This week I’ve been reflecting on how to manage remote and dispersed teams. Many of my clients run companies with people from all over the world and even if you don’t, members of your team may be still working from home, at least some of the time. How do you keep everyone on track and pulling in the same direction? How can you trust that people will meet your expectations, to the required standard and timelines? How do you continue to foster motivation and connection in your team? Whether you’re just launching a new business, thinking about starting or in a growth phase, being able to manage people remotely is becoming a key skill. Having confidence in your team is vital if your business is going to flourish.

One of the secret benefits of using remote workers is that the work itself becomes the yardstick to judge performance. ” Jason Fried

Are you managing a remote team?

Even before the pandemic struck, flexible working was becoming more accepted in many companies. But the onus was always on the employee to ‘prove’ they could make it work. Now the tables have turned and it’s up to the employer to argue the case for returning back to ‘normal’.

If you’ve developed your style of management by having personal impact, walking the floors and being able to see what’s happening, this sudden change is likely to be presenting you with some uncomfortable challenges. Maybe you worry that you’re losing control and that your people are taking advantage. Perhaps your concern is for the mental health of individual team members or that standards may be slipping without you being able to intervene.

Almost every day there’s a new example of a boss who’s insisting that everyone return to the office immediately. Many are encountering more resistance than anticipated. On the other hand, there are plenty of stories of companies who are embracing the new reality and the necessary flexibility that comes with it.

Once Pandora’s Box has been opened, it cannot be closed. Things will never return to exactly the way they were before. We cannot unlearn what we’ve experienced in the last eighteen months. We cannot forget the questions we’ve asked ourselves and the possibilities we’ve seen. This presents unique challenges for companies of all sizes, in particular when it comes to management. Although it’s easy to focus on people taking advantage of the situation, if that’s what’s concerning you, you’re missing the point. If you’re worrying about people taking cat naps, enjoying afternoon walks or even indulging in some unscheduled sexiness on your dime, you’re looking in the wrong place.

If your management style was founded on having people in the office for a certain number of hours every day, then it’s time for a change. Micro-management is particularly difficult when managing remotely, which in my view is a good thing! Activity is meaningless – what does it matter if it takes someone one hour or three? What’s important is output. What are your expectations in terms of outcomes? If your people are not working enough then maybe it’s time to look at raising your standards and being clearer about your expectations. Empower them to take ownership of their work.

There are certainly specific challenges that come with working remotely and these are likely to exacerbate any underlying problems that already exist in your business. Many good companies have either actively or passively disengaged members of their teams and working remotely risks further impacting their performance and connection to the mission and goals of the business. Many people find themselves feeling isolated and distracted when working from home. Working remotely is likely to enhance any issues you already have with silos in your business. When people feel out of the loop they tend to switch off and many miss face to face contact with their manager and colleagues. Although remote working can be fraught with challenges, there are several actions you can take to make things easier for all concerned.

Here are my Top Ten Tips for Managing Remote Teams:-

🌟 Communication. I was already advising my clients to communicate more than they felt was necessary, but when you’re managing remotely it’s even more vital. Expectations and outcomes must be crystal clear and repeated often.

🌟 Daily rhythm. Scheduling short daily check-ins may seem like overkill but it’s a great way to establish and maintain a working rhythm and keep the connection between team mates. Use video if you can.

🌟 Technology. We’ve all had a crash course in digital transformation in the last couple of years. There are many tools that aid communication as well as collaboration and tracking of progress. Make sure you’re taking full advantage.

🌟 Ways of working. It’s all very well having all this communication and technology but setting out clear rules of engagement is essential if you want a happy and productive team. Be clear about timelines, rhythm and expectations.

🌟 Expectations. Always an important aspect of management but never more so than when managing remotely. Don’t assume your people know what’s expected. Spell it out and ask for feedback to ensure alignment.

🌟 Focus. Put your focus on outcomes rather than activity. Define clear goals and desired results and let your people execute. Empower them to reach your high standards in their way.

🌟 Resources. It’s all very well focusing on outcomes but you must ensure your people are set up for success. Do they have all the training and resources they need? What support can you provide, what blockers can you remove?

🌟 Purpose. Make sure you’re really clear about why you’re asking people to do the tasks you’re setting. The more people understand the reason or purpose behind what they’re doing, the more likely they are to feel connected.

🌟 Connection. One of the most important things you can do as a remote manager is encourage interaction, collaboration and connection between your people. Carve out regular moments to have fun together as a team.

🌟 Support. Understand that different people will deal with working remotely in different ways. They need your support and understanding and they need your flexibility. Acknowledge their unique situation. Be human about it!

It’s completely unrealistic to expect yourself to know everything or be able to do everything. Please be kind to yourself and if you’d like to talk through the choices you’re facing or any blockers in your business, let me know.

Lisa Zevi – October 2021