After going through more than two years of disruption to the “normal” workplace, most companies have accepted, if not embraced, that remote work is here to stay. Yet even though we’re entering the third year of remote working, that doesn’t mean companies or leaders are doing it well.
What many don’t understand is that working remotely is a skill, and just because someone excels in their leadership role when working in a physical office doesn’t mean they’ll be successful in a remote or hybrid environment. As leaders and managers, we must continue to develop our management skills to support this new way of working. Here are four tips for improving your remote management skills that we’ve used successfully in our organization.
First, your meeting rhythms set the cadence. We start each day with a 15 minute huddle where we go over the day’s priorities and issues. It gives me an idea of what’s going on in all of our engagements and an opportunity to resolve issues before someone gets stuck. Every week we have a one hour team meeting where we recap progress by client and plan for the following week. We also share our performance scores (based on a simple planning and tracking system) so I have an idea of where everyone is in relation to their goals for the quarter. Although we started these meeting beats when we were in an office, they have served us well as a high-performing, hybrid team.
Next, measure performance in terms of contribution, not presence. On the topic of performance, seeing an employee at their desk after 5:00 p.m. is no longer a sign of hard work. Organizations that reward facetime overcontribution create toxic, politically motivated cultures that ultimately fall short. Now more than ever, recognizing employee performance in terms of the contribution they make to the business, in quantitative and qualitative terms, should be the standard for performance development and business progression. . A simple spreadsheet literally saved my ass when we moved to 100% remote in 2020. I had action plans in place for each team member that formed the basis of development conversations quality performance every quarter.
Always remember that intention is key; accidental friendships don’t happen at a distance. I started my career at a large consulting firm in the 90s and on day one I was introduced to 11 other people who were starting the same day. Our “starter group” spent every day together for the next 6 weeks. The proximity (and the happy hours) created friendships that still exist today. The accidental conversation and relationship building that is so important to a healthy, high-performing organization simply doesn’t happen on Zoom. It must be built intentionally. Make it a point to share your personal experiences and encourage your colleagues to ask questions to get to know each other. I am proud to say that I know the names of each of my team members’ partners and they have all met my children. Zoom has brought work into our kitchens and living rooms and I see this as a wonderful opportunity to build richer, more personal working relationships, provided we do it intentionally.
Finally, the tougher the conversation, the closer it should be. After two years of managing a team and helping clients through the transition, I still prefer having difficult conversations in person. It allows me to read body language in a way I can’t on video and adjust what I say and how I say it to ensure my message is received effectively. If I can’t have the person in front of me, then I prefer the phone to Zoom. It’s easier – there’s no body language to read and I can have notes in front of me. I still use notes whenever I can for difficult conversations, including dismissals. And above all, I try to have the conversation as soon as possible, however it is delivered. The longer the wait, the more difficult it is to convey the message and the more likely it is that the information will be misunderstood or cause an unexpected emotional reaction.
Whether you work totally remotely or in a hybrid model, leadership, communication and the way we manage work have changed. The good news is that managers can strategically enhance their skills and create intentional, structured leadership opportunities that allow our employees to contribute effectively, grow professionally, and benefit from the flexibility that remote working provides.