Remote work is growing in popularity, but succeeding as a remote manager isn’t the same thing as being able to manage remote workers effectively.
Unfortunately, managers who lead partially- or fully-remote teams — but who don’t have remote work experience of their own — may not understand what employees need to be successful in these environments.
Whether you’re a new remote team manager or an established leader looking to improve your remote management skills, keep the following nine tips in mind:
Tip #1: Practice working remote
Here’s a quick and easy way to become a better remote manager: if you don’t have remote work experience yourself, create it by working remotely voluntarily for a few weeks.
With permission from your higher-ups, relocate temporarily to your home office, a local coworking space, or even your neighborhood coffee shop. Doing so will make the challenges associated with remote work immediately apparent, improving both your empathy for the remote experience and your ability to create conditions that allow distributed team members to thrive.
Tip #2: Set expectations and routines around communication
One of the challenges employees associate with remote work is a feeling of disconnection from the team — especially if it’s only partially distributed, and some members of the group are able to work together in an office setting.
Improving this negative sentiment requires a multi-pronged approach, yet one simple way to create a sense of belonging is through established communication routines.
Set times for weekly stand-ups, one-on-one meetings, and even team brainstorming sessions. When remote workers know how and when they’ll be able to connect with others, get information, and receive support, they’re likely to feel less isolated from the rest of their team.
Tip #3: Be meticulous about note-taking and documentation
Despite their best intentions, remote managers can sometimes fall victim to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. This can be particularly challenging when impromptu brainstorming sessions fail to bring in all relevant remote team members — potentially leaving them out-of-the-loop on major updates or decisions.
It may not always be feasible to loop in remote team members at a moment’s notice, especially if you’re working across different time zones. But you can make a concerted effort to document any discussions that took place in order to share new findings or insights with all relevant parties.
Tip #4: Invest in the right tools to deliver these expectations and routines
Blissfully’s 2019 Annual SaaS Trends Report found that the average employee uses eight apps and that this number increases as company size grows.
Your remote team isn’t the place to skimp on your tech stack. Plenty of solutions exist today that make it possible for you to deliver on the communication and documentation standards you set for your team and yourself.
At a minimum, you’ll want to have:
- A chat tool for quick check-ins and status updates
- A project management system like LiquidPlanner for team and project visibility
- An intranet or cloud storage drive for sharing files
- A design annotation tool for sharing creative feedback
- A video conferencing solution like Vast Conference for remote meetings
Tip #5: Look for and eliminate barriers preventing collaboration
Just because you’ve built your remote team tech stack doesn’t mean you can sit back and assume your job is done. As a remote manager, it’s up to you to continually monitor your team’s usage of the systems you’ve chosen to identify barriers to collaboration that may still exist.
Check-in with your team members regularly to make sure they’re happy with the solutions you’re using. If frustrations exist with individual tools, they won’t be used — and there are simply too many tools out there to stick with one that isn’t working for your team’s specific needs.
Tip #6: Use video conferencing as a relationship-building tool
As mentioned above, video conferencing can be useful for running remote meetings, but don’t overlook its importance as a culture-building tool.
As an example, the team at Zapier hosts weekly “pair buddy chats,” where 2-3 people within the company are randomly matched for quick hangouts. According to Wade Foster, writing for Zapier’s blog, “Pair buddy chats help keep some semblance of the office social life as part of work and encourage people who work in different departments to get to know each other better.”
Though Foster’s team conducts these sessions via chat tool, arranging for them to be held via video conferencing can help forge important social bonds that reduce social isolation and improve overall morale.
Tip #7: Learn to recognize more subtle signs of conflict
In remote work environments — where you don’t typically have regular exposure to team members’ body language, tone of voice, and other nonverbal communication signals — it can be easy to miss the early signs of growing conflict. And even if you do catch them, dealing with them appropriately requires a willingness to address them head-on, rather than sweep them under the rug.
One of the easiest ways to increase your awareness into remote team members’ frustrations is to develop an understanding of their baseline communication habits. Dry humor from a team member may not be cause for concern if that’s their standard operating procedure. But increased negativity coming from a generally positive worker, on the other hand, could be cause for concern.
If you see these types of changes or other signs of potential conflict, address them proactively. If the employee was in the office next to you, you may be able to keep a watchful eye instead to see if the situation improves. But without this day-to-day exposure, you need to be more direct about raising any concerns that arise so that they can be successfully managed.
Tip #8: Develop trust by following through on commitments and holding team members accountable to theirs
Establishing a successful remote work environment requires a tremendous amount of trust. As a manager, you’ve got to trust workers to handle their responsibilities on their own, without your direct oversight. And as workers, your team members have to trust that you’re looking out for them and defending their performance to others in order to feel secure in their positions.
This type of broad, sweeping trust doesn’t happen automatically. Instead, it’s built over time as you follow through on the commitments you’ve made to remote team members. If you’ve scheduled meetings for specific times, follow through. If you’ve promised to come back to someone with an update, don’t make them chase you down for more information.
When team members know that they can take you at your word — and that you’ll hold them to the same expectations — they’ll be much more likely to trust you on bigger picture issues.
Tip #9: Stay out of the way
One of the best things you can do as a remote manager? Simply stay out of the way. Don’t be an unnecessary roadblock that keeps others from doing their jobs.
Presumably, you’ve hired people who are well-suited to remote work and who are competent at their jobs. If both of these conditions are true, there’s no reason to micromanage team members. Trust that they’ll do their jobs, and then let them get to work. You can always address issues that arise, but if you try to directly manage every aspect of the performance of workers you may never meet in person, you’ll actually limit their performance and demolish morale unnecessarily.
Being a great remote manager may not come naturally, but it is something you can achieve through regular practice and thoughtful leadership. Put the nine tips above into practice, and watch your remote team’s performance soar.
What other tips would you add to this list? Leave a note sharing your suggestions in the comments below: