By DeVry University
Regardless of the industry you work in, effectively managing remote teams can be a favorable skill. While some teams have been operating virtually for years, many managers are still trying to find their groove in the midst of new technology and rapidly changing circumstances.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro or still working on your digital acumen, read on for some tips to help strengthen your virtual management skills.
1. Establish Clear Channels of Communication
The communication skills you rely on in person become even more important when you’re managing remote teams. When employees are working from home, it's a lot easier to miscommunicate or misunderstand messaging because of the separation that physically exists between you. To bridge this gap, many teams stay connected while working remote via communication channels such as:
- Communication apps like Slack or Teams
- Video meetings on Zoom
- Phone calls
While these channels are all useful and important, sometimes it can be hard to know where to go for different types of information. By clearly establishing how communication tools should be used, you can reduce the possibility of messages being lost in the clutter of different apps.
Most importantly, your direct reports should know the best way to reach you. When you’re managing remote teams, it is critical to ensure your employees feel supported. Let them know you're there for them by outlining a protocol for reaching out as well as expectations for how soon they should expect a response from you.
For example, for quick questions related to tasks, a messaging app like Slack might be the quickest and easiest option. For items that need to be documented in a thread, email might be the tool of choice. However, when it comes to important or sensitive conversations, always opt for phone or video calls. It's very easy to misinterpret a text or email, but by hearing your employee's voice or seeing their face, you can use your emotional intelligence (EQ) to read their body language, tone of voice and better mimic an in-person conversation to reduce the possibility of a misunderstanding.
2. Prioritize Goals and Accomplishments
Developing a positive rapport with your direct reports is key when you’re managing remote teams. The biggest difference between leading teams in person compared to remotely is the ability to connect on a person-to-person level.
In a remote work setting, you can run the risk of employees feeling disengaged and unsupported because they aren't getting the same daily feedback from an in-person relationship. That's why it's important to foster your employees' developmental success through ongoing and dedicated coaching. By showing your employees that you're invested in their individual success, not just the collective success of the team or company, you make them feel valued, motivated and more engaged on a personal level.
Some best practices for coaching are:
- Establishing individual goals and scheduling regular check-ins to track progress
- Formally celebrating achievements and milestones with the team
- Encouraging online learning and development programs
- Offering feedback and recognition
- Understanding their career goals and developing a plan together to help them succeed
3. Focus on Culture
Fear not! Your company culture does not have to get lost in the shuffle simply because you’re working remotely. In fact, for many remote teams, culture thrives as employees actively seek out ways to achieve the feeling of togetherness they felt when they were in the office. For example, if your company has a culture of playing fun board games at lunch, consider digital versions of your favorites like Monopoly or Catan and put together a lunchtime game.
Another way to tie into your company's culture and values is to make them a part of your daily or weekly meetings. If you have a culture of recognizing your colleagues, then save a few minutes at the beginning of your meetings to have at least one employee recognize another for their work. You could even keep track of the special mentions over time and send a monthly or quarterly update to further share the recognition.
4. Learn from Your Peers on Social Media
Remote work came as a surprise to many people in 2020, and there was a steep learning curve for both direct reports and supervisors to make it work. One positive outcome of this is the now ever-growing reservoir of free online resources to help you with managing remote teams successfully. What we're really trying to say is, you're not alone. There are countless people in a similar situation to yours, with similar challenges, who may have ideas or solutions to help you on your way.
One of the best places to find your peers can be on LinkedIn. For example, if you're a Human Resources Manager and you're looking to survey other peers about how they solve specific remote work challenges, search 'HR Managers' on LinkedIn, join one of the groups that pops up and ask your questions. You may be surprised by the quality and the thoughtfulness of the responses you get and are bound to find some great solutions you hadn't thought of. Who knows? Your experience might also help someone else at the same time!
5. Leverage Your People Skills from the Office
While these tips can help you learn to thrive as a remote team leader, it's important to remember the skills that carried you to this point. Many of the effective leadership skills you embodied before remote work will also help you now.
For example, if your employees appreciated your open-door policy in the office, why not keep that policy running virtually? Let your team know you're there for them to talk whenever they need it by instituting an 'open video meeting' policy. Employees can book a 15- or 30-minute meeting with you as needed. By showing your employees they can still virtually poke their head in the door and chat, you're keeping the transparency and open rapport they appreciated about you before work went online.