If your team has remote workers or doesn’t have a team in an office at all, you might wonder if your management is effective. Managing remote workers is a different game than office leadership.
You know that already, but you might not be sure how the game is different. We spoke to successful remote managers, and asked them what advice they have for managers who have transitioned into remote leadership.
Remote leadership requires new tools, new expectations
Remote leadership can be just as effective as in-person management, but you have to prepare for it. You have to use different tools and manage different expectations.
“During my time at IBM,” says Stan C. Kimer, a management consultant, “I was considered one of their top managers and even received a management excellence award. I was managing almost all virtual employees. A good, creative manager can find ways to communicate and inspire their remote employees. That includes having innovative and meaningful team conference calls.”
You also need to make an extra effort to get to know your team, since you won’t see them every day. That’s what Dan Salganik, the managing partner of VisualFizz, recommends. Salganik manages a remote team that works across several time zones, with members in places as far flung as Nevada and South Africa.
“Leaders have to stay present in the team’s work and lives,” he says. “Get to know the employees, ask questions, be interested in their lives. I don’t get to talk to my team every day, but I try to provide them with company updates and information on growth and earnings fairly often.”
Regular contact will help you build camaraderie and make your team feel valued. In fact, remote work can actually break through some of the barriers that more traditional work environments create.
“Even with the largest organizations that have teams working in the same offices, they likely have offices spread throughout the country and even the globe,” points out David Waring, a founder of Fit Small Business.
Large organizations in far-flung locations can inspire the same sense of purpose and belonging that a small, physically close team can foster. That’s what Georgene Huang, a Forbes contributor and the founder of Fairygodboss—who consults for many remote workers—pointed out:
“Any large multinational ultimately is run by someone or teams of people who are ‘remote’ leaders from an employee who works in a different office.
“Are the only people working at Apple who think Tim Cook is inspirational literally in the same office as him?”
Use tech to your advantage
“With occasional in-person meetings, video chats, and telephone calls you can inspire a team,” Huang says.
That’s the reason entire teams have been able to go remote. In fact, project management and communication software can allow your team to pass a baton across time zones and complete projects faster than the eight-hour work day would allow.
“If you want people to interact in ‘real-time,’ then you can set hours where everyone needs to be online,” says Kate Smith of WiFly Nomads, a remote work-training and travel program. “You can use project management tools that streamline everything. With tech, you can leverage the fact that people are in different time zones, and then work is always getting done 24 hours a day at some point around the world.”
Since remote work can be isolating, you should take every opportunity to get your team to collaborate on the same projects. It will help your team develop a group identity: they’ll feel like part of something.
“Many organizations have found ways to make remote teams work, but the collaboration must be planned for, constantly assessed, and tweaked,” says Wayne Turmel, a co-founder of the Remote Leadership Institute, which studies remote work.
Turmel says that it’s critical for remote leaders to require their team to collaborate. They might not do it on their own.
“You can’t just have people working on their own and expect it to happen,” he says, “especially when what communication there is may be through tools like Skype for Business, or Slack, or other new technology.”
Accommodate different work styles
You’ll get the best effort and work out of your people because they can do their work when they’re ready to do it.
You might have found that your virtual colleagues can actually do their work faster than those in a traditional office. Remote workers don’t have to deal with interruptions, and they can do work when they’re mentally ready.
“If an exceptional employee can finish their tasks in three hours instead of eight, encourage it!” says Johnny FD, an entrepreneur and podcaster who creates programs and content for remote workers. “Either allow them to enjoy the rest of the day at yoga, or give them more responsibility, higher goals, and pay them accordingly. For me personally, when I was working in a cubicle at a big corporation, knowing that I had to be there from eight to five no matter what, I had no incentive to be ultra-productive.
“Now that I work remotely, I know that if I can finish my project by 3 p.m., I can go for a run on the beach while it’s still sunny out, which incentivizes me to deliver great work with faster turn around.”
Flexible work styles and hours are valuable to workers who care for elderly relatives, have children, or are pursuing a new degree.
“A lot of parents prefer to work from home, so they can spend time with their kids,” says Alexis Chateau, a public relations executive whose entire company works remote. “It’s also easy to fit in class schedules when you work remotely, but it’s really hard to do it when you have a nine-to-five at a brick and mortar building.”
Remote work is a revolution. It’s disrupting everything about the workplace, especially for managers. Remote leaders face challenges that are unique to their circumstances. But most of them use the same skills and strategies that in-person managers do.
In fact, the key to remote work success is pretty old fashioned, according to Chateau:
“Hire good people who take pride in their work.”