How to Manage a Remote Team: 10 Steps to Success (Even During Covid)
I am not used to being ahead of the curve.
In school, I was never the cool kid or the one chosen first for the kickball team. I was always somewhere delightfully in the middle. Heck, even in line, I was still dead center… “N” is the 15th letter of the alphabet.
But when COVID-19 ramped up, and cities shut down, I found myself in a unique position. I was an expert to my peer group on running the now necessary remote team. Here at Leverage, we had a remote culture for the first 15 months of our existence (now over 2 years), and we still work remotely two days a week.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had many mentors (looking at you, Nick Francis) who are the preeminent experts here, but I thought it would be worthwhile to talk through some tips for managing your remote team that has tremendously helped us keep momentum.
I believe that starting with these ten steps will move you much further down the road of having a high-functioning team of remote rockstars.
#1 Don’t let cost savings on office space prevent you from giving your team what they need to be successful at home
Now listen, you penny-pinching corporate overlords (I include myself in this): If you think remote workers are cheaper because they will allow you to have a smaller office space footprint, I have news for you…you’re probably right about office space. But, you’re also likely not considering all the costs of spinning up a remote team.
While you may not need to maintain a sprawling workplace, remote work comes with its own challenges. Team members have other commitments to deal with at home (children, doggos, partners, etc.). So, that cost savings in smaller office space will likely be paid for with an even more precious commodity — time.
You may have to learn how to work asynchronously, which may make projects take longer. You may also need to provide employees with tech to make sure their office space at home is as productive as office space you’ve provided. This may cause the economies of scale you’ve developed in your office obsolete.
How do you address this? Get creative in applying the office cost savings to buying your team’s time back.
Do they have outdated systems at home where loading email takes 15 minutes? Buy them a new computer.
Are internet issues causing them to fall behind on conference calls and other internet-based work? Upgrade their home WiFi.
Are their young children keeping them from getting work done? Pay for a sitter (or reimburse them for it).
From my experience, office cost savings shouldn’t be the impetus to moving to a full-time remote office. Instead, what we’ve found is that the costs shift buckets, but they still exist.
So, is the office space savings a white horse riding knight for your P&L? Not quite, but since offices generally come with a long term cost commitment, a remote team will provide a different kind of cost that’s potentially more variable and agile.
#2 Take Advantage of a More Diverse Talent Pool
To me, this is the A-plus #1 benefit to a remote work culture — Instead of being limited by geography or by those who may want to relocate, by shifting to a remote culture, your talent pool is open to anyone with an internet connection anywhere in the world.
(Here’s where I remind you that hiring people in different locations and countries will create some work for your HR/Compliance team, but that effort may be worth it to secure someone who you wouldn’t have had access to without a remote culture.)
Still, even with the compliance hurdles, having broader access to talent means that you’ll be able to hire the best person for a job, regardless of whether or not they want to move. Everyone is working from home right now anyway. Who cares where that home is?
Embrace this! If you’ve had hiring plans during the pandemic, expand the reach to try a full-time remote position. See how it works for you. There will likely be no better time to test.
#3 Have More Intentional Meetings and Meetups
Regardless of whether your team is remote, we all fall prey to meetings that devolve into sessions of insanity. (I may be making this more dramatic than it actually is.) However, one benefit of working remotely is that it takes away the impromptu meetings and the “can-I-have-a-second” productivity killers of the in-person workplace.
Lean into this. Find a system for maximizing meeting times, and spend time planning any full-day retreats or meetups (which you should definitely still plan) so that you can make sure that future meetings become a source of progress instead of a source of pain.
Write agendas, limit meetings to only key stakeholders, try different kinds of meeting formats, and see how much further and faster you can move on your team.
#4 Whole-Self Employees
Another benefit to the whole working remotely deal that you may not be considering is that a remote culture builds a fuller picture of your employees — and it gives your employees a fuller picture of you. Embrace it!
