Managing a distributed team can be quite challenging as we can no longer rely on physical presence. Tracking progress by having a face to face meeting in a conference room, organizing spontaneous brainstorming sessions in our office kitchen are no longer possible. Moreover, if we have a hybrid team and several employees are available in the office, we naturally feel tempted to chat with them, while totally forgetting about remote team members who can feel completely left out. By now, we’re already aware of all this as the pandemic has proved that our past management methods must change. It’s about time we get ready for new ways of working! Obviously, we’ve tried to make it work for some time now but it seems like mirroring in-office meetings in a virtual setup is insufficient to ensure top performance, prevent burnout and simply build a sustainable distributed workplace.
That’s why in this article, I’m sharing key skills that every hybrid or remote manager should have. How do I know? Well, I’ve worked with numerous remote-first companies from all around the world and we’ve identified these skills together, based on data, knowledge and experience.
Playing by the rules
Unconscious bias can lead to failure and dissatisfaction, and I’ve seen it happening a lot. Why? Because we forget to determine mutual cooperation principles. Let me share a real-life example with you now. An employee quit because they felt bullied by the manager as he was sending Slack messages at midnight. Obviously, I spoke with both parties and I received contradictory statements. The employee was seeking work-life balance and wanted to log out of work after 6 pm, expecting that nothing would need to be done in the evening. And that was… right. The manager preferred to send e-mails around midnight because of having two small children and being a single parent. No immediate response or action was expected! So what went wrong? The fresh remote manager forgot to speak about expectations.
That’s why we must remember that there should indeed be rules of remote or hybrid working. The most crucial one is having transparent workflows and communication channels. We should also make sure that they are centralized. Don’t use e-mail, Slack, text messages or video calls randomly. Distinguish which channels are currently used the most, structure them and adjust towards synchronous and asynchronous working. Also, make sure that all the technology is well-mastered by all team members. There’s nothing worse than treating everyone like a pro if people may need to learn all tools at their own pace. Such things take time and we must keep that in mind.
I’ve stated this numerous times and I’ll do it once again. Don’t track time but rather the progress and the goals. Time-tracking is only helpful if we’re willing to measure our productivity, feasibility or determine the right pricing for an outsourced project. So, when you speak with your team don’t just check if their calendars are full. Don’t send them emails at 4:59 to check if they’re still in front of their laptops…
Voting against a meeting-first culture
“Let’s jump on a call“, “Let’s speak about this quickly over Zoom“, “Let’s schedule a conference call” to brainstorm, evaluate, discuss. Those are predominantly empty words. Think about all the time and effort spent by all meeting attendees to have a chat about an insufficiently defined topic. Count the hours of all your team members spent during daily Zoom meetings to just go over a status update where nothing significant is happening. What a waste of time, resources and energy!
Despite the fact that many meetings shouldn’t even take place, we still need to schedule a few. If we want to do it right, let’s ask the following questions: Can we do this asynchronously instead? Is it impossible to take care of this in writing? Has anything significant happened so far? What are we willing to do exactly? If we have a vague goal, we probably need to redefine it. Finally, once the meeting takes place ,write down a sentence starting with the following words: “This meeting will be a success if...” and finish it your way. Obviously, make sure to prepare the agenda, determine the roles of stakeholders, create an action plan and share all materials before the meeting. This way everyone will have the time to get familiar with everything and prepare themselves for participation. We don’t want to just sit there with our cameras switched off and wait for all this to be over soon.
To be a top remote manager, you must keep in mind that pandemic work from home has made all of us experience the Zoom fatigue syndrome. Looking at other people on our screen and seeing our own face in the corner is really tiring for our eyes. So if you have the possibility to meet in person and socialize at the same time – go ahead! If some team members can’t physically join, you can always host a hybrid meeting. However, the rule is simple: reduce unnecessary screen time.
Old school management vs. digital leadership
Gone are the days when top-down management was the golden rule of every successful team. As the future of work is becoming people-centric, it’s crucial that new leadership methods follow.
Rather than tailoring a structured process to our team, we should try to tailor our team’s capabilities to the process.
Everybody is different and a great leader should definitely take this into account. I strongly recommend having an open conversation with team members upfront and designing a path of successful cooperation together. There may be people who prefer a small talk but we can be dealing with straight shooters who want to get to the point right away. Some team members will be more proactive than others. Some employees will prefer more autonomy than the rest of the team and… that’s all right. The goal for every remote manager should always be to get the best out of people. Ultimately, we want to build a healthy, productive team that can thrive in the digital working era. To start making it happen, let’s make sure we talk about what’s important for individuals, the whole team and the company.