For many managers, leading a team is a largely in-person activity, involving face to face interaction with colleagues who are often working mere metres away. However, for other managers, face to face interaction is a luxury they are rarely afforded. This could be because they manage colleagues across different markets or regions in a global role, or due to an unexpected shut down of physical offices, as seen across the world in 2020.
Whether you are remotely managing a team on a temporary or permanent basis, it is important to understand that there is a specific skill set needed to operate successfully in this way. Although many of the common principles of good management remain intact, there are other areas where processes and practices need to be adapted to suit the situation.
With this in mind, we have gathered our five top tips for managing a team remotely.
1. Think carefully about communication
This is clearly one of the biggest challenges of remote working and something that needs to be worked at and adapted constantly. Of those who transition into remote management, many report that one of the biggest initial hurdles was the fact that they could no longer simply turn to a colleague to ask a question. In the modern digital era, there are a plethora of platforms for contacting a colleague remotely in this scenario – so which one do you choose? Ultimately, it often comes down to the nature of your query. If you need an answer to something instantly and it is not going to require long written explanation, than a call is probably best. If you require the input of multiple colleagues, then a conference chat can be the best bet. Email is a good option if what you are asking is likely to require some thought or information gathering. Meanwhile, instant messaging is perhaps best used as a bridge between different communication methods – a way to get the attention of a colleague and ask for a call, for example.
The key in any case is not relying too heavily on one method of communication and to also listen to how your team wish to be communicated with. Adapting to different situations and individual styles is the key.
2. Insist on a daily team check in
Whilst your communication methods may differ from time to time, it is important that you implement structure in terms of frequency of communication. A daily check in with your team, ideally in the morning, will not just allow everyone to align on deadlines and priorities for the day ahead, but also help to engender the sense of team that comes more naturally when everyone is in the same location. It is often a good idea to follow-up with a list of agreed actions, which can be tracked on the following day’s call. Where possible, try to make the call a video conference – it can be amazing how much more personable and motivating a virtual meeting can feel where everyone can see, as well as hear, each other.
3. Be clear about your expectations
Managing remotely requires developing a sense of trust with your team. You can no longer see your team physically working, so how can you know they are staying on task and avoiding distractions? The key to this is setting out clear expectations from the outset. This could be around agreed ways of working – for example, the communication methods you will use for checking in throughout the day or week – and also setting out deliverables and deadlines. Reinforcement of these expectations is also very important and something that perhaps needs to be thought more about than if you were operating in the same location. Getting everyone’s buy in on your shared goals will help to engender a sense of team, even if colleagues are not sitting together.
4. Be stringent with deadlines
Deadline management is a very pertinent aspect of managing a team remotely. Whilst you cannot visibly see your team working, the level of their output is a clear indication that they are completing tasks they have been assigned. If colleagues are regularly missing deadlines, it can be a sign that they are not operating optimally – and highlight the need for more stringent checks on their productively. Ultimately, it is important to adopt a delivery-focused mindset which gives your team a degree of flexibility and allows everyone to know where they stand.
5. Be empathetic about your team’s wellbeing, including their mental health
Pastoral care is an important part of line management – all managers have a duty of care to their staff with regards to their wellbeing. However, this can be a very different challenge when it comes to remote management, where it can be more difficult to observe a person’s mood and behaviour than if you were in the same physical location.
Working remotely can be an isolating experience for individuals, particularly if it is a temporary measure as opposed to something an employee has actively chosen to do. For these reasons, it is essential to be checking in with your direct reports as often as possible and ensuring that your conversations are not purely task orientated. Presenteeism is something to be particularly aware of. Staff who may well ring in sick when feeling unwell if they were office-based could decide to ‘soldier-on’ if they operate remotely. However, the end result, as in all situations of working when sick, is likely to be burnout. Keeping a handle on the wellbeing of your staff, both physically and mentally, is an essential aspect of remote management – and in many ways the key to the long-term success of the arrangement overall.