Updated May 2020.
How do you manage remote teams? Whether your whole team is fully distributed, or you only have one employee who works from home, leaders need to have the skills to manage and motivate from a distance. For the most part, there are similarities between managing remote teams and general management best practices. However, some common remote management mistakes can severely impact the productivity and overall happiness of your team.
In order to lead a healthy and productive remote team, infrastructure, mindset, and education all need to be aligned throughout the team and organization.
From a mindset perspective, the foundation of any remote team is trust. If you don’t trust your team to do their job and you rely on micromanaging techniques, a remote setup will not work for you, nor for your employees. Along with this, it’s important to focus specifically on metrics related to output vs physical presence.
Does your team have the proper infrastructure in place to support remote work? In the office, it’s likely employees have access to all the technology and tools necessary to complete their daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities. In a remote setting, it’s necessary to provide the right tools to support successful remote work. This includes both technology and procedural documents like a remote work policy.
Finally, 57% of remote workers receive no training or guidance on how to manage their work flexibility. This means each of these workers and leaders are entering the remote team with a different set of best practices and ways of working. You can’t rely on written policies and procedures alone. By providing aligned education and skill development opportunities, you reduce the risk of miscommunication and conflict by getting everyone on the same page.
Poor communication can lead to unclear expectations, assumptions, misunderstandings, and conflict. Make sure your employees understand what your expectations are of them. Do not assume that everyone has the same understanding and interpretation of timelines, deliverables, and preferences.
Consider a Communication Charter (we can help in our Building a Communication Charter workshop). This practice will ensure everyone on your team knows which communication channels to use for each type of communication. A communication charter will help you to:
Opportunities for organic conversation are rare in a virtual environment so communication must be deliberate. Make it a point to check in with your team regularly. Don’t just assume no news is good news.
Use your meeting time wisely. Meetings should be a time for team members to express concerns or new ideas and contribute to the advancement of your team. Be sure to include a meeting agenda so everyone is prepared, and send out meeting minutes afterwards so everyone is clear on due dates, owners of tasks, etc.
One of the biggest mistakes remote leaders make is micromanaging their teams. Control is a universal sign of distrust and can be demotivating to your team. There are two types of trust. Interpersonal trust is the trust that forms as people come to know and are able to relate to each other’s values, beliefs, personalities, and behaviors. Task-based trust is the trust that comes from completing work according to the needs and requirements of the team. Teams work together to develop goals and identify success metrics.
Trust is the key to making remote work work. When you can’t see or talk with your team at any given moment, you must believe they are working just as hard as you are to meet your goals. Avoid micromanagement, which indicates a lack of trust, and instead encourage frequent communication and ownership of tasks and projects. Doing this will reduce your workload and strengthen the autonomy of your team.
One of the quickest ways to increase employee engagement is to provide honest, transparent, consistent, and constructive feedback. All too often managers do not make this a priority—leading to negative effects on employee satisfaction and performance. Make sure you have a system in place that reminds you to provide both informal and formal types of feedback. And remember that when giving feedback, you should highlight both areas of strength and opportunities for improvement.
Not only should you be giving consistent feedback to your team members, you should also be soliciting feedback from them. Feedback is how you can identify your own areas of strength and opportunities for improvement. Asking for (and listening to) feedback not only helps you but signals to your team members that feedback goes two ways and that you are open-minded and invested in their success. People all want to be heard—make sure you provide plenty of opportunities to meet this need when you communicate with your team.
Development is continuous and should be part of your daily or weekly activities. Many individuals who are promoted into roles where they are responsible for supervising others never receive leadership training. They are expected to just learn those skills as they go. Immersive learning can be an effective way to get some good experience under your belt, but you should intentionally seek out opportunities to learn about the best practices in management.
Skill development throughout a remote professional’s career is cumulative. As you progress throughout your career, you will need to demonstrate proficiency in the foundational skills from each stage. The Workplaceless Remote Work Competency Model identifies relevant stages and correlating skills in remote work. For example, as a Remote Leader you will encounter challenges leading your remote teams if you have not mastered the Remote Worker classified foundational skills of the language of remote work, time management, and autonomy.
Some specific Remote Leaders key skills include:
Being a Remote Leader is all about managing team members you never see. How do you evaluate performance when there's no visible clock-in or clock-out. How do you discern your team's overall or individual morale? How do you resolve conflict? Especially if you don't see it? These questions can be answered through uniquely remote skill-building. And in mastering Remote Leader competencies you have the ability to strengthen the skills of your Remote Team Members.
Learning shouldn’t stop with you, the manager. You should strive to create a learning culture where everyone is encouraged to learn and share new skills and ideas.
In a co-located environment, productivity is usually measured by the hours someone is physically in the office. It used to be thought that being the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave was the makings of a great employee. It's easy to default to paying attention to hours logged on or available in order to determine if an employee is productive when you can’t physically see them in the office. When companies shifted suddenly remote, without giving managers the time to properly train and prepare, we saw a surge in micromanaging and tracking as a leadership style.
But in a remote working environment, it's critical to shift your mindset to a focus on output. Integrating project management tools, such as Asana or ClickUp, can help, but it's equally important to invest in the skills needed to motivate productivity and manage conflict while not physically together.
These management mistakes can have severe negative consequences. Some of these include poor employee engagement, a toxic work culture, or even problems attracting and retaining top talent. Leaders must continue to seek out opportunities to improve their remote leadership skills to build the most collaborative and effective remote teams.
Megan Eddinger, Director of Customer Experience at Workplaceless
Eddinger first embraced flexible and hybrid work opportunities in 2006. She enjoyed the flexibility of these options as she expanded her career before joining a fully remote team in 2019. She finds fulfillment in helping organizations achieve sustainable remote and hybrid work through her interactions at Workplaceless.
Follow her on LinkedIn.