When the pandemic became reality in March 2020 and stay-at-home mandates started being issued, standard workplace settings and practices came to a screeching halt. Nearly everyone that could transition to remote work did in a span of a week. While remote work was a new concept to many, vChief has been operating remotely since its inception, and I’ve worked remotely for the past ten years. I’d love to share some of my top tips for managing a remote team:
Hiring the right people is critical. Although a larger percentage of candidates will have some amount of remote experience nowadays, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. In addition to the right knowledge and skills for the specific role, what you should be looking for in your candidates is a strong professional maturity and the ability to move projects along autonomously. Ask questions during the interview that help you determine how self-motivated and resourceful each candidate is. You want to hire people you feel confident in to get the job done.
Trust your people. You hired them because they were a strong candidate and will get the job done (remember #1?). That means you should not be micromanaging or monitoring how they spend their time just because they aren’t in the same physical office space as you. If you do find yourself slipping into this mode, take a step back and reflect on why. Are you having a hard time letting go of controlling the way things are done? Are you communicating effectively (we’ll dive in more in #3)? Or are they truly not as resourceful as they claimed to be during the interview process. If there are trust issues, it is best to nip them in the bud as early as possible.
Communication is key. Figure out how your team members like to communicate and work with that information. Do they appreciate a quick text when you need something? Do they need calls to strategize on big questions? Do they prefer email so they have text to refer back to for details? Let them know how you prefer to be communicated with as well.
Technology tools and apps are your friends. Google Docs allows collaboration, Slack lets you communicate quickly and instantly, Zoom facilitates visual cues that can be so integral to communication, and Asana and Trello allow you to move projects forward as a team. Even though right now we are all experiencing a bit of virtual fatigue (I’m looking at you, Zoom), these tools are critical to the success of remote teams.
Rituals are helpful for yourself and your team. Rituals can include mapping out your plan for the week on Monday mornings, setting your intentions, and looking at your ‘big rocks’ for the week. Also, wrapping up the end of the week by reviewing your accomplishments, looking at your critical next steps on the projects you’re working on, and building in new to-dos can help you clear your head for the weekend.
Make the time to get personal. In order to build real, earnest connections virtually, you have to make the extra effort to get to know people outside of the work they are doing. Find out about their families, their experiences growing up or any fun travels they’ve had. Even something as simple as asking what they did over the weekend can help you build a connection into their personal life.
Building a team culture remotely is possible. Yes, icebreakers and get-to-know-you games can be hokey, but they don’t have to be. There are plenty of meaningful ways to build a sense of team even if you can’t be together in person. Find opportunities to bring your team together virtually over Zoom, Google Meet or Facebook chat and explore ways to get to know each other better. You could even organize a virtual run/walk for individual members of the team to do on their own terms. The possibilities are endless.
Be available. Probably one of the biggest challenges of managing remotely is that you don’t have the same opportunities to witness those most subtle forms of communication that can help you tap into how someone is feeling (i.e. body language, tone of voice). Make sure to check in frequently with your employees one-on-one and ask questions. “How are you doing,” “is there anything I can do to support you,” and “do you feel like you have the appropriate amount of workload on your plate right now” are all good starters to gauge the wellbeing of your employees and how they are feeling about work. It’s also a good idea to intentionally block off time on your calendar that you can be available for your employees for one-on-one chats, and let your employees know that this time is available to them.
Also, be unavailable. As the leader, you model the organization’s priorities and expectations through and through in your words and your actions. Take time off when you need to and let your employees know they should do the same. Be direct about expectations around self-care, breaks, and time off. Share how you spend your time off and ask employees to share how they refresh and renew as well. Applaud people for taking time off, for taking walking breaks throughout the day, and for logging off at 6 pm. One caveat of working virtually is how easily you can get sucked into working many more hours than you would in a physical office setting, where “quitting time” is much more symbolic. Don’t want your employees working past 6 pm? Then don’t send them emails at 9 pm. And don’t respond to their after hours messages until the next workday. You set the precedent for this. Your employees will follow your lead.
As many of us continue to navigate the world of remote work for the foreseeable future, we can begin to harness the multiple opportunities that it offers. My experience for the past decade has been incredibly positive. I’ve been able to grow a successful company and connect with a small team from the comfort of wherever I decide to log onto my laptop. Hopefully these tips will help guide you in feeling confident that you can do the same.