COVID-19 has pushed remote work into the spotlight.
The XCM Solutions team has been distributed from the beginning – we believe in hiring the best talent, without being limited by geography. Because of this, remote work is baked into our DNA, even without adding the stress of a pandemic.
There are inherent differences between managing a remote staff and an in-office team, and the learning curve can be a steep one at first.
To help flatten that learning curve, I asked remote team department managers for tips on managing a remote team. All of the advice emphasized clear and concise communication. We hope these tips will help you maintain productivity and employee engagement during this period of social distancing and beyond.
Communicate well, communicate often.
As part of your focus on team communication, schedule regular “check-ins” with your team. “As a manager, you need to stay in contact with your remote workforce,” one of our sales managers said. “Because you can’t just get up from your desk and walk to a nearby cube or office to touch base, it’s necessary to make a conscious effort to keep in touch.”
In addition to your team meetings, schedule time to speak with each individual, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. For newly remote managers, in-person meetings can easily be shifted to virtual; consider utilizing video conferencing, as 55% of human communication is done through body language.
Don’t underestimate the value of ad-hoc communication.
Product Management added a different perspective on remote work and communication: “Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone,” said one director. “It keeps communication more organic than exclusively relying on scheduled meetings.”
Your colleagues may answer or they may not, but that shouldn’t be a cause for concern or a sign that they aren’t working. Just as you may pop over to another office onsite to find a person not at their desk, you may run into a remote employee’s voicemail. As long as your phone call is returned in a timely manner (whether by phone or email), don’t give it a second thought.
If you have a quick question, consider sending a chat message or an email. Chat messaging is more informal than an email, and it gives team members a chance to think before responding. You may find that more extroverted team members may prefer phone communication, where they can think out loud and receive immediate feedback, while introverted colleagues prefer text and chat options.
Utilize multiple communication options and formats.
Video and teleconferences aren’t the only way to communicate, something that the marketing department has taken into consideration, who recommends that managers ask team members directly about their preferred communication methods.
“Your team appreciates and needs clear lines of communication and sharing of information -- it helps contribute to company and individual success,” said a marketing director. “Based on input from the team and what individual and team needs and preferences are, establish multiple communication protocols.”
Give your team the opportunity to connect via multiple channels such as team meetings, virtual lunches, one-on-one calls, email, text messaging, or chat. Think about what tone you want to set when communicating, as well as who you are communicating with.
For example, one of the marketing teams recently implemented a virtual lunch once a month. We dial in, eat lunch (or breakfast, depending on the time zone), and chat about a little bit of everything. Our conversations have covered many different topics, both work-related and not; they may or may not have evolved into sending (work-appropriate) memes and photos of our dogs to one another.
Which leads us to:
Discuss non-work topics, too.
Engaging your employees on a personal level and checking in with them is another key part of managing a remote team. “As a remote manager, I ensure we have constant touch-point meetings,” one of our product directors told me. “It helps me understand how an employee feels.”
Dedicated “non-work” conversation time doesn’t have to be separately scheduled. Consider spending a couple of minutes during your existing one-on-one with a colleague to connect on a non-work level.
Yes, most sports have been canceled or postponed, but that’s not the only thing you can talk about. Ask if they’ve recently read a good book, or watched an exciting series. You may learn something new.
Taking the time for a non-work topic engages your staff. Spending five minutes on a non-work topic and setting up a virtual lunch with your team can promote group cohesion remotely. Even something as simple as asking about the weather (and if they’ve gone outside today) can help form a connection, reduce anxiety, and increase productivity.
It doesn’t matter if remote work is a newly instituted policy for your organization, or your staff has been utilizing remote work for some time. As a manager, your job is to be a super-connector – keep your team connected and communicating. Not only will your team experience increased productivity and engagement, but it is one way you as a manager can help reduce the anxiety and feelings of isolation that your workforce may be feeling.
Go forth and communicate.