Remote Work
Remote Managers Series Part 1: Proven ways to Engage Remote Teams
by Jesus Lopez   |   March 31, 2020   |     7 min read

In the midst of the growing remote work trend and the increasing number of companies implementing work from home policies, managers without any experience are faced with an unfamiliar problem; how do I manage my team? How do I ensure productivity and engagement? How do I measure it all?

We compiled in these Remote Manager Series some advice to answer these questions and make it easier to manage a team, whether you’re transitioning from an office setting to working from home or going fully remote for the first time.

To get started — let’s go back to the beginning.

What’s the role of a manager? The first thing that might come to mind is to drive teams towards a common goal or create and execute strategies.

image of team with manager and metrics

The best definition I’ve encountered comes from HBR’s On Managing People Book that says — ‘The job of a manager is to turn one person’s particular talent into performance.’

Take notice that it doesn’t imply that we have to rally employees towards an objective or implement particular strategies, rather it focuses on the employees.

It’s a manager’s duty to realize that each employee is different and to challenge each of them to become the best version of themselves in their own way.

With this definition in mind, let’s dive in.

Engaging remote teams — a better way for managers

For me, this is the most important part of being a remote manager (I’ll use this term to refer to managers of remote teams). Per our definition discussed above, it’s the objective of a manager to turn talent into performance and working remotely can impact employees in a variety of different ways.

To some, the isolation might mean a loss of accountability, a loss of empowerment or a loss of motivation. Others are at the other end of the spectrum, where they might look at it like an increase in productivity, a work-life balance and a better way to organize.

A very successful colleague of mine that’s an Enterprise Sales Executive at a prominent tech company (he preferred anonymity) once told me that he looked up to this manager for empowerment and support to keep driving forward even when things got rough.

For an office manager, keeping tabs on the general sentiment is easy to spot in an office setting, but what about remotely? My colleague would’ve thought he was doing a horrible job and might’ve downgraded his performance only by not receiving the support and engagement he needed to perform at his best.

image of two workers doing home office

Don’t start by telling them what to do, but by understanding their ‘why’

Take the time to understand your direct report strengths, weaknesses and personality types. Putting remote work aside, It will help you know how to approach and motivate them better.

Whether you’re transitioning from an office setting to remote work or starting from scratch take a moment to think through the following as you transition or grow your team:

Is this person a self-starter? How do they get their motivation?

  • Some clues to look out for when evaluating this: a history of proposing initiatives, dedicated to self-improvement, disciplined, gets involved in athletic competitions like running marathons, and asks a lot of questions.

Are they high-touch or low-touch?

  • Do they prefer to confer with you frequently to see if they are doing a good job or do they prefer to work for longer periods first and ask questions at the end?

How well can they follow indications?

  • This might be an obvious one, but very important. Do they say they understand and then go completely sideways? Or do they understand and execute according to what’s expected?

There are other parts to take into account, but from what we’ve seen these are the fundamental pieces that help you turn talent into performance.

Why?

They will give you a very clear way on how to interact with your direct reports in a meaningful way both for their personality types and for the efficiency of your area.

 

You’ll know:

  • Who needs motivation to get going or push past problems
  • Who can handle less oversight or frequent check-ins
  • Who can you tap as a leader to motivate others or lead a project
  • Who might need you to be extra clear when delegating tasks

We’ll touch more on communication in a later series

 

To stay engaged, increase your 1:1’s frequency

1:1’s are a must in today’s world, it’s a great way to keep a pulse on how your team is doing.

Remote managers should hold 1:1’s in a weekly fashion, it will help spot and correct issues quicker and more efficiently.

Here’s our formula:

  • 1:1’s every Wednesday
  • Book 30 minutes, but schedule 45 minutes in case one goes over
  • Skip the small talk
  • Look to identify roadblocks, understand current workflow, and provide support and inspiration.
  • Encourage employees to also talk about their mental health and issues beyond work
  • Always have a back-up question to kick-start the conversation — “What’s on your mind right now?”

 

The virtual ‘open-door’ policy

Without the office setting, it’s hard for employees to literally walk into your office and ask for help. Being vocal about having an open-door policy during remote work is an absolute must.

We’ll talk about communication later on, but always over-communicate. Make sure they understand that you’re there to help them make their jobs easier and support them along the way. Be explicit in telling them about your open-door policy.

Here’s our formula:

  • Open-door policy when there’s no calendar event in the managers’ Google Calendar
  • Any other times, direct messages will be attended on an ad-hoc basis
  • If urgent, always call first.
  • Never use unofficial message services for office matters (includes SMS, iMessage or WhatsApp)

 

Make a conscious effort to create rituals that show their human side

This might be most of the overlooked aspect of engaging a remote team, but in my eyes, the most important part.

Being part of a company means feeling part of something bigger, being inspired by a mission and by the fact that your work means something. This feeling can be lost in a remote setting where you interact with coworkers virtually.

How do you create a feeling of belonging and lighten the mood?

The answer is rituals. This might sound mysterious, but it’s really another way of referring to a predefined event or process that you follow regularly. It might sound like a total waste of time, but believe me, it’s a game-changer.

It will engage your team, you’ll get to know them better, and they’ll feel related, which will translate into a commitment to their job.

We keep our rituals light and try to make them fun.

Here’s our formula:

Wednesday is ‘Question Day’

  • We ask questions about previous life experiences, preferences, and controversial topics in our Slack Channel
  • Important note! We stay away from political and religious views.
  • The remote manager even goes as far as interpreting the host of Jeopardy! It’s quite hilarious.

Friday is ‘Book Club Day’

  • It’s an open discussion via video conference, where we share views and opinions about a predefined book or documentary we all watch.

Yearly company meeting

  • We fly out everyone once a year to a central location where we have offices to review the year and plan for the next year.
  • We take advantage to get to know each other better and engage in team-building activities.

But… It can be anything! Like silly-hat Fridays or Taco Tuesdays. The objective is to make direct reports feel involved in the company.

The most important part of this — and kudos to our head of recruitment for reminding us of this every time we talk about rituals — you have to be genuinely interested in your team. That’s the key, if it’s genuine, it will matter.

 

Next-up: Remote Managers Series Part 2 – Managing team performance – leave micromanagement aside .

 

Interested in building a remote tech team?

We just released our Ultimate Guide to Build Remote Tech Teams that will give you a tactical look at what to do to find a great hiring partner, how to prepare to build a remote team, where to find talent and how to manage the talent once hired.

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