Managers already have a lot to deal with in today’s volatile business environment. The switch to mostly remote work has come with even more challenges and major shifts in employee needs and expectations. There are issues that have to do with response times, coordination on various tasks, and technical difficulties. Add to that a general environment of insecurity and stress, and you have the perfect recipe for a sticky situation.
However, good managers thrive under pressure and come out stronger on the other side of it. Here are a few useful tips for making the best of a rather difficult circumstance.
1. Be aware of the challenges that employees face
You can’t fix a problem that you’re not aware of. It’s important to be connected to the real challenges of your team. The 2021 State of Remote Work report has some good insights about the changes that came with remote work:
As you can see, communication is at the top of the list, so that will obviously have to be addressed. Furthermore, the study took a look at the biggest issues for employees:
It’s best to run this type of survey in your company (or even just in your team) for more personalized insights. Each organization is unique, and so is its culture. As a result, employees will see different perks to working remotely, and they will also face various issues. You’ll have to adapt your leadership to those, but there are a few general tips to consider right off the bat.
2. Focus on communication
In face-to-face communication, between 70% and 90% of the message is conveyed by body language and facial expressions. In online settings, emojis don’t even begin to cover that, so it’s important to find creative ways to compensate for it, even if it leads to overcommunication. Here are a few useful ideas:
- Set clear communication expectations. This is an essential process, and as such, it needs a transparent set of rules that people know and accept. There is a time for concise reports and a time for cute cat memes or inside jokes. Employees need to know when a simple e-mail is enough and when there’s a need for a comprehensive report.
- Make time for 1:1 talks and focus on the personal aspects: getting to know the team members, their challenges, and their strong suits will help you assign them to the right projects, and it will give them a sense of being genuinely seen. It’s also a good idea to schedule time for various team members to have this kind of conversation and learn more about one another.
- Diversify the way you communicate – some people are ok with group video meetings, some need to have everything in writing and check for constant updates, while others require a personal approach and one on one communication. It’s important to incorporate all of the above (and more, if the situation requires it) to make sure you cover all the communication bases.
- Set up smaller teams to deal with different project parts instead of having many people working on the same thing. It will save a lot of time and make communication a lot easier.
3. Avoid micro-managing your team
This advice is handy in non-remote environments too. People need self-direction and to feel trusted. The number one benefit of working remotely is flexibility both in terms of location and schedule.
You might feel a bit apprehensive about not seeing the employees at their desks. However, just because they were sitting in those chairs did not mean they were really working or productive. Your focus should be on the results and not on how and when people are putting in the effort towards them.
It’s best to offer them the option of not attending meetings if they are not crucial to their projects and if they want to use that time for other tasks. This means you’ll have to find a clear rating for meetings so that people know which ones are absolute musts.
4. Show care and celebrate success
You are not the only one adjusting to the new normal. Your team faces similar challenges trying to find a balance and work out the most effective ways of navigating remote work. There’s a lot to consider, and it’s important to show employees that you understand their situation.
However, I have to stress the importance of making sure you do this in the spirit of equity – it’s ok to give a single parent with kids learning from home some slack, but it’s unfair to do so by increasing the workload of the single team member.
Celebrating success and expressing gratitude are also great ways of leading remote teams. People need recognition for their effort, and their morale gets a big boost when good results are acknowledged and celebrated.
5. Tweak your processes so they are fully functional
Not everyone is online at the same in remote teams. Even when they are, the response times are sometimes a lot longer than in traditional workspaces, so processes need to be clearly drawn out and function without hiccups.
Here are a few tips on making them flawless:
- Start fresh instead of adapting what you already have. It may take longer, but this will save a lot of time in the long run, as you won’t have many fixes to do later.
- Have visual process maps that are easy to follow.
- Document all processes, so it’s easy to keep track of changes and make adjustments.
- Leave room for flexibility (without being vague).
Even the best team with the most talented members struggle if the instructions are unclear or obsolete. Therefore, it’s better to invest time and energy into creating good processes than constantly put out little fires and temporary solutions.
Managing a remote team is not necessarily more difficult than an in-person one; it’s just different. As a leader, you have to acknowledge the differences, know what your employees need, and create the environment and processes to help them reach their goals while also feeling satisfied with their work.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.