Communications — when you are in the same room or office space it’s easy to pop your head in someone’ office ask a quick question or give directions. The office environment makes it more accessible to communicate. When you are working remotely and not able to see your co-works on a daily basis, you physically and emotionally can feel isolated. People are not as likely to reach out and email slows all communication down. It also allows for interpretation of the message that may not align with your intentions. We’ve found it just takes longer to communicate when remote working.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Reb Risty. With her Rose Gold Hair, Reb is the sassy Head REBL at REBL Marketing, a firm helping SMBs to grow their businesses through Marketing Strategy & Planning, Messaging & Branding, and Video Content.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”? Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Well, not sure how interesting this is but I just spent the morning filing paperwork at small claims against a former client. The joys of owning a small business.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Have regular employee get-togethers that are outside the office. Provide a flexible work schedule when possible. Encourage employees to use their vacation time every year.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have to manage remote teams?
I’ve been managing a remote team for 4 years now.
Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?
- Communications — when you are in the same room or office space it’s easy to pop your head in someone’ office ask a quick question or give directions. The office environment makes it more accessible to communicate. When you are working remotely and not able to see your co-works on a daily basis, you physically and emotionally can feel isolated. People are not as likely to reach out and email slows all communication down. It also allows for interpretation of the message that may not align with your intentions. We’ve found it just takes longer to communicate when remote working.
- Attention — Everyone’s attention is being pulled in several directions during the day, but then add in kids at home, sharing a workspace with a significant other, and technology limitations. When working remote, it takes extra effort to focus on the task at hand and keep work and personal tasks separate. One example of this is our project manager who has two young and energetic boys at home. Although she tries to find a quiet space to do her work and hold meetings with the team, they still find her. During Zoom meetings, she will oftentimes have to get up with her laptop in her hands and walk around, with her boys following her, until she can find a room with a door to close. This is after she’s told them several times that she is on a work call.
- Turnaround time — As I mention in the communications example, not being able to speak with someone right away or in the same day, makes communication and decision making slower.
- Accountability –
- Team comradery –
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
- Communications — Get out of email for team communication. You have to have a dedicated platform for team communication. We use Asana, which allows us to project manage tasks and communicate within the platform. This keeps messages in one place, easier to find and focused on only the team. We can also associate messages with certain tasks, keeping things even more organized.
- Attention — We all hate meetings, but if you want to keep peoples attention, then you need to have regular meetings with set agendas. We have our team client meeting on Monday afternoons. This way if there is something that a team member needs for the week, they get to bring that to the forefront for the week. This doesn’t mean have long drawn out meetings, this mean be efficient and keep your meetings on point and as short as possible. Our Monday meeting is 30 mins, team members know to keep it high level and then reach out to individual team members for the details.
- Turnaround time — Have clear deadlines and follow up with each other.
- Accountability — We started having weekly one-on-one meetings this year because
- Team Comradery — We schedule quarterly all-hands meetings in person. The team also schedules coffees and lunches individually. The executive team meets once a week at the office.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?
First, as with any employee feedback, sandwich the conversation. What I mean with that is start with something positive, put the areas of improvement and constructive feedback in the middle of the conversation and end with something positive. Second, have a clear examples of the feedback and clear examples of how the person can improve.
Third, meet in a web meeting, where you can atleast see each other. This will give you some ability to read their body language and facial expressions. It’s not the same as in person, but it will help with any misunderstandings