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Managing Remote Teams Is Just Different

If remote teams are going to work, it’s because your managers are awesome.

If you have suddenly found yourself as the manager of a remote team, you’ve probably discovered by now that it’s just not the same. 

While the essentials of leading a co-located and a remote team are the same, how you go about it is very different. 

CEOs and leaders who have recently transitioned their companies to working from home need to give a lot of help and guidance to managers because their performance will directly impact how well your company can weather this storm. 

Start with empathy and trust 

New remote managers have to start from a place of assuming that everyone around them is doing the best they can. There’s a lot that people are trying to juggle, and micromanagement is not going to help here. 

Pim de Morree of Corporate Rebels says the ultimate remote work policy is “We trust you.” 

Great remote managers start off with empathy and trust and move forward from there. 

In his book, Do Better Work, Max Yoder, CEO of Lessonly, says that trust on teams is built through clarity and camaraderie.

When teams are sitting together, clarity can come from just a simple tap on the shoulder or a quick meeting. Camaraderie is built through sharing stories about the weekend or that funny thing that happened yesterday. 

But both clarity and camaraderie are built differently with remote teams. 

3 ways remote managers build clarity

Set the ground rules

Remote teams need clear rules about how they will function. Rules can change from team to team, but everyone needs to know what to expect. 

Set ground rules about: 

Availability. Create some overlapping hours when you expect people to be very responsive, and then let people structure the rest of their day around that. 

Response times. Remote workers need to know how quickly they should respond to a message that comes in at 4:30pm if they work up early to get most of their work cleared off. Without the safety to turn off notifications, remote work can add stress and become “always on” work. 

Default to video. Anytime you have a meeting with someone, require everyone to have their video on. It allows you to pick up on non-verbal cues, decreases loneliness, and is just better communication. 

Tools. Remote teams rely on lots of tools to stay in touch, but you probably have more than you need. Be very clear about which tools you will use for which situations. 

Don’t neglect the daily standup going

The daily standup is a mainstay of remote teams. However, unlike co-located teams, a remote daily standup might happen twice a day, or it might happen once in the middle of the day. 

GitLa’sb remote manifesto says that the standup is for three things: bonding, blockers, and the future. You can use other tools for status updates. Reserve meeting times for spending time making connections, figuring out how to move projects forward, and planning. 

Build better systems

Great remote managers spend a lot of their time on the systems their teams use to keep work moving. Wes Winham from Woven says that the communication methods and processes of a remote team must be the same as a company that is bigger than your size. For example, remote teams of 30 need to have the automated processes and communication habits of a co-located company with 300 employees. 

3 ways remote managers build camaraderie

Many managers of co-located teams don’t have to worry about team building–75% of it just happens naturally as people are together. 

But remote teams need to build camaraderie back into their interactions. 

Build in friction

When designing the Pixar office, Steve Jobs was against remote teams because he wanted to create a space that “promoted encounters and unplanned collaborations.”

Remote managers have to manufacture that friction. It might mean meetings without a clear business purpose, or catching up on each other’s lives before jumping into the details of a project sprint. 

However, the bad use of messaging tools can bring too much friction if notifications are going off all the time. The best teams have a good blend of focused time and collaboration time. 

Give public praise

Praise is even more important on remote teams. Remote managers need to step up their game and constantly be sharing and celebrating the work of others. This is not only important for keeping spirits up, but it also gives team members visibility across teams that can lead to promotions and new opportunities.

Watch out for mental health struggles

Everyone on a remote team is at risk for mental health struggles, especially right now. A great remote manager needs to be aware of the early warning signs and be proactive in helping team members. Cheryl Kerrigan of BlueCat Networks points out that tt can be much harder for remote managers to detect when their team members are going through a mental health struggle.

Schedule regular video calls with teammates who live alone, and be prepared to spend extra time with people who need it.

Pivot to become a great remote manager

People are people, but the dynamics of remote work make it different for people to build connections and stay clear on what needs to happen. Great remote managers need to focus on building great systems and spending time with others. 

There are lots of good resources out there, including tips from Zapier, Know Your Team, Buffer, Basecamp, GitLab, and Automattic

You owe it to your team to do this right! Take up the challenge and become great. 

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