We know that managing a team remotely is fraught with both technical and interpersonal complications. These days, companies and universities around the world have become accustomed to remote working, kicked off by the COVID-19 pandemic, but how many can say that they are actually successful at it?
The last few years have been transformative, prior to the pandemic just 6% of US employees worked from home. With the pandemic firmly behind us, many managers, business leaders, and CEOs wish they could say the same for remote working. However, it seems the people have spoken, it’s expected that 25% of professional workers will work remotely by the end of 2023, according to an Upwork study.
The perks are clear for the employee; save on commuting time and costs, greater control over your work environment, get household chores done during work breaks, and so on... However, this dive into the unknown raises a lot of questions for managers across all industries who have not been trained to manage their team members remotely.
To help managers tackle the challenges of managing remote teams, we have identified 5 questions a good manager should ask themself in order to effectively manage a team of home workers.
Managing a team remotely: 5 questions for managers
1. What is the personality make-up of my team?
Managers of remote teams need to make extra efforts to understand the make-up of their team, especially if they never or rarely meet in person. Managers should take into account that each team member is an individual, has different strengths and weaknesses, and different tendancies according to their personality type.
What's more, working from home can affect psychological health. Indeed people who work remotely regularly complain about feeling lonely or isolated from the company. While introverted personalities may thrive in quiet distraction-free isolation and may need very little touch points, the isolation may particularly affect extroverted personalities who like spending time around other people and thus will need more frequent contact to check in and feel connected. In knowing this, efficient leaders will proactively develop multi-layered communication channels that suit each team member’s needs and also ensure a certain cohesion.
On the other side of the spectrum, many home workers suffer from 'burn-out', which occurs when workers have an inability to switch off at the end of the day. They end up overworking and are left feeling frazzled, exhausted, and in some cases, anxious. Managers of remote teams should look out for the tell-tail signs of workers who seem to be 'always on', and encourage them to take breaks and finish work on time.
To conclude, we can state loud and clear that successful managers are the ones who show empathy, soft skills and emotional support. This can be done for example by asking each employee how they feel and how the remote work situation is working out for them. Managers will also need to add authenticity to their actions by listening carefully when an employee is speaking about their personal issues and by adopting personalized measures to help them succeed in this new work environment.
Remote team management tip #1:
Try getting your team to participate in one of the plethora of personality tests out there and discuss your results as a team. This way, team members and managers alike will be aware of one another's personality traits and can adapt their communication style.
2. Remote team management tools: does my team have the right tools to communicate together?
As mentioned above, some employees may feel lonely and can have difficulties getting the information they need while working remotely. Thus, it is absolutely crucial for managers to install efficient and transparent communication between team members.
To do so, a manager can encourage the use of collaborative platforms and messaging tools such as Asana, Slack, Trello, Teams, Jive, Yammer, etc. This will help team members see the evolution of different projects, to centralize important information and to communicate together.
In addition, it is essential for employees to have video conference tools which enable virtual meetings (Webex, Microsoft Teams, Hangout, etc.) between them. Organizing regular virtual team meetings (at least once a week) will also foster transparent communication which prevents employees from feeling isolated and misinformed about the company’s activities.
Not forgetting that both vertical and horizontal communications are required. Needless to say that during those conference calls, managers should create an inclusive environment in which everyone feels seen and heard
Remote team management tip #2:
An effective way to initiate the meeting would be to allow the employee with the least contribution or lowest rank in the hierarchy to speak first.
3. How can I engage a remote team?
Managers often worry about the productivity of their remote employees while they should actually worry more about their team members’ engagement. Indeed a plethora of studies (here attached is one of them) have shown the positive impacts of home office on productivity. For this to happen, managers need firstly to trust their employees, secondly to establish structured communication habits, and thirdly to increase vertical and transversal forms of communication.
Your role as manager is to establish a routine (while always allowing flexibility). Successful managers plan regular and predictable team conference calls and one-to-one calls at least once a week and if possible always on the same schedule so that employees can organize their agenda accordingly. By instating a routine, employees know when they will be able to ask questions to the team and when they can possibly expect the answers they need to move on with their personal tasks.
Also, after each meeting, managers should send follow-up emails to ensure that all team members are aligned and understand the next steps. Team members should be regularly invited to add and update their activities onto collaborative platforms and shared documents, and to regularly add their colleagues in cc to ensure all people stay in the loop. These follow-ups might seem redundant but they ensure smooth and efficient communication.
Last but not least, managers should ensure that employees remain well aware of what is happening on a company-level. Some news is maybe not relevant for all employees’ day-to-day work, but it will allow them to follow the big picture, to feel like a member of the community, and to be reminded that their work contributes to the overall missions of their company.
Remote team management tip #3:
It is absolutely crucial that managers increase more vertical and transversal communication. Managers need to proactively and intentionally communicate things that would have been picked up intangibly under regular circumstances.
4. Are my team members’ deliverables clear and achievable?
Managers need to be prepared to be flexible about the hours in which employees are working and also take into consideration the different time zones they may be located in. Whether managers like it or not, remote workers naturally have more autonomy about how they juggle their work and home life, therefore it's important to do goal setting regularly.
Setting out individual goals and deliverables is the best way to keep employees motivated and to track their productivity and performance. Be sure to give praise and publically acknowledge those who are consistently meeting deadlines and smashing goals in team meetings and communicate it up the chain too.
Employees must feel that they have the full support of their hierarchy and that together, they will succeed no matter the obstacles. The idea behind this approach is to encourage employees to address the challenge with a sense of purpose and thus an even greater commitment toward the company.
Build in regular one-on-one check-ins, perhaps daily depending on the team size and feasibility.
Manager check-in questions can include:
How are you finding your workload at the minute?
Is there anything you need more support with?
Have you spotted any inefficiencies lately that should be tackled?
What challenges are you working through at the moment?
What is working really well at the moment?
Remote team management tip #4:
Forget micromanaging employee time and monitoring working hours with creepy tracking tools, and start thinking about measuring tangible deliverables and goals instead.
5. How to recreate a workplace culture?
Encouraging a positive culture for remote teams can lead to a greater sense of accountability among employees. When individuals understand the importance of their work and how it impacts their team, they are less likely to become apathetic. This purpose-driven mindset can ultimately contribute to the success of the organization as a whole.
The virtual onboarding process of your company sets the tone for how new employees perceive and feel about your organization. It is crucial to provide them with all the necessary tools to succeed and make them feel included as part of the team.
Once onboarded the company culture is disseminated in many ways:
Promoting a health work-life-balance
Stellar communication and collaboration skills
Virtual and in-person team building events
Opportunities for upskilling or career development
Recognition of good work and successes
Creating a safe space to voice a variety of opinions.
On the last bullet point, Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, said: "Creating a psychologically safe space means employees have ‘‘a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up .”And lastly, to accompany the managers in their actions, company CEOs and C-level members should be visible and vocal on each aspect that affects employees’ daily life.
Remote team management tip #5:
Try starting meetings with a round of “check-ins” is a good initiative in order to recreate a healthy workplace culture and to foster empathy. The concept is simple: at the beginning of the meeting, each employee quickly tells how they are feeling at the moment.