With most organizations implementing a mandatory work-from-home policy to comply with the global effort to reduce physical distancing, many managers are finding it difficult to adapt to a new way of management. Previously, managers could easily walk to their employees' desks, ask about their current workload and offer any assistance while monitoring the progress towards deliverables. Now, managers are finding themselves either in the dark as to what their team is up to, or they're feeling like they're micromanaging to the extreme.
But let's get one thing straight: you will never be able to manage a remote team the same way that you did it in an office. That being said, you need to let go of all the habits that you've built up over the years and get ready to adopt a new way of thinking.
But just because it's different from how you've traditionally done things doesn't mean that it'll be less effective. Quite the contrary—managing a team remotely, if done correctly, can garner even better results while also allowing you, as the manager, the opportunity to step back and let your team work its magic. Afterall, you hired these people and are aware of the great things that they're capable of.
So that leads to the question, how do you manage a remote team without being overbearing and still being in-the-know at all times? Well, it really comes down to being able to strike a healthy balance between the two, in a way that empowers your employees while also putting your mind at ease.
To help you do this successfully, here are 4 tips on how to manage your remote teams.
1. Focus on Outcomes
This is perhaps the most important tip. While previously, you might have focused heavily on the processes involved to get to an outcome, it's now more important than ever to simply focus on the outcomes. If your employees are hitting their deliverables and producing great work that meets your standards, there is no need to focus your efforts on monitoring them. This will not only save you time, but it will also empower your team.
Your employees are familiar with the processes involved in producing their deliverables, so you don't need to worry about checking in with them every few hours to see how things are going on their end. What you should focus on, however, is providing them with an easy way to communicate with you should they get stuck in the process, or should they require guidance.
By letting your employees take the lead while assuring them that you're there to help if needed, you're not only showing that you trust them to deliver, but also that you have faith in their ability to produce great work independently. This, in turn, will empower your employees while offsetting your own stress levels—if your employees are hitting their deliverables and producing great outcomes, you don't need to intervene.
2. Communicate At The Right Times
While our first tip recommends that you focus on outcomes, as a manager, you still need to be aware of what your employees are working on, even if you aren't involved in every step. Communication, and the right types of communication at the right times, is therefore key.
Consider implementing a morning scrum, where your entire team meets over a video call (being face-to-face is important, especially when members of your team might be feeling lonely or isolated) to discuss their tasks for the day. Essentially, this meeting will allow you to get a sense of what everyone is working on without seeming overbearing, and further offer your team an opportunity to ask you, or each other, questions.
Additionally, you should consider implementing an afternoon scrum, especially if you have newer team members who might not be fully aware of the processes needed to successfully execute their role.
The purpose of the afternoon scrum is different from the morning one. Since you already know what your team is working on, the afternoon scrum offers your team the opportunity to address any issues or barriers that they've faced that day. Essentially, the afternoon scrum will help you fulfill the "focus on outcomes" recommendation we've prescribed in Tip 1; in order for you to focus on outcomes, you need to "focus on providing your team with an easy way to communicate with you should they get stuck in the process, or should they require guidance." The afternoon scrum is a perfect way to lend yourself to your team, since everyday, at the same time, your team will know that they'll have the opportunity to see you face-to-face and ask any questions.
Last but certainly not least, in order for you to feel at ease with not seeing what your employees are actually doing each day, you want to be able to know what your employees' weekly outcomes are. This will enable you to comfortably take a step back and let them focus on the process themselves.
Consider getting each team member to provide a weekly to-do list at the start of each week—these items will account for their "outcomes." By the end of the week, get them to check off all the items that they've completed, so that you can measure whether or not your employees are meeting their deliverables. If they are not meeting their deliverables, consider what they have on their plate and whether it needs to be adjusted, or whether you need to increase your communication with that specific employee.
3. Leverage Technology
Part of being available for your team to reach you at all times means that you might have to implement some new tools. Your team can't simply pop by your office anymore if they need help, and the afternoon scrum, as mentioned in Tip 2, might not be the best place to ask long-form questions, or any other inquiry that the rest of the team doesn't need to know. Remember that you also want to save your team from communication redundancies; if a specific question isn't useful to anyone but the person who's asking it, you want to make sure that you're available for private chats—the kind of one-on-one chats that you'd have in your office.
Leveraging the right types of technology will allow you to essentially create a "virtual office" where your employees can initiate a conversation with you, should they need assistance. Make it clear that you will be available if anyone needs assistance or guidance, and that you're there to help in any way.
Slack is a great tool that can help you with this. It also has a status feature, which allows you to tell your team what you're up to, and whether you're available for a chat. Likewise, it can tell you what your team is up to as well. With Slack, you can tell your team whether you are:
In a meeting
Concentrating (which means to not message)
Another great tool that you can use is an internal community, which can host private conversations, as well as ongoing team discussions on any particular topic.
Ultimately, in the absence of being able to chat with your team at any given moment, you'll need to procure the right tools that can provide your team with the same type of virtual access.
4. Outline Your Expectations
Working from home is not only new to you, but it's also new to (most) of your team. As their leader, you should lay the groundwork for this new process. While you can reasonably expect your employees to know the basics of what they should and shouldn't be doing, you need to let them know what your expectations are.
For example, you should let them know that just because they're at home doesn't mean that they shouldn't take periodic breaks. In the office, your team would get up to get coffee, chat with their co-workers and mingle in the kitchen. Make sure that you let them know that it's okay to take this downtime, chat with their co-workers through virtual channels and get up for a walk around the house.
On the flip side, make sure that you lay out your expectations for their deliverables. For example, if your team was producing a,b and c while in the office, make sure that they know that this is still what is expected of them.
Further, if you've decided to implement any sort of scrum or a to-do-list where they record their own progress, make sure that the ins-and-outs of these processes are loud and clear. This will not only help dispel any ambiguity around these new processes, but it will also help shift the mindset of your team and help them adjust to working from home.
If you follow these 4 tips, you'll be able to manage your remote team without being overbearing, which is important because maintaining the confidence and trust of your team is key to successful results. When your employees feel like you trust them, it will empower them to produce their best work and encourage them to reach out to you if they need help.
Further, trust is a mutual concept: when you choose to trust your employees, your employees will trust you and your leadership. While it may be difficult for you and your team to adjust to a new way of management, if done correctly, it can help create more solid bonds between the team and produce fantastic results.