Many of us might be managing remote teams for the first time and struggling to adapt to it. How do you overcome the challenges of supervising employees in different locations? What steps should you take to build trust and open lines of communication? How do you support employees who may be struggling to balance full-time work with full-time childcare? What’s realistic to expect?
One of the biggest misconceptions about managing remote workers is that it requires an entirely different skillset. Virtual workers aren’t a completely different type of employee — they’re still just people who are working in your organization to get things done. And if you’re managing a virtual team for the first time, it’s not completely different from what you do in the office, you just may accomplish it in different ways.
How to Keep a Remote Team on Track
Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom conducted a study comparing traditional and remote employees. He found that the stay-at-homes did 13% more work overall than their in-office counterparts. So, in most cases, you can put aside the fear that your remote employees are taking advantage of being at home to do laundry and watch TV instead of work.
That being said, managers must put in extra effort to ensure remote workers feel connected, especially in a crisis situation. Your team needs to know that they’re not only contributing to the health of the team and company, but that they’re working toward a larger goal. Some ways to achieve this are:
- Encouraging non-work-related communication, whether on video calls or chat – i.e. asking about their lives outside work, having “fun” conversation on chat, sharing casual conversation about what you’re watching on Netflix.
- Sharing the future vision of the company and keeping your team informed about how the company is doing. People like to know what’s happening in other parts of the company, how they fit in and how they are contributing to the bigger picture.
- Getting everyone in your team involved in important events and projects, even if they can’t directly contribute — that way, they are aware of what’s happening and feel included.
Related Article: 5 Cultural Remote Work Challenges Every Business Must Address
A study published in Harvard Business Review showed that remote workers are more likely than onsite employees to worry that coworkers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them, and don’t fight for their priorities. Part of this is due to the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, but the mindset can also be attributed to the unique ability of virtual teams to foment silos.
Silos can form when certain departments or employees don’t want to share information and instead hoard it for themselves. Ultimately, this type of mentality reduces productivity, prevents collaboration and creates organizational barriers. Silos don’t appear accidentally. They’re usually the result of inter- or intra-departmental power struggles, immature or insecure employees, a lack of training or simply the inability of employees to work well with others.
Sometimes silos occur due to organizational inefficiency or simply because it’s too difficult to update shared information. Try using technology to your advantage and help teams work together with one centralized, secure location for content that integrates well with the apps that employees already use. If the silo is due to employee behavior, work to address that behavior so it’s clear to the larger organization that silos won’t be tolerated.
Related Article: There's No Need to Be Haunted by Silos
Manage by Objective and Track Success
The biggest success to managing remote workers? Manage by objective. Give people goals to hit and then let them go to figure out the smaller stuff on their own. Micromanaging is a waste of time as it is, but it’s even worse in remote teams where you can’t walk over to talk to someone, and where communication is inherently slower. When you manage by objective, you worry about if things are getting done, not how they’re getting done. This gives your team the flexibility to worry about accomplishing the big things — and less about when or how they’re doing them.
Too often though, metrics are overly-focused on activities rather than outcomes. In other cases, there’s no common definition of how success is defined or measured. It’s worth the time and effort to make sure that you and your team’s goals and metrics are clearly defined and understood by everyone and that there is a clear way for you to be able to produce the metrics necessary to check your performance and progress.
As a manager, a sudden shift to managing a remote team can leave you under a lot of pressure. You already have the skills to do it, but don’t forget to use technology to help navigate the transition. It can help with communication, metrics and more.
In closing, a few do’s and don’ts:
Acknowledge the stress your team is under during these unique circumstances.
Allow your own emotions to color your reactions. It’s not about you.
Build rapport with your team with informal chats during your calls.
Forget to acknowledge the work of your team (or worse, take it for granted).
Establish regular communication, from team meetings to check-ins.
Ignore remote team members because you don’t see them.
Use video calls to build rapport with remote team members.
Allow team members to establish silos that make others feel left out.
Unite your team around a common goal by making sure everyone knows what they are working toward.
Worry about your team members not working — or let them work too much!