Failure to adjust practices for managing remote employees is one of the biggest sources of frustration we see in remote and hybrid companies. What remote work managers are facing isn’t business as usual and it requires a shift in both skills and thinking.
If technology has enabled a mass adoption of remote work, it's clear that logistics aren’t the issue. According to Jack Niles, legendary initiator of modern remote work, lagging management practices are.
We’ll examine six critical management upskills that your remote workforce needs in order to maximize success.
What is the primary responsibility of a manager? At a basic level, we might say that they exist to make sure work gets done, gets done right, and gets done on time. The tactics often employed to achieve these goals can wreak havoc when translated to a digital workspace.
Rather than viewing management as a tool to force productivity, successful remote work managers look for ways to empower their team members to do their best work. Managers that intentionally serve to unblock employees, protect their focus time, and focus on outcomes are more likely to succeed. Sharing productivity hacks, encouraging brain breaks, and reducing interruptions are just a few of the ways a great remote manager can help their teammates.
In Oyster’s recent Employee Disillusionment Report, Yen Tan, co-founder of remote worker wellbeing startup Kona, is quoted. ”We’ve studied 1000 remote managers. The best have one thing in common. They ask, “How are you?” and actually mean it. These leaders want to know how you’re feeling, how your kid was up all night with a fever, or how excited you are about buying a new house. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that we can’t keep pretending that life stays completely separate from work.”
Empathy is the ability to connect with others through an understanding of their thoughts, perspectives, and emotions; and demonstrating that understanding with intention, care, and concern. It’s clear from the study that the most successful managers exhibit true empathy. Treating the personal side of work as obligatory won’t create the sense of trust and safety needed for employees to do their best work.
In today’s workplace, empathy isn’t just a nice to have. It’s a non-negotiable for successful leadership. Here are a few statistics from Catalyst’s’ research that bear this out in a compelling way.
The good news is that empathy is a skill that can be learned, practiced, and developed. If you’re managing people in 2023, empathy must be a tool in your belt.
For remote workers, much of the work is done In a silent workspace. Outside of video meetings and the notification sounds reminding workers of mentions that are piling up across their communication tech stack, working remotely can be quiet.
When we hear the word listening, we often think of verbal communication, using our ears to understand the sounds being communicated. For managers in a digital workspace, listening means so much more. What is being communicated without being said?
Here’s an of example of how a remote manager might listen well.
A colleague who rarely misses deadlines has been late on a couple of tasks this week. They also arrived a few minutes late to a weekly team meeting where they had little to say. You notice they haven’t been very active in Teams/Slack for a couple of weeks, which also seems out of the ordinary. You’re not worried about the tasks or the meeting attendance, but you’ve noticed a change in the pattern.
Listening is all about noticing. Seeing what isn’t being said and taking notes. We’re not talking about assigning value to your observations, but rather being aware and being curious.
This leads us to our next remote management super skill
In an office space, you can sometimes see the frustration or desperation written all over the face of a colleague. In a remote team, you might never see the face of your colleague, especially if they keep their video off during Zoom calls. Remote management calls for proactivity.
As we outlined above, a manager with excellent digital listening skills has a healthy dose of curiosity but it takes proactivity to take things any further. One way proactivity manifests itself in a digital workplace is through a weekly one-to-one meeting between a manager and a direct report.
When casual hallway, desk-side, watercooler, and lunch break conversations aren’t happening, it’s critical to have dedicated time for a one-on-one conversation. There are four elements to successful 1:1 meetings that should ring true.
“Like managers, coaches are still there to act as a first port of call when challenges arise. But instead of directing from above, the focus is on empowering and supporting the employee to find their own way forward.”
In other words, the coaching skill shifts managers from telling people what to do to help them discover and leverage their own strengths to navigate the problems they face.
Think about how this might look in the context of performance reviews.
One thing we know about performance reviews, almost nobody likes them. Instead of treating them as feedback dumps where a manager tells their reports what behavior was bad and to stop and what behavior was good and to do more of, look at them as opportunities to celebrate successes, set new goals, and encourage team members to stretch beyond what they think they can do. Sounds like a job for a coach to me.
Have you ever seen a professional sports coach wait until the end of a game to give constructive feedback to a player? Never! Coaches don’t wait, they keep feedback on a continuous loop and find ways to unlock the best of their players. A manager-coach should take the same approach, making periodic reviews (quarterly) something that everyone looks forward to instead of dreads.
Last but not least, clarity. Clarity sounds more like a quality or a virtue but the skill needed here for remote managers is all about writing the unwritten rules of work for their team.
Have you ever broken an unspoken rule without realizing it, only to be completely embarrassed when you found out, and wished someone had told you and spared you from the humiliation?
Great remote managers create clarity of expectations, give the context needed for effective decision-making, and operate from a reliable single source of truth. No one wants to be caught off guard because they didn’t have these things in place before moving forward. Managers who give these things create a safer space for the team members to move quickly.
I’m an advocate for creating clarity at the company level as well as among individual teams. Remote work managers may consider creating a charter document for their team that outlines some key guidelines for working together and communicates important information about each team member.
Creating a charter document is an eye-opening experience as teams learn more about each other and put words to the unwritten norms.
In today's remote and hybrid work landscape, it is crucial for managers to adapt their practices and develop the necessary skills to effectively lead their remote teams. Failing to do so can result in suboptimal management practices that hinder productivity and employee well-being. If you want to maximize the success of your remote workforce, I encourage you to explore upskilling your management team with the critical skills for remote managers outlined in this article.
Want to go deeper into these skills and gain more actionable insights? I invite you to get in touch with us. We offer live training webinars and in-depth workshops on these topics, where you'll have the opportunity to learn from experts and engage in meaningful discussions with experienced remote managers. Together, let's unlock the full potential of your team and revolutionize the remote working experience.
Photography by Sophia Jené Photographs