If you’re like many managers out there working with a recently remote team, you might be struggling to maintain that creative juju you once had flowing.
The truth is, managing a remote team isn’t that different from managing a team in the office. You’re still handling a group of humans trying to get stuff done.
That said, managing a remote team requires some tweaks to make it feel less like isolated drudgery and more like a dream team working together to put a man on the moon (or whatever your pie-in-the-sky goal might be). Here are a few pitfalls to avoid:
1. Not Trusting Your Team
When one of your remote team members fails to respond to a Slack message or email within five minutes, do you start worrying that they’re spending all their time making paper airplanes and checking their Instagram accounts? If so, you might need to do some digital trust falls. Unless a team member has stopped showing up to scheduled meetings or delivering their work on time, relax.
Modern work — and creative work, in particular — thrives on big blocks of uninterrupted time. This adjustment can be difficult, especially if your team has gone from working together in close proximity to being fully remote. But good remote managers embrace asynchronous communication methods like email and group chat software like Slack. This is especially important if you have remote team members in other time zones, who might be taking a lunch break while you’re having a morning coffee.
Let remote communication happen at its own pace, and you might find that your team gets more done with less handholding.
2. Not Sticking to Your Own Boundaries
A good manager knows that giving ample time off and setting boundaries for work and home life are great ways to avoid burnout and make employees feel valued. Seattle-based software company Moz actually pays its employees to take time off.
Maybe you’re already doing this for your team, but are you taking time off for yourself?
If you haven’t taken more than a day off in six months, members of your team might feel judged for taking a week off. If your company works from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, but you’re shooting off emails at 3 p.m. on a Sunday, you’re sending the message that promotions only come by working outside of the established work hours.
Personal boundaries can be hazy when working remotely, but it’s your job as a manager to set an example. Summer Fridays off or half days can be a great way to balance morale during these tough times too.
3. Not Setting Clear Expectations
Remote team members (especially in other time zones) can’t always get immediate clarification after receiving project assignments, so clear written and verbal communication is essential.
Write project briefs like they’re the only piece of communication your remote team member will get. During meetings, have each team member repeat back, in their own words, what they’re working on. Always make sure the deliverable format and deadlines are clear and agreed upon by both you and every member of your team. If you suspect the project will require a lot of back and forth, schedule regular check-in meetings to evaluate progress.
It might seem like overkill, but the point is to avoid a situation where your covert expectations aren’t being met, leaving you frustrated and your team members confused. These frequent check-ins can also serve as incredible team builders when bumping into someone at the water cooler or coffee maker isn’t possible.
4. Not Checking In “Offline”
The physical disconnect of remote work can make distributed teams feel isolated, or worse, estranged. Email and Slack are incredible tools for exchanging information, but they’re not necessarily great at fostering real human connection. That’s where video and voice chat come into play.
Schedule one-on-one calls with each of your team members every other week. Set the expectation that everyone keeps their video on — don’t underestimate the power of looking someone in the eye, even through a computer. Then, ask how you can make their jobs easier or what processes could be changed. Offer constructive criticism sparingly and leave time for chatting about non-work-related topics.
Calls like these are the best way to detect early signs of burnout or minor company problems that could turn into bigger problems if left unchecked. Scheduling a regular meeting will give you both something to look forward to. Ideally, have a ritual you both enjoy, like starting the meeting with fresh cups of coffee or tea. One solid one-on-one meeting can give you a better perspective on the status of your remote team than a month of emails and Slack chats.
5. Not Rewarding Performance
Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” The corollary is that nothing erodes morale quicker than a team bent toward constant criticism. Be sure to balance critiques with praise, especially for remote workers. There doesn’t have to be a parade for every minor task completed, but a sincere “thank you” goes a long way toward making an employee feel valued.
Along with verbal appreciation, try thoughtful rewards. With remote teams, it’s not possible to go out for a happy hour or team outing, so try doling out rewards that can be enjoyed individually. The team just delivered on a huge project deadline? Give them the Friday off without impacting their vacation time. Has an intern been delivering particularly great work lately? Send them a thoughtful gift.
It’s far more enjoyable to motivate with rewards than punishments, and it connects you with your far-flung team in a more human way.
If you think these points are all general management principles, you’re right! The tools might be a little different with remote workers, but the principles remain the same. Hire people you trust, reward them for good work, be consistent in your work-life principles — and everything else will fall in place.
However remote management is treating you, Artisan is here to connect remote teams with great remote talent. Reach out and let us know what you’re looking for.