More and more people are managing some or all of their team remotely these days – partly because technology allows and in some cases, because circumstances dictate. Whatever the reason for you managing others remotely, or even you being managed remotely, I’d like to share some tips with you on today’s podcast as to how to get the very best from yourself and your team if you’re in that place.
My name’s Dr Paul Brewerton, the strengthsguy, I’m a Psychologist and I’m a Doctor, so do please trust me…twice. I bring you science-backed strengths-based tips for getting more from your work life and from your “life-life”, each Monday just before you start work, wherever and however that may be. So on to today’s topic.
First up, there’s nothing virtual or remote about virtual or remote management, at least not in the literal sense. Like I mean it shouldn’t feel either virtual or remote to your team – instead the aim is to make it feel close and real. Management at a distance needs an even greater awareness of human psychology and your team’s needs than co-located management. And that’s particularly the case in challenging or stressful times when there’s uncertainty about, so my tips relate firstly to good practice management, whether you’re co-located or working separately from your team, and secondly to those things that you need to be particularly aware of when managing from a distance. So here’s my tips for good practice remote management. There’s a few here, so let’s get going.
Know your team
What are each member of your team’s preferences for communication, contact, reassurance, updates? Some people need more contact time than others; some prefer voice contact, others video. Speak to each member of your team and work out together what will work best for both of you to ensure that you can both bring your best to work each day.
Like I said, remote management needs an even deeper level of understanding of your team, where you’re getting more into the psychology of each individual team member. In particular, do bear in mind that some people can be really vocal if they need additional help or support or communication and others will ‘suffer in silence’. You’re going to need to check in and see how your people are really doing, rather than going through a tick box exercise of contact. So ask ‘How are you?’ or even ‘How are you?’ a little more regularly than you might if you were co-located. That way, you’ll get to know who’s ok and who’s struggling – remember also that ‘ok’ and ‘struggling’ can be very much transient states so stay aware and vigilant for any changes and modify your approach to the needs of each of your team as they arise…try not to make assumptions or judgements about particular people ‘being fine’ or ‘not needing support’ or of others being ‘more needy’ of your time – it will vary from day to day, week to week, month to month for each person for a whole host of reasons. People are messy and unpredictable and wonderful, so seek first to understand (thank you, Stephen Covey) where they’re at right now.
Play to strengths
Know the strengths of each member of your team and encourage them to use those strengths when working on tasks or projects or when under pressure. Also, know the risk areas of each of your team members which may show up when they’re under additional pressure or in new circumstances – particularly drainers, where they don’t have energy or strength, and strength in overdrive risks, where they may start overdoing strengths as that can lead to exhaustion, if you miss it. So I have an Efficiency drainer – that means I’m drained by following a plan or process or checklist…it makes me want to break free! But working remotely, I know that I need to get through a realistic to do list each day, so I’ll set myself goals, motivate myself around getting stuff done for other members of my team, it’s just that I’m not going to be motivated by working to a plan particularly. Also, I have Empathy and Collaboration strengths which can go into overdrive and I can find myself too concerned about other people’s well-being, which means I’m not looking after my own enough sometimes; that can show up particularly when I’m under pressure. Now I could go on and on and on about myself but I won’t, not on this podcast anyway; I just wanted to share a couple of my own examples so that you remember to focus on getting to know each of your team the strengths way, so that you can help them bring their best each day.
Provide clear objectives
People need clarity and focus, particularly when working remotely, so being certain on what I am being asked to do in a given week or month and the prioritisation of those objectives is really important. This is particularly important if priorities change – quite possible in some circumstances – so that everyone is super-clear on what’s required of them and in what order. Check out my podcast at Season 5, Episode 9 on How to Set Expectations, which is all about providing clear objectives.
Manage to outcomes not inputs
Managing remotely requires even greater focus on outcomes and not on activity, so be sure what you’re measuring as an outcome, or objective, for each member of your team and focus on how that outcome can be achieved most effectively. Worry less about how they’re getting there, as long as they’re doing that efficiently and in a way that’s supported and that plays to their strengths. Have a listen to my podcast at Season 3, Episode 5: How to delegate well, as that will give you some more on good practice in delegation.
When working remotely, there’s less opportunity for your team to get clarity informally on what’s happening in the team or organisation, so make sure that you always communicate what’s happening clearly to your team and encourage them to get clarification on whatever they need. This can be done one-to-one or even better on whole-team check-ins.
Super important at the beginning or end of the day (or even both for some people), ideally on a voice or video call, with email or another non in-person method only as a fallback if nothing else is possible. This is really important for motivation, connection and support. It will depend on the size of your team and how many direct reports you have, so sometimes, it will have to happen as a whole team check-in, but that has benefits too, which I’ll come on to.
Weekly face to face meetings
Make sure that these happen, ideally on a regular, diarised basis and make sure they’re videoconference (if possible) so that members of your team feel present and so that you can pick up on any body language cues where they may appear.
Whole team check ins
Making sure that everyone has the opportunity to experience whole team communications and ‘live’ check ins or meetings from time to time is even more important when working remotely, so make sure that you set up, and encourage your team to attend, any such meeting so that you all stay connected and supported as a single team.
I know you know this, but it’s good management practice to respect time boundaries with your team and this becomes extra important when managing people remotely – if someone is finishing work at 5 or 5.30, then they shouldn’t be contacted after that time, or at least, you need to agree that there’s no expectation of a response until the next working day, so that people can switch off, have an evening and not have work life ‘bleed in’ to life life.
Remember your organisation’s values
If values are important in your organisation, keep them present. Particularly during times of uncertainty or change, organisational values can take on a greater relevance than ever as they can bring people certainty and reassurance. Keep them present for yourself and keep reminding your team of the values.
Look after yourself
So that’s a lot that I’ve just covered – a lot to do and to remember for managing people remotely. So be real about that and make sure that you stay ok; for more, please listen to the tips I cover in ‘Make homeworking work for you’, at Season 6, Episode 12.
That’s all folks. The most important thing of all to remember when managing remotely: don’t manage ‘remotely’! Do be sure to communicate often, to be available to remote workers and to help them feel supported at all times. And look after yourself too, that way you’ll feel better able to be there for your team. Till next time.
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