Strategies for effective communication, collaboration, and productivity
Chances are you were thrown into the deep end when just over three years ago, the pandemic hit, remote working became the norm overnight, and along with it, a need to somehow remotely-manage your team.
Since that time, collectively we’ve done some rapid upskilling; adapting on the job while reading multiple articles and blogs about the topic. We learned how to properly utilise technology such as Teams and Zoom, and just how important it is to check in on your employees’ wellbeing. While many employees, managers and whole organisations loved the new normal, many others couldn’t wait to get back to the office and be together in person again. What’s clear though, is that remote working— whether in hybrid or fully remote form— is not going away. It’s not a ‘nice to offer’ benefit anymore, people expect (read —demand!) it, and the ability to effectively manage a location-distributed team has become a key leadership skill.
So, what have we learnt along the way? How do you successfully manage people you rarely see in person? Here are some strategies that have emerged as being key factors in successful remote management:
Set clear expectations and boundaries
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that since people know what to do and how to behave in an office, it’s equally clear to them what’s expected when working remotely. The two environments are very different, so make sure you set clear expectations.
Build guidelines for communication that include aspects such as:
- Expected response time to messages
- Which specific channels that should be used, and for what kind of communication (Slack, email etc.)
- Expectations around the attendance of virtual meetings
- Meeting etiquette (camera on, mute on when not talking etc)
- Expectations around working hours, which will depend on the business and the individual role and its responsibilities, i.e. these may be set working hours, or flexible.
It is worth acknowledging that with remote working, work and home life boundaries aren’t clear cut. Many conscientious employees inadvertently end up working longer hours, which can eventually lead to burnout, or reduced productivity, so it’s wise to stick to specific work hours where possible. And before you can determine what’s expected of your team, are you clear on what is expected of you and your role? Start there.
This one is a biggie. When you and the team aren’t sharing the same physical space, there are no opportunities for quick connection; to chat in the kitchen while preparing your coffee or as you walk to a meeting. As a manager, you need to have a think about how to replace this valuable face-to-face interaction at the office. Despite best efforts to keep calendars up to date, the reality is that team members won’t always know when managers or colleagues are available and therefore it’s important you’re clear about how you will keep an open line of communication.
Consider creating a remote communication strategy to provide clarity about how communication will happen. This may include the number of meetings you will have with your team, when these will be held, and the purpose of each meeting. A useful inclusion is to block out certain times of the day, and let your team know that they’re welcome to book in short catch ups within these slots, or even just ring for a chat.
Prioritise one to one meetings — don’t let these slip or be rescheduled. When you’re not co-located, it’s harder to pick up on any signals that a team member may be feeling stressed or overloaded with work, so also check in often with your people to keep an eye on their wellbeing, and their workload, ask them how they’re going and offer your support. Empathetic leadership is key to achieving a high-performing and engaged team.
Be transparent and open about as many things as possible – this will not only help your team feel more connected but having access to the latest information will make collaboration easier. If you need a team member to do something urgently, ask what other deadlines they’ve got and clarify what should be prioritised. And lastly, while lots of communication is good, be mindful of the emails you send your team. Avoid the default ‘reply all’ if it’s not relevant to some people, no one needs more emails in their inbox!
Focus on outcomes
I would like to think that we’ve moved beyond the view that clocking in at 8.30 and out at 5 is the only effective measure of someone doing a full day’s work, and that instead, we are focused on people’s outputs. Taking this approach is even more essential in a remote working team, where the workplace and the home are no longer easy to separate.
To be effective, your people will need to be provided with clarity on what they should accomplish over a given period: create milestones that have deadlines, and make sure you book in meetings to follow up on their progress and offer them any support they might need. Of course, there are some jobs that will require employees’ time to be tracked, and for that it’s best to use a time tracking tool.
Trust your people
Trusting your employees should be your default position. The majority of people want to do a good job and be successful, with very few who want to get away with getting paid for doing minimal work. Micromanaging your people will most certainly impact your team’s collaboration and engagement in a negative way.
If unfortunately, you do have people in your business that you don’t trust, then it is a call to action. You may need to begin a performance management process with these people, and additionally you should consider reviewing and improving your recruitment process so you are hiring the right people from the beginning.
The People Place can help with both so don’t hesitate to reach out. And when it comes to your great performers, ask them for their input into how to achieve the best outputs - they will likely know how they work best, and how to get the job done.
Successful onboarding is critical for ensuring new employees learn the job and feel part of the team, and it’s even more important to get this process right when your newbie is remote. Review what’s currently in place and ask yourself and your team members what’s working and what’s missing. Making your new employee feel welcome, regular check-ins, assigning a buddy and minimising technology set-up issues could be some key onboarding goals you’d want to achieve.
Implement structures and procedures
Structure is a key ingredient when it comes to achieving productivity. When teams aren’t physically together it’s easier to disconnect, and so it’s important everyone is clear about who does what and how they fit into the process. And when you can’t just walk over to a colleague’s desk to ask a question about how to do something, having clear and well documented procedures in place is especially important. These should be stored in an accessible place, reviewed regularly — and used all the time.
Encourage collaboration and social interactions
Social isolation is one of the biggest wellbeing risks for remote workers and as a manager it’s important to work to minimise this. One way you can do this is to find opportunities for your employees to collaborate in small teams rather than completing projects on their own. This is a great way for them to get to know each other naturally. Be creative and use technology for the sole purpose of connecting with each other and strengthening relationships, such as organising virtual coffee breaks, Friday afternoon virtual get togethers, and team building activities. If these social catch ups are regular, your people know they’re there when they need them. And if it’s possible to physically get the team together occasionally, this will most certainly have a positive impact on your team’s engagement and wellbeing.
These strategies fall into the category of ‘simple but not easy’ and will require your time and attention. Start small and improve one or two things and go from there. Your team and your organisation will benefit from it, and I guarantee you that you will find your role as a remote manager more rewarding.
If you want to chat through your management approach and/or need help with any People and Performance initiatives, please reach out to us at The People Place. You can phone us on +64 9 300 7224, or by email at email@example.com