able to teach their team members how to use them effectively.
If tech is not your area of expertise, you may want to work with your IT department to learn which tools are available and find out how to use them.
When everyone is working in the same building, managers might be able to get away with leaving the culture building and relationship fostering exercises to HR. However, when it comes to managing a team of remote workers, the ability to build relationships is essential.
In order to create a work environment that runs on trust and transparency, you’ve got to be able to build engagement with your team and give them opportunities to build relationships with one another.
5 Remote Management Best Practices You Can Implement Today
Now that you know what skills you need to cultivate to become a better remote manager, let’s talk about practices you can put in place today to foster a productive work environment that supports all remote employees.
1. Take Advantage of Technology
From video conferencing tools like Zoom to communication channels like Slack, there are a wealth of technologies out there that are changing the game for remote teams. As a remote manager, you’ll want to take advantage of all the best remote team tools that are available to you.
Help your team work well together by giving them multiple tools for communicating and collaborating. For instance, chat tools like Slack are great for team members who prefer quick, straightforward, written communication. But when it comes to things like brainstorming or collaborating with multiple team members, video calls may be a more effective tool.
2. Clearly Define Remote Work Expectations
It can be difficult for team members to navigate a remote work environment without clear expectations of when and how they should work from home. Even if employees have years of experience working remotely with other companies, they may not know what you specifically expect from them and the team.
Clearly defining remote work expectations requires you to discuss things like what time team members should be working, how they should communicate, what they should be working on, and what and how they should report to you. Define these expectations early on to keep things running smoothly.
3. Learn to Lead Without Micromanaging
Remote team success hinges on the ability for managers to trust that team members are doing what they’re supposed to. While it is still possible to micromanage team members without seeing them face-to-face, remote managers need to learn to lead without micromanaging if they want to build trust with their team and foster a sustainable, productive remote work environment.
Here are a few ways that you can move toward leading without micromanaging:
- Set clear expectations for each team member, including any deadlines, milestones, or performance metrics they need to meet.
- Give employees the tools and support they need to stay productive while working at home.
- Have a one-on-one conversation with each team member at least once a week to build rapport and manage challenges when they arise.
- Be active in your team’s project management dashboard to get updates on projects and track your team’s progress.
- Acknowledge and celebrate your employees’ hard work and accomplishments.
4. Check-In With Team Members Often
Remote managers need to check in with their employees more often than in-person managers. Even if your employees work well on their own and don’t have much to communicate, you still need to have a one-on-one conversation with them periodically to ensure that they feel supported.
Whether you have ongoing one-on-one meetings scheduled with each teammate or you just reach out to each person once a week to see how they are doing, consistent communication will go a long way in helping cultivate an effective remote work environment.
5. Focus On Outcomes, Not Hours
Many managers who work in an office are so used to the 9-to-5 workweek that it’s difficult to imagine a world where you can get everything done in less than 40 hours a week. But it is possible. In fact, your team may be even more productive when working more flexible hours in an environment they feel comfortable in.
Instead of focusing on making sure your employees are working a specific amount of hours (which is slipping into micromanaging territory), focus on the outcomes.
What outcomes are you looking for from each employee? If they are meeting these outcomes and progressing toward their goals, does it really matter if they worked 40 hours or 38? Focusing on outcomes promotes productivity and allows employees to embrace the flexibility of remote working.
Time to (Remotely) Get Stuff Done
Even though some companies may go right back to working in an office environment once the pandemic clears, many others will go the way of Twitter and extend remote working opportunities permanently. It’s clear that remote work is not going anywhere any time soon, so managers need to learn how to support, empower, and lead their teams remotely.
Understanding the unique challenges of remote management can help you anticipate and alleviate any issues that might stand in the way of leading a productive team. Developing your communication, tech, and relationship-building skills will also help you become a more effective leader. While best practices like clearly defining expectations, communicating regularly with your team, and using technology to your advantage is the best way to set yourself and your team up for success.
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