If a child marches through your meeting, introduce them. If your dog starts barking, let them Zoom with you. I’ve gotten to meet remote team members’ children that I likely would never have met but for the remote culture. It builds empathy on your team and also gives you great ideas for super niche Instagram accounts — like the Dogs of Leverage. 🙂
An added benefit to employees who bring their whole selves to the workplace is that it gives you as a supervisor insight into why they are working. It lets you more clearly discuss where they want to go. Be careful not to pry, but have these open conversations.
Be human at work. Care for your employees. And watch the difference it will make for you.
#5 Let Your People Work When They’re Most Productive (within reason)
Your team may not be full of 9-5 doers. A lot of doers aren’t.
I know that some of my best work starts at 3 PM.
So, working remotely gives your team the ability to work when they feel the most productive. This is, of course, a double-edged sword.
Make sure that you set clear expectations as to when and how your team should communicate. Otherwise, you may have folks who feel obligated to respond after-hours to requests from supervisors who happen to be productive at night.
Having teams bring their whole selves in this new remote culture also allows them to create boundaries that give them the space to renew and refresh. Cherish this on their behalf.
Don’t let team members use this to justify missing deadlines that were set in a non-remote culture. Also, don’t let this keep you working until midnight because your developer prefers that time. Refer to the clear communication rules above, and make sure that their times work for the company as a whole. But don’t micromanage, unless it becomes a problem.
A remote work strategy also opens the door to a broader workforce without compromising on staff skills. Remote work tools exist that enable you to recruit, train and test the technical skills of your workers in an ongoing way.
#6 Prepare to Work Remotely Daily
Ok, this isn’t about managing your team. But we all know how important it is to get our mindset right before leading people. It’s actually the premise of one of our brands’ newest book — Healthy Me, Healthy Us — when looking for healthy relationships (in the workplace or otherwise), you have to start by making sure your relationship with yourself is healthy. Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot put together a free self-talk assessment so that you can make sure that you’ve started down the right path.
I’ve found that my self-talk is relatively healthy, but my motivation sometimes is lacking. So, one thing I always do when working remotely — I get showered and dressed. It’s a little thing, but it starts your day right and makes you feel like a human.
So, before you jump onto Slack for 8 hours, or into that 3-hour marathon Zoom meeting, please get your mind right and do something that makes you feel human. It may be working out, getting showered (like me), meditating, or going for a walk. This will make the rest of these tips easier to follow.
The pro version of this tip is to make a routine that you can follow as a remote worker. If you worked out, ate a regular breakfast, and read for a bit before starting work in the office, try a similar routine when working from home.
You may be asking, “Chase, how can I have a routine when my apartment/house is my office?”
One easy way to do this is to make sure that your remote office is limited to a specific area of your home. For instance, don’t work from your bed (you won’t stop working). Work from your kitchen table or a living room chair. Set up a space dedicated to remote work and don’t work if you’re not in that space. You have to set mental boundaries for where work happens, or you’ll burn yourself out.
#7 Get Your Tools Ready
One of the biggest hangups to working remotely initially is the total overwhelm of all the tools out there to make your team more productive.
How are you supposed to move quickly and intelligently with the overflow of options?
From our point of view, you need to be quick to test, and quick to ditch. And never let technology keep you from communicating.
So, try Zoom, Google Hangouts, GotoMeeting, Facetime, Skype, etc. And if you don’t like it, move on and try something else. You don’t have to make a company policy on which software to use. Try a bunch, and then pick the best. (I know enterprise companies can’t work this way, but for smaller companies and solopreneurs, the test and ditch method works well.)
Note: When all else fails, default to the tried and true — picking up the phone and calling. I’ve found so much utility in this. For example, I was in a group meeting for my church, and one of the guys was having trouble logging in from the link. I shot him the phone number and dial-in pin. He was on in minutes. You don’t have to be cutting edge here. Pick something that works and move on.
