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Project Management

How Leaders Can Develop Great Remote Management Skills

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:

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How Leaders Can Develop Great Remote Management Skills
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