More and more companies are allowing employees to be fully or partially remote. No longer is everyone in the office all day, popping over to each other's desks for a quick chat or gathering in physical meeting rooms for a discussion. Communication instead happens via a mix of direct messages, group chats, emails, phone, and video. These changes are an adjustment for everyone and especially for those in management. If you’re currently responsible for managing and leading others remotely or you’re looking to take on those responsibilities, you’re not alone in feeling out of your depth. Here are a few tips that can help.
1. Set clear expectations
Setting and reiterating expectations is essential for disparate teams. As a leader, you must make sure everyone has a shared understanding of the team mission and direction. Each individual should also know their roles and responsibilities and see how they relate to the overall group mission. Emphasizing and promoting core values can be a great way to help people understand how to act and make decisions in alignment with the company’s goals and expectations.
2. Find tools and processes that simplify work for your team
Working remotely requires new processes and systems that help everyone to be productive and efficient. No matter how long you’ve been remote, consider what would make life easier for your team. What processes could be improved or perhaps better defined and communicated? Look for places where things are faltering. Where is collaboration or communication failing? Is information spread across too many different systems, making it hard to access or share? Don’t get stuck doing something just because that’s what you’ve always done!
Before updating your technology and processes, seek input and opinions from the people who are involved in the day-to-day operations and using the tools and software. If your team doesn’t have what they need, advocate for their needs with your IT department and senior leadership. Once a solution is in place, check in regularly to see what’s working well and what needs to be adjusted and improved.
3. Establish communication guidelines
Determine norms for how your team should communicate with each other and with you and other leaders. Some of this may have been established previously, but now is a good time to reexamine practices that you’ve taken for granted. For example, what tool is best for everyday internal communication, like quick questions and feedback requests? How should files be saved and when and where should they be shared? When do you use private messages versus email versus group discussions versus a meeting?
As for meetings, there is some important etiquette to consider. One good rule of thumb is to always have an agenda so that people know why they should join and what to expect. When scheduling meetings, be considerate of people’s work schedules, time zones, and need for advance notice. Communicate in advance whether it’s important for people to have video on during calls and when exceptions can be made. Making thoughtful choices about all of the many ways your team communicates will reinforce company culture and help you maintain a well-functioning team.
4. Communicate frequently and openly
When working at home, people are more likely to feel isolated and disconnected from their teammates compared to when you’re together in an office. To help them feel like a part of a group, leaders should give frequent company and team updates, including sharing organizational strategy, achievements, and ongoing projects. In these meetings and individually, take time to acknowledge and celebrate your team member’s contributions. Let people know that their efforts are appreciated.
Encourage people to come to you with thoughts and questions about anything from company news to individual concerns to ideas for team improvement. Check in regularly with everyone to see how they’re doing, and make it a point to seek out the opinions of team members who seem quiet and hesitant to speak up. To help teammates bond, create time and space for fun activities and informal conversations that aren’t directly related to work or specific projects. While these conversations would occur naturally in an office, a little more planning is needed with a remote workforce.
5. Demonstrate flexibility and empathy
Every employee will have a different office and work setup. Some may be dealing with family responsibilities, noisy environments, and other things that require occasional attention. As a manager, you need to be understanding of the reality of working from home. If you’ve done a good job setting clear expectations, communicating needs and preferences, and creating room for open discussion, there’s no need to micromanage an employee’s daily activity. Trust your employees to do their jobs and assess them based on progress and results, not on how quickly they respond to each IM or email.
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