For what it’s worth, we use Slack, Zoom, email, Teamwork, and phone internally. We use GotoWebinar and Intercom for bigger meetings and groups.
#8 Squash the Miscommunication Bug
Miscommunication is a killer of momentum. And it happens when working remotely: All. The. Time.
When you lose the in-person cues of communication (facial expression, tone, etc.), there’s a big opportunity for things to get lost in translation. This happens to me frequently with our Director of Marketing. I write short sentences, and he likes to know the full story. So, he and I made a rule. When we get past three messages on the same topic, we call each other.
It may be worthwhile to have an all-hands meeting on how to type in a remote culture, when to pick up the phone, and how often to ping a message. That way, there’s a clear understanding of what communication will look like, and when the bar is not being met.
There’s no need for making remote team members feel alienated or out-of-the-loop, so if you’re sensing frustration, pick up the phone. It could save you from a myriad of issues — from missed deadlines to staff turnover.
#9 Keep the Team Motivated
I was just talking to my wife about this the other day. Specifically, I said to her, “I hope we can keep our momentum going through this.”
We, as a company, are entering a big year from a strategic direction and product validation standpoint, and I felt like our big celebration and encouragement toward that end was going to come from our Leadership Summit on March 18.
When David Loy (our CEO) and I decided to move the summit to online-only, I was afraid that it would kill the momentum that we had built up, and I was even more afraid that we would lose some of the excitement and motivation that our team was feeling.
I was pleasantly surprised.
Our team came to that meeting ready to contribute and excited to talk about our future. Most of this is because we hired amazing people. But another point working for us is that we tailored that meeting to the platform. We talked about this a little earlier, but I want to give you some specifics as to how you can maximize an all-day Zoom conference:
Here are 4 simple steps:
- Honor their time. If you need to have a video conference, make sure you have a tight agenda, and stick to it.
- Set clear expectations. Make sure your team knows exactly what the company as a whole is trying to accomplish during this time. Also, make sure that they know their key responsibilities.
- Let them set their deadline. Let the employee participate in this part of the project management, especially because they know the demands on their time more than you will in the remote setting.
- Then, trust them with their time. There’s no better way to keep a team motivated than by empowering them to do what they do best, and then letting them do it. Keep regular check-ins, but trust that they are doing their best with the time allotted.
That last point is difficult, especially for managers who are used to the walk-through check-in. (I was one of you.) So, for clarity’s sake, let me tell you a couple of things that have helped me:
- Don’t hold your team to your responsiveness standard. (I try to respond in minutes.) But hold them to a standard company-wide. We, as a team, try to respond to each other within at least 12 hours.
- If it’s urgent, don’t be afraid to “blow them up.” This is a millennial term, and I apologize for that. Let me explain, be willing to email, slack, and then call about the communication. If you’ve seen The Office, this is why WUPHF was ahead of its time.
- We’ve already talked about this, and it truly is a benefit as long as you don’t hold the team to your schedule. Working from home has its own challenges. You have spouses, kids, roommates, dogs, delivery people, etc. Sometimes work gets done outside of the 9-5. Embrace that. We require reasonable availability during work hours, but as long as the work gets done, we don’t care exactly when.
#10 (For Now) Don’t Hold Prized Team Members to the Results They Produce Working Remotely
Remote work is not for everybody. You may go through this season and decide that you need to be in person. In fact, we at Leverage moved to working both remotely and from an office. So, if you’ve been thrust into remote culture by the pandemic, don’t hold your team to becoming remote work all-stars.
Give them some grace and time to figure it out. You likely won’t move as fast as you’d like to move, but be thankful that your team was able to make this transition.
In such an uncertain time, managing remote workers is one challenge that you can overcome.
Chase Neely is the Co-Founder and President of Leverage Creative Group, a digital marketing agency that works with brands and authors to get their transformational content to the sea of qualified customers online.
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