As many have discovered, switching to remote team management overnight is no mean feat. It’s not as simple as scheduling a few virtual coffee breaks and funding home office equipment. As remote work becomes an increasingly normalized way of working, merely offering it isn’t enough anymore; to keep remote employees happy and retain the best talent, companies need to manage remote teams effectively. While it’s helpful to understand remote management best practices, it’s essential to recognize where people usually go wrong with remote team management. So what are some of the most common managerial mistakes to watch out for?
Not creating a remote infrastructure
You simply can’t manage remote employees without having a robust remote infrastructure in place. Newly remote teams don’t adapt instantaneously and learn the best ways to work and collaborate overnight; instead, they need a remote communication structure in place that has clear structures, guidelines and processes for collaboration. Without this, there’ll be confusion over preferred ways of working, how to report bugs or issues, where and when to give feedback, and what to expect from each other.
Without a good remote infrastructure, collaboration can result in duplicated effort and confusion. Not choosing the right tools or having clear guidelines over how to use them can also harm your company culture. If knowledge is inaccessible, you’re at risk of work remaining in team silos. Remote managers can promote equal access to information by using tools that keep conversations searchable and transparent, and strategy, plans, and work progress easily visible. There are tons of excellent remote work tools around, but take care to avoid software sprawl and ensure all team members are clued up on tool etiquette.
Not setting expectations
One difficulty of managing remote workers is that you have less insight into how work is progressing and how people are getting on. That’s why it’s so important to be explicit about expectations. Just because something seems clear to a manager doesn’t mean it will be equally clear for others, so it’s important to give detailed directions about tasks and set clear expectations about what’s expected from each employee.
Setting expectations relates to far more than just actual work. Employees also need to know when they’re expected to be working, and when they need to be available for feedback and collaboration. When managers fail to communicate the importance of having boundaries, employees can develop unhealthy behaviors. Cultural problems like virtual presenteeism, overworking, emailing outside of work hours, and working on vacation are often rife with remote employees, so managers must communicate when it’s OK for employees to clock out. When remote managers don’t set expectations, employees may feel like they’re not allowed to be unavailable at times, or postpone and batch work if needs be.
Communication problems form the crux of so many remote management problems. Successful remote work hinges on efficient and effective communication, and it’s up to managers to relay when, where and how employees are expected to communicate. If managers are sending excessive emails and checking in too often, it doesn’t only foster a culture of micromanagement; it also breeds a culture of immediate availability, where employees feel pressured to be “always on”. On the flipside, too little communication can make managers seem unavailable, inaccessible or disinterested.
Remote managers need to learn how to make asynchronous communication work. One of the main reasons remote workers are more productive than office workers is because they can control when they communicate – so managers must ensure that async communication doesn't become constant. Instead, try communicating in bursts, which allows employees to find time for deep work. Also try to establish a set schedule for more in-depth one-to-ones, so employees can anticipate when they’ll speak with you again and plan for it. It’s helpful to create channels where employees can provide feedback and share their experience, so consider setting up casual spaces, like Slack channels and virtual break rooms, as well as more structured surveys and suggestion boxes.
Turning to surveillance
It’s true that it’s harder to keep track of employee and team progress when you’re working remotely – but managers must be very careful that in their quest to overcome performance invisibility, they don’t turn to employee surveillance. While it’s fine to utilize tools to help you keep work visible, balance resources, measure productivity and monitor overtime, once you step into the dark world of employee monitoring software, you’re at risk of destroying your entire culture.
Trust is the core of any successful remote outfit, and if employees feel their privacy isn’t respected or they aren’t trusted to do their work, they’ll quickly lose faith in management. To balance employee oversight with trust, only ever use team performance tools that protect employee privacy and dignity. The right software leads with transparency, offers employees clear benefits, and protects employee privacy.
Forgetting to keep management human and personal
While digital channels may form the bulk of remote communication, they shouldn’t make up all of it. One common mistake remote managers make is to stick to digital communication as a means of interaction, as it’s quick and straightforward. But loneliness is one of the most pervasive complaints among remote workers, and many employees miss the face-to-face chats, camaraderie and small social interactions that happen each day in an office. So, it’s vital managers don’t always default to Slack or email.
Take time to make space to check in and connect, and when you do use virtual communication, make it a habit to weave small talk or personal anecdotes into your messages, when appropriate. Provide emotional support, space and benefit of the doubt, and schedule regular face time with your team. That way, you get a much better sense of their individual remote experience and how they’re getting on. You may also want to invite people to help design better solutions for remote ways of working, to ensure tools and channels actually reflect those they are intended to serve. If you want to build rapport within your team, remember that comes from getting to know employees as people.