Pilar Orti of Virtualnotdistant.com gives some advice to managers suddenly forced to manage remote teams.
Many managers have suddenly been thrown into a completely different style of management than they are used to – leading remote teams. There has been little or no time for preparation and training so what are the most important things for managers who are grappling with managing from behind a computer screen?
Pilar Orti of Virtualnotdistant.com has some suggestions. She says it is vital that this opportunity is used well and that remote working is done as well as possible and that workers feel supported. A bad experience could put companies off rolling it out more after the present crisis has passed:
Try to understand the context in which people are working and bear in mind that timetables and schedules will change as employees balance homeworking and homeschooling/childcare and other caring responsibilities. Try not overwhelm them in the first days by putting lots of pressure on them. It might not, for instance, be possible to just convert meeting times into conference call times. Managers will have to find the best times to do things and allow employees time to organise themselves in the first week or so as they grapple with their new context. “Trust is going to be important and giving people the space they need,” says Pilar. “There is a real need for empathy.”
Change the conversation so it does not focus so much on measuring work done. For instance, ask people about how they are organising their time, how they are managing and if there is anything they need rather than what they have done. Make it clear that they can ask for help if they need it and get them to take responsibility for saying if there is anything they require to get their job done.
Share information on when people are available to work in documents that everyone can access. Once things have settled down, managers can find times that overlap for everyone when conference calls, etc, can be held, for instance, three afternoon slots a week. Agree times when you should not call people unless it is urgent so people can get their work done without interruptions. Role model not always being “on” to make sure managers signal that they too are not always available.
Remote communication tools like slack and trello are great, but there are many, many tools available these days so, to avoid tool overload, decide on one or two that work best for everyone.
Practice ‘working out loud’ through tools like slack where you can collaborate together and brainstorm. They can help colleagues to understand how you and your mind work. They can also give you new insights than you might never have benefited from if you just focused on results. There are all sorts of ways of working out loud too, including through diagrams and charts or audio notes – these can help workers who are more visual or aural thinkers. Managers can use different channels to communicate with their team, for instance, a weekly audio message summing up the week can be effective, more personal and informal. It shows there are different ways of communicating and is more inclusive.
Use shared social tools as water cooler moments, for instance, to share humorous observations. Pilar cites one slack channel titled ‘what cheered me up today’. It helps to raise the mood and keep people motivated. When you work remotely water cooler type moments are less spontaneous and have to be scheduled, for instance, you could meet online for 15 minutes at the start of the day for coffee to chat informally. The meet-ups can be short and could be themed around something like tv series to get the ball rolling. Managers could ask someone to kick the sessions off.
To avoid being sat down all the time on online conference calls and to avoid overload on the internet, don’t forget to also use the phone to keep in touch. That means you can move around more. Managers can role model the need to keep healthy and move around. Because people are not able to see their fellow workers they may need other reminders to take breaks and move around, for instance, reminders in their calendar.
Don’t make people feel you are checking up on them all the time. Be mindful of what is helpful and what might affect people’s motivation.