Managing remotely is throwing up new challenges for managers who, in those long-lost pre-pandemic days, used to see their employees daily.
So, what can you do as a manager to be as effective as possible in this world of remote working?
1. Make time for reflective conversations
The one big challenge of virtual working is that most conversations have become transactional. Too many leaders have lost the habit of reflection and development with their teams.
In a recent development session with an executive leadership team, I paired up the team in break-out rooms and set them a coaching conversation focused on what they had learned about themselves over the last months.
The largest learning from that activity was not about anything they had learned, but that they had not had a non-transactional conversation with each other for over a year.
If you don’t give your team time to reflect and learn from experience with you, they will start reflecting on their own or with others. It’s one of the factors that has led to the huge numbers of people resigning seeking new work.
2. Build trust – avoid micro management
Many leaders and managers have found themselves anxious when they can’t ‘see’ people working. It can result in micro-managing, which means wanting to check every detail, and give precise instructions for every task.
If this is you – beware! You will exhaust yourself and create resentment among your team. Focus on output or results, not the detail of inputs. Aim to keep your focus on what must be delivered, and agree timelines.
After that, trust people to deliver or to talk to you if there is a problem. If you can’t trust your team to deliver, you need to ask yourself why not?
Most people do not get up in the morning determined to ‘do a bad job’, so if you feel that’s what’s happening, you need to explore the problem more deeply.
3. Build trust – do what you say you’ll do
You need to keep your promises to your team, just as much as they need to deliver what they have said they will.
Cancelling one-to-one meetings at short notice, changing what you ask for at the last minute, withdrawing support for an idea you encouraged – these are all examples of not following through on your commitments.
If you are someone who can be over-enthusiastic and then has to back-track on promises, learn to manage people’s expectations early. If your diary is chaotic and you let your team down over important meetings – get a grip! It’s easy to blame others, but you are a manager. Take some control!
4. Build trust – be careful about virtual criticism
There are times when we criticize colleagues – we shouldn’t – but we are all human.
If you criticize someone in a virtual environment, once you finish the conversation they may have no-one to talk to, to share their feelings with.
Consequently, virtual criticism can be much more harmful, and lead to long term resentment. If you are being critical in a meeting with others, you will cause even more damage, as they may feel humiliated and unable to defend themselves.
So, if you do find yourself criticizing, apologize quickly and where needed, publicly. It’s much easier to do this straight away, and then the moment will be forgotten and everyone can move on.
5. Give more feedback
When your team are remote they need more feedback from you, not less.
Feedback is not the same as micro-managing or criticizing. Feedback should enable your people to understand what has gone well or not gone well, so that they can learn from that experience.
Good feedback helps people grow and develop. Sometimes feedback can feel difficult to give, especially where your colleague has not performed well. If you struggle with this, think about the times you have received feedback in your working career. Very often the feedback that was most difficult to hear at the time, has had a significant impact on your growth and development since.
If in doubt about how to give difficult feedback, use a model such as ‘AIM’.
- A = Action: What did you observe (this might be seen/heard/read)?
- I = Impact: What was the impact of the action – positive or negative?
- M = Moving Forward: What would you like your colleague to do more of, less of, or change in future?
6. Give plenty of praise and recognition
In addition to feedback about what is going well, straightforward praise is a vital aspect of motivation. Acknowledging and recognizing good work is one of the key motivational tools.
From a personal ‘thank you’ to a public statement of achievement, the more your team feel ‘seen’ by you and the wider workforce, the more engaged they will be.
7. Keep capability up to date
When you are all working remotely, and perhaps feeling under huge pressure from multiple virtual meetings alongside demanding deadlines, it can be difficult to think about personal and professional development.
Each of your team needs to keep updating their skills, whether that is about making the most of the technology available to support them, or responding to changes in their profession. You need to do that too.
Not getting development right is one of the prime reasons people change employers. Encourage each of your team to take some responsibility for their learning plans, and invite them to share specific learning at team meetings.
8. When times are tough, focus on strengths
Few people now expect to be in the same company, or even the same profession for an entire working life.
As we move from role to role, we take with us our core strengths. Help your team understand their strengths, and how to use them when times are tough.
Whatever their key strengths, invite your team to reflect on how those strengths have helped them in the past, and how they can use them to face the future.
9. Role model good remote working practice
Set boundaries around your work, and encourage others to do so too. You cannot work at your best if you are answering emails every waking moment.
Tools exist to block time out of your diary, send automatic responses, and switch off.
Whatever the working hours in your organization and most especially if you are the CEO or founder – remember that you and others cannot be at tip-top performance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
10. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Nearly all these tips are about having meaningful conversations and relationships with your colleagues.
Communication is a two-way process – it’s not just you giving instructions and information – it’s you listening, sharing, and exploring ideas.
Write communication time into your diary. Invest in it.
Apply these tips and you will be well on your way to being a great manager, whether working remotely or not.