Working remotely can be a dream for people who want flexibility in their hours or want to avoid spending 100 hours a year battling traffic or being squished on subway. And for companies, it’s a great way to recruit some seriously talented people you might not otherwise find in your geographic region.
But it’s not always a dream for the person who stumbles into managing that group of people!
I’ve led teams from a distance for more 11 years, and one of the first things leaders of distributed teams want to do is figure out which systems, apps, or platforms to use to get their job done.
But a system is only going to get you so far. The most important tools you need are:
Communication. Communication. Communication.
In all honesty, that really does sum it up. It’s not rocket science, no, but it does require an intentionality that you might not have considered before. As a manager, it’s on you to develop a culture of transparent, proactive, and actionable communication using the tools that best fit your team and its goals.
First and foremost, people cannot read your mind. Unless you’ve signed up your team for a telepathy class recently, then it’s on you to proactively communicate with each person on your team—individually and corporately.
Daily Slack check-ins are a great way to touch base quickly, at times that work best for each team member. Every day, you and each team member simply post:
your goals for the day,
hurdles you might face in tackling those goals, and
questions you have.
This will plant the seeds of culture that prioritize proactive communication without you feeling the need to micromanage to get information.
Weekly one-on-ones are vital for staying in sync with your team members on projects and allowing them time to pick your brain as well. Whenever possible, do these over video chat. Since 50 to 70% of communication is non-verbal, the more you both can see each other’s facial expressions, the better.
Even though your team is primarily focused on business goals, it’s still important to remember that the people on the other side of your screen have actual lives outside of this work. They have good days, bad days, struggles, families, personal lives, and hobbies. Build time into your one-on-ones to get to know that side of them; by doing this, you’re showing that you value them as individuals, and you want the team to get to know each other as well.
Doing so will develop trust and respect over time, which will actually make the team far more efficient and effective!
This requires trust, no doubt, but as the manager, it’s your responsibility to take the first step in this direction. If something’s not going well, let the team know. If you’re hitting a wall, ask the team for advice. If a project is not going well, own it early and rally the team to find solutions and determine next steps.
You didn’t hire this team to be a bunch of “yes” people. (At least, I hope not!) You hired them because their talent, experience, and insight is likely very different than yours! Lean on them. Rely on them. Be the catalyst to draw out their amazing talents to solve problems and get through the harder times.
This also means that if something’s not going well with an individual’s performance, you need to communicate that to them early. Work it into a weekly one-on-one, address it objectively, and discuss how you can help equip them to perform better. Don’t hide behind your screen on this one. You’re the manager; this might be hard, but it’s part of the job too.
If your team knows that they’ll always know where you stand, they won’t hemorrhage precious time wondering whether they need to read between the lines or figure you out. Say what you mean, and mean what you say, and the team will be more effective.
If I had $1 for every time I heard someone say, “Yeah we should do that,” but not follow up with specific actions, I’d be lounging on remote island with a Mai Tai right now.
During each meeting or conversation, if something new has to be done, make sure it’s abundantly clear who will do it, when it’s due, and how it lines up with the other priorities in their queue.
This doesn’t have to be onerous. It’s a simple application of being proactive and transparent. You want to make sure that each person knows their responsibility and role in the overall project, how this new idea fits in with their existing schedule, and what your expectations are.
So, for instance, if you and the team find yourselves saying something like, “Yeah, we really do need to make sure our website has a clear call to action.” Instead of leaving that out in the ether, say, “That’s a great point. It’s important, but we don’t need to drop everything this week. Karin, can you please spend 30 minutes next week jotting down some recommendations for how to do that, and we’ll figure out the best approach at our next meeting.”
Proactive. Transparent. Actionable.
If you’re communicating this way with your team, and you find the right tools to support this communication, you’ll be making great strides toward the efficiency and effectiveness you’re seeking.