Managing a Team Remotely

Managing a Team Remotely

Erik Wyche
co-authored by Molly Egan

When I relocated to Philadelphia from DC in 2016, splitting time between OPX’s office in DC and working from home, I grew used to the remote work lifestyle, and learned all the tips you hear too often: Change out of your pajamas. Have a dedicated workspace. Create a routine. Now that I’m back in DC full-time three years later, and, like most of the corporate world, we’re forced to work remotely five days a week (now with a new baby, which, as all parents know, is the busiest job I’ve ever had).  

Lately, I’ve started thinking past staying productive while I was home, and more about how to be a good coworker and manager when everyone is working from home - including coworkers, clients, and consultants. How can you motivate your team, and keep them motivated? What’s the best way to collaborate and stay connected? What about making sure deadlines are met? Now, your team doesn’t necessarily work typical hours due to staggered days in the office, childcare or a sick dependent, or insufficient at-home workspaces, as well everything else we’re dealing with in this changing landscape - how do we manage it all?

Through my experiences and the experiences of my colleagues, there are five main strategies I’ve found most successful in managing a remote team.

1.      Trust.

A close friend of mine told me a story that has stuck with me for years: Her former employer mandated all employees to keep a video camera on them from 9am – 5pm, ensuring they were at their desks – as if that ensured the work got done.  Most likely people got their work done in spite of the cameras, not because of it.  Clearly not much trust here…

Trust goes deeper than hoping (or demanding) that people are at their desks when you can’t see them – it starts with the hiring process. Skills can always be taught, but character can’t.Investing in the right employees, hiring people with the same ideals, and making sure they’re a good culture fit is paramount and the first step.

Cultivating a team goes a step further:getting to know your team on a personal level (that your team members are comfortable with) will build that trust – you will communicate more effectively and collaborate well, and ideas will flow from these everyday conversations. As a result, your team will know you trust them, and both sides will work to maintain that trust. Employees that feel trusted and autonomous are more likely to produce quality work, whether or not they’re still fully remote with responsibilities at home or still trying to figure out an optimal in-office schedule.

2.      Technology. The utilization of technology(and the expansion of your repertoire with it) has never been so important. For so long, when people worked from home, they (and their organizations) shied away from instituting the latest technology for a variety of reasons, be it cost or lack of resources, and it’s now proven to be the metaphorical glue holding the workforce together. Teams with different schedules, priorities, and deadlines are able to communicate and collaborate (almost) as effectively as they used to in the office. Keeping up with what everyone in an organization is doing, not only your own team, has never been so easy. Pulling that same thread, the utilization of technology can improve organization immeasurably.

3.      Organization.

Lead by example when it comes to organization. Staying organized can involve using custom software,but it can even be as simple as keeping spreadsheets or taking diligent notes and to-do lists. To keep your team organized, document people’s hours,coordinate multiple project schedules, and maintain deliverables using the method that works best for you (which could take some trial and error). Keep your team on-task and productive while saving time and energy in the long run to focus on your work.

4.      Positive Reinforcement.

No one likes a micromanager. Now, because it’s impossible to be hovering over your team,taking more of a hands-off approach and trusting your team to meet those deadlines will undoubtedly yield more confidence to take on work and build initiative. When successes occur, make sure to acknowledge them. Providing positive affirmation is a morale booster. That recognition to an employee or team, both in a closed meeting and in front of the organization, sends a message that their work is noticed, appreciated, makes a difference to the company’s overall goals and most importantly, makes people feel accomplished and valued. (Did I mention trust?)

In today’s difficult times, even taking the time to acknowledge that things are just good, and everyone’s doing their jobs,can improve both the personal and collective attitude.

5.      Connection.

All of the previous points relate back to connection. You can be as tech-savvy and organized as you want, but it means nothing without using those skills to positively reinforce and connect to your people to build that trust in the first place. Frequent communication with your team, even with simple text or chat, means you stay connected. Your team needs to know you’re there for questions and engagement, to replace the impromptu huddle room meetings you’d have in the office or happy hours after work. Establish which methods the team prefers for communication, for both scheduled and impromptu meetings: maybe they’re constantly checking Slack but forget to open up their email sometimes, or a team member frequently steps away from the computer, so group text is the best way to connect with them. Setting a meeting once a week for people working on the same project to touch base on progress and challenges sets a baseline level of productivity that motivates people to work harder, if only to contribute their successes in this manner.

Now more than ever, we’re reliant on each other for our collective success. Rather than being a manager who simply aims to produces results, be a manager focused on trust and work together to make your organization’s mission come alive for both your team and the company.

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