When I tell people that I manage a team of people that I’ve never met in person, I’m usually met with lots of questions. The main conceptions are that it must be hard to manage someone that’s not sitting right in front of you, and that so many processes must be different. In reality, managing a remote team member is much like managing anybody else. The big differences are the avenues used to manage.
Managing a remote team doesn’t involve an immensely different skill set, just some consideration and attention to process.
Set face time expectations
At some point you are going to be someone’s first remote manager. On my first remote job, I didn’t know what to expect, and in many ways I taught my manager how often I wanted to meet, and how we should contact each other. Make sure you outline exactly when and how you are going to talk. Success metrics should be outlined clearly as well.
Remember, remote workers can’t exactly turn to their neighbor and ask what metrics are needed for promotion, or what their quota is. As a manager you’ll need to bridge the gap by verbally communicating specific goals. Documentation of internal processes really helps too. When I worked at HubSpot, my manager worked on the other side of my cubicle, if I needed something from her I just yelled over the barrier. In a remote environment I’ve tried to create a similar communication environment, even if I’m thousands of miles from my team.
And one other thing…use video. Phone calls are great, but use video when you are meeting with your team. Non verbal communication is a given with your in-office employees…this is an example of not changing your management style, just using different avenues. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “that’s fine with me,” but their body language reads differently. As a manager you need to be able to manufacture that experience with your remote workers
Nobody likes to be forgotten. I’ve worked remote positions where my manager sends out a team meeting invite with no dial in number. Seems like no big deal, but managers set the tone. Even for small “let’s jump into a conference room” meetings with your in-person team, make sure to invite your remote reports. The best thing you can see is one of your in-office reports sitting in a conference room, on a video call with one of your remote reports, brainstorming or talking strategy.
For fully distributed teams this is not as much of a problem, everyone is somewhere else, so it becomes necessary to video chat, or at least voice call each other. In this case though, facilitating “water cooler moments” is the best thing you can do. When your employees start to feel isolated, you might be looking for their replacement sometime soon.
Be able to switch gears
Recognize that you are a great in-person boss, but bumping into your direct report in the office kitchen isn’t really possible with remote workers. Another example of not changing your management style, just be conscious of opportunities where you can manufacture a cohesive workspace.
The biggest one is getting to know your team. If you sit next to someone, you’ll be great at knowing what they do on Saturdays…by osmosis, they are literally right next to you. When you meet with your remote reports, it can’t be all business. It’s reflexive to “get down to business” on a work call, but take the time to get to know your remote workers – even if your one-on-ones need to be extended to do so. Putting in just a little bit of time goes a long way.
Keep tasks in order
Be consistent with your team. Whether your team is fully or partially distributed, being organized and actually trusting your employees is a huge “efficiency hack”. Even if you can’t physically see your account manager, you hired her for a reason, she knows how to do her job. While Neglecting your remote team is definitely bad, too much supervision can be detrimental too.
Once your remote team members are ramped in, you need to trust that they are actually doing their jobs. Spending your time micro-managing remote employees can throw your to-do list out of whack bigtime. Just remember that remote workers are just as capable as anyone else. If you’ve done a good job hiring, you have nothing to worry about.
After all the talk about how you (as a manager) do not need to change, if you don’t have the right tools…you are going to need to get really creative. Other than time tracking software, this list from Inc.com is really all you need to know (I like to use Harvest). Most of them have a fee, but they will make your life a whole lot easier as a remote manager.
I can’t stress enough how important tools are to remote management.If you choose a product like Skype or Facetime to save money, make sure that you choose a product comparable to one of the platforms on that list.
One of the coolest things you can say about yourself as an employee is “I was given very little instruction or help, but I still crushed it”. Of course remote workers need to work autonomously, but as a manager this is not something you want to hear about your management. Unfortunately, I’ve heard a ton or remote workers saying something along those lines. At some point in their journey, they felt isolated or left out. If you manage remote employees, just be cognizant of the nuances associated with remote work. Being a little more considerate leads to happy employees (and less attrition!). If you have any other remote management techniques, please reach out I would love to hear them.