Over the past several weeks, I’ve read countless articles about remote work that include tips on how to set up a workstation, create a consistent routine, separate “work” from “home,” and limit distractions.
Everybody must find their own kind of normal in this madness, and for that, these tips are great. But, what I’ve noticed is significantly less resources for remote leaders — those who have a team relying on them for direction and support.
Two years ago, my husband took a dream job in San Francisco, CA. So, I packed up my East Coast life and moved across the country, becoming a remote manager in the process. Let me tell you, it’s not easy. Remote leaders must work three times harder than we do in an in-office environment to accomplish the same results.
I now have two-and-a-half years of remote management under my belt. I’ve gotten into a rhythm, and I thought I’d share some lessons I’ve learned along the way.
No. 1: Be Available
Being remote can make it more difficult to quickly accomplish projects or even small tasks. That’s why it is imperative that you are available via chat, email, cell phone — you name it — during business hours. You must be reachable. Your team members need to know you are ready and able to help them solve problems should they arise. This might seem obvious, but I’ve talked to and witnessed remote leaders who don’t follow this rule.
If you won’t be available, make sure you are transparent as to why you won’t be able to respond within a given timeframe and when you will be available again. When you are in the office, your team can see you are in a meeting or otherwise occupied. When you are working from home, that’s not the case. So, set expectations for your adjusted availability and response time, and respect those promises as much as possible.
No. 2: Be Consistent
Consistency is one of the most important qualities for a leader to possess — being remote makes it even more crucial. Strive to bring your same self to work every day, and seek to show optimism and kindness at all times, in all interactions.
Of course, being an authentic leader is key to success — especially in a time like this — but remember your tone can easily get lost in translation over email and chat. Carefully consider how sarcasm or irony might come across. Opt for in-person phone calls and meetings when possible to set the mood you want to build within your team.
No. 3: Be Disciplined
It’s tempting to cancel meetings when you aren’t “feeling it.” That temptation is compounded when you work off-site and don’t see your co-workers until it’s meeting time. Still, stick to your one-on-one and team meeting schedule as much as you can. Yes, you’ll sometimes have to push a meeting for one reason or another, but it’s important to build consistency (see no. 2 above) within your team’s schedule.
To help develop this discipline, set a meeting schedule that is sustainable and find a structure that works for you and your employees. This might take several meetings and iterations to iron out. Give yourself permission to adjust and make changes as you go. That’s OK.
No. 4: Be Hands-Off … While Still Being Hands-On
Any relationship counselor will tell you trust is the foundation for a solid romantic relationship. The same principle holds true for the manager/employee relationship.
Not being able to physically see what our team members are working on can make even the best remote manager anxious. However, resist the urge to micromanage. Aim to be “hands-off” in your employees’ day-to-day activities but be “hands-on” when you are personally interacting with them. Work with your team members to set expectations and goals for the week. If they don’t follow through on those expectations and goals, step in to help them figure out what went wrong and why. This kind of approach shows your team members that you trust them and also care about them.
When I first started managing remotely, I thought my emails about projects fell into an abyss. Turns out, that wasn’t the case at all. My team members were tracking projects, I just didn’t know. Now, I ask for a quick response to my emails so I know things are happening and my team will come to me with roadblocks or questions. To better assure transparency and alignment, I also ask my team members to update a Google doc before our bi-weekly check-ins. The doc contains key information, roadblocks, items for input, and back-burner projects and forms the basis of our meeting agenda.
Check out the Management Center’s website for the inspiration behind my check-in meeting agendas. The same template won’t work for everyone, so have each individual team member add, subtract, or re-arrange elements to make the agenda their own valuable asset.
No. 5: Be Brave
When you find yourself in a situation that requires a reprimand or realignment, it can be tempting to let it fester or respond via a strongly worded chat or email. As enticing as that might feel in the moment, avoidance and aggression only serve to make problems worse.
When work gets uncomfortable, take a deep breath, pick up the phone, and calmly talk it out. “Pause, breath, and remain calm” is sound advice for any manager, but it’s critical for remote managers whose easiest communication touchpoints are impersonal and cold. Technology can be our greatest enemy in these situations. It takes brave leadership to ensure we’re doing right by our teams and ourselves.
No. 6: Be Honest, Open, And Vulnerable
Managing a team remotely isn’t easy, and we can’t be superwomen or men every day. Be open with your team about the challenges you are facing. Understand that wires are going to get crossed. You’re going to miss an important detail. That’s the nature of remote work. Be open to admitting your role in the matter, and then work with your team to figure out how to do better next time.
Have other tips? I’d love to hear them. Share in the comments or send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.