The past seven months have shown us what remote work can accomplish when it’s taken seriously. In March, thousands of companies began operating remotely in a matter of days. And seven months into this, about 80% of CEOs say they expect a more widespread remote workforce as a result of the pandemic, according to a PwC survey on post-pandemic business operations.
While emergency remote work continues to be the norm in many places, it’s a good time to consider sustainable, strategic training for managers of remote workers so teams and companies will be ready for post-pandemic, on-going remote work.
As the CEO of a fully remote company, FlexJobs, for the last 14 years, and a long-time remote work advocate, I can recognize that the hesitation to deploy remote work tends to come from a management philosophy that still relies too heavily on facetime or time-in-office to gauge whether employees are productive and teams are healthy.
Thankfully, there are clear ways to manage remote teams just as effectively as in-office teams. Here’s how.
Trust First and Avoid the Urge to Micromanage or Assume Malice
The managerial practices that work best with remote workers include clear and open communication between managers, workers, and teams; a focus on results and processes; and trust. We’ll cover communication, processes, and results below. But first and foremost, employers need to start from a place of trust, and to use communication, processes, and results, to cultivate and deepen that trust.
Along similar lines, many remote teams, including my own, operate on the philosophy of assuming mistake over malice. When something goes wrong, and it will just as it does within offices, it’s unfortunately easy to jump to negative assumptions that someone was slacking or being irresponsible. But the vast majority of the time, the mistake was genuine and can serve as a great educational moment to improve going forward. Assume mistake over malice.
Set Goals and Measure Results
If you’re not micromanaging and you can’t measure people’s performance based on the amount of time they’re spending in the office, how exactly can managers determine the quality and effectiveness of work being done? A remote manager’s focus needs to be managing based on results and processes.
Whether you’re using OKRs, KPIs, 30-60-90 day goal schedules, or some other method, remote managers should be helping their teams understand their goals on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and/or yearly basis depending on their function at the company. Then, they need to ensure the processes and tools are in place to let those workers reach their goals. A regular, perhaps annual or twice-annual, review of those processes and tools is also helpful.
Communicate Often to Understand and Assist
Especially for first-time remote managers, over-communicating is better than under-communicating. Managers should be the people initiating this communication and encouraging their teams to do the same–both with the manager and with each other.
Proactive communication, where you regularly initiate conversations with team members, should be a daily practice and can be an antidote to mistrust and micromanagement. It helps to develop a more transparent, open management process, as well as build trust and prevent problems from going unnoticed.
Proactive communication can take many forms:
- Holding regular and individual meetings specifically to address questions and help solve problems
- Reaching out regularly to engage in casual conversations–like so-called “water cooler” conversations that might happen in a brick-and-mortar office
- Hosting regular process reviews where employees are encouraged to discuss which parts hold them back and brainstorm potential process improvements
Use Technology to Bring Teams Together
Technology can play an important role in helping managers oversee their remote teams successfully. Open and proactive communication is critical in a remote work environment, and managers can use platforms like email, IM, virtual office environments, and web conferencing to engage remote workers and encourage regular communication.
A virtual toolkit, created in a simple Google Doc, can help teams get and stay on the same page. To set expectations toolkits can be shared documents with information on the team’s communication style and tools used, regular meetings, core working hours, and more.
Many remote managers have already figured out that they need to shift their managerial practices towards results and processes, and away from unhelpful measures like facetime. This is truly a worthwhile effort, sure to have positive ripple effects across teams and organizations both in-office and remote.
Sara Sutton has long been passionate about helping people find jobs. She started her career in 1995 when she co-Founded JobDirect, the first online entry-level job service (sold to Korn|Ferry International in 2000), and for the past 13+ years, she has been the CEO and Founder of FlexJobs, the leading service for professional remote and flexible job opportunities. Sutton is an expert on a wide variety of topics related to the future of work, such as the impact of remote work, the hybridization of the workforce (freelance v. employee), gender equity, economic development, unemployment and underemployment, and entrepreneurship. On these topics, she has appeared in hundreds of media pieces, including the BBC, TechCrunch, Time, Marketplace Money, the Wall Street Journal, The NY Times, Fast Company, CNN, NBC, Forbes, Inc., and many others.
Sutton believes a modern workplace should address the needs of today’s workforce and plan for tomorrow’s, and that utilizing workplace technology to support remote, freelance, and other flexible work opportunities will achieve extensive societal, environmental, and economic benefits. Therefore, she is committed to providing education and awareness around these topics by also launching an advocacy initiative, 1 Million for Work Flexibility; a resource for integrating remote work into business, Remote.co; and The TRaD Works Forum, an event focused on the impact of remote work both internally and globally.
She was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and is honored to serve on its Advisory Group. Sara holds a BA in Society, Technology, and the Environment from UC Berkeley, and resides in Boulder, Colorado.