16 Apr Remote managing your remote team
Remote managing your team: quick tips for the virtual leader
For many small businesses owners this is your initial foray into remote managing your team and the first time that you and your team have operated remotely for more than the odd pyjama clad days or two.
Other small businesses by necessity or design, have long been used to managing teams of employees, freelancers and even client staff in remote locations or remote managing from home for at least some of the time but even for many with some remote teams or virtual home workers being a 100% virtual manager week in week out for the entire team is a new step.
Under more normal circumstances if a team was changing to virtual working a communications strategy would be developed, there would be certain criteria determined to support the move and to ensure that a suitable working environment was in place, clear expectations would be established, a working schedule agreed and adequate tools and technology available and installed.
Given the sudden, and in some cases rather dramatic, transition to virtual working; in many circumstances only some, or none, of the ideal preparation took place.
Some of your team may have a great professional looking space fully fitted out with computer, phone, ergonomic chair, desk and everything you could ask for from a home office. Most won’t. It wasn’t only you and your team thrown headfirst into remote working. Your, and their housemates, pets, family, significant other and kids likely got thrown into the mix as well. Remember, this isn’t a try out for Architectural Digest. People’s homes are likely to be even more crazy and less tidy than normal. Even those that live alone. Let everyone know that you get it. These are crazy times and no one’s judging and as virtual leader you just removed another point of stress from all your lives. You’re all potentially going to get to know more about each other than ever before, embrace it, get to know each-others pets and kids it may just be the greatest team builder of all time.
Generally speaking, asking people to be wearing formal office attire in their own homes is going to be seen unfavourably. On the other side of the coin, you wouldn’t expect to see a team member attending the weekly review meeting in pyjamas or wearing a T-Shirt with a slogan that would be inappropriate at the office. Again, making it clear upfront what you do or don’t expect eliminates misunderstanding and gives everyone one less thing to worry about.
Establish multiple communication tools.
There are several benefits of establishing multiple communication tools. Remote managing and working becomes easier and more efficient when your team have clear expectations for the frequency of communication, and everyone knows the best way to communicate with you and each other. You may decide to use video conferencing for daily check ins and weekly meetings, pre-recorded videos for admin and various group IMs for general team communications depending on the project or work group. It’s also important that your team know the best way to reach you during the workday. When are you likely to be available and what’s the protocol to get your urgent attention? Setting these parameters up early in the process is makes it clear to everyone what tool is used for what.
Keep the schedule for regular meetings where possible
In a sea of change a few islands of stability go a long way. Go through your meetings schedule and critically review them. What can be scrapped, merged or slimmed down? Can a briefing meetings and announcements be changed into a pre-recorded video that your team can watch on their own time and saves you effort, leaving you time to give more one to one support where it’s most needed. For the meetings that do need to take place, scheduling them on the same weekday as usual contributes to creating a familiar routine even if times made need to change. Some aspect of routine can provide your team with something they are used to and familiar with which reduces stress.
Make sure work hours overlap.
Regardless the time zones your team members ended up in when the music stopped, or what the new parenting arrangements are for those with kids, it’s recommendable to have at least a few hours each day where most of the team is online and available at the same time. Even if your team don’t strictly need each other to complete their individual tasks, they are used to being around at the same time and it keeps them there for one another. Plus asking is still the quickest problem-solving solution there is and the last thing anyone needs is a sense of even more isolation.
Output, not clock in
Regular working hours are out of the window for many people. To get the most out of your team flexibility is probably the single biggest aid to their productivity. Other than the key overlap times for ensuring the team are communicating, the times of day your virtual team are working is less important than what they are producing. Many will be co-parenting, and a little flexibility and understanding is going to go a long way. One of the biggest benefits of remote working is that commuting time just evaporated completely. If you make clock in, clock out the name of the remote manager game you can miss out on significant aspects of the value add of working from home.
If you’re not used to being a virtual manager not being able to see what your team is up to can be hard but if you wouldn’t stop by their desk to check on them 5 times a day normally why do it now? New levels of trust, on both sides, have to ramp up quickly. Newly virtual employees can find it just as difficult without the security of being able to get guidance on tap so don’t disappear completely.
Clearer than usual communication of expectations is vital. Defining the scope, deadlines, and deliverables for what your team is working on and giving your team examples of final result expectations has a higher value than before, as does the freedom to execute.
Avoid relying only on chats and emails.
Video calls are one of the best ways to maximise efficiency because they recreate the routine office feeling virtual teams are missing out on. They give your team the chance to see for themselves how the others are doing. With email and especially IM being so simple and quick to send it’s easy to become overly reliant on them and misunderstandings that would normally be sorted over a coffee or at the printer can fester. Having regular scheduled video calls to see colleagues and remember we’re all human connects your team on a more personal level and can help avoid misunderstandings.
Use familiar management tools
If you can, keep with the familiar management tools you would usually use. Discuss with your team their and your need for additional tools project management tools to help you keep track of deadlines. They can also be set up to give the team a daily, weekly or monthly overview of what needs to be done, by whom, and when. Tools like Slack, Google Docs and Trello can be a great addition if they’re not already part of your repertoire.
Rather than think about how you can remote manage and motivate people you don’t see on a day to day week to week basic think about each individual is currently motivated and look for ways to maintain that motivation within this new work environment. Build on your visible motivation techniques and consider also their intrinsic motivation. The intrinsic motivation of your team has never been so important. It can be your greatest ally so long as your enthusiastic efforts at remote managing your team don’t inadvertently dampen it. Having a sense of autonomy and maintaining confidence in their own capability to succeed in a new environment are fragile components when faced with a spontaneous need to talk something through in real time but faced with the reality of a message system and a less than immediate feedback loop with a colleague on parental duty. Your team isn’t used to working remotely and the visibility of workflow and team work as opposed to isolated tasks and individual endeavour can be lost. Such concerns and wavering of confidence whilst feeling isolated from colleagues can suck motivation from even the strongest of your team. As a remote leader with a newly virtual team trust and open dialogue are more vital than ever but even that is not enough. To give your team the environment and space for the intrinsic motivation they will draw upon there needs to be a solid system of communication with the tools, processes and behaviours that enable them to feel a growing sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness.
More demand on virtual managers soft skills
Not everyone is cut out for remote work some of your best performers may now struggle and others unexpectedly flourish. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that more extrovert characters will miss the social interaction and not adapt as quickly or as well. Reading body language is harder. Miscommunication will happen. Colleagues that have an edgy relationship with each other may find it even harder to work together virtually. Some individuals home situations may not be as conducive to work as others. Not all your team are sheltering in place with other people. Some will not be in lockdown with people they particularly want to be with. For others the office is the basis of their social interactions. Awkward as it may sound finding and structuring ways for your team to interact about non-work topics within the work structure can be invaluable to their mental health, not just now but going forward. More than ever your team will be looking to you, their leader, as a role model for how to behave in an unfamiliar scenario. Understanding their situation being aware of who is coping and who isn’t will be key.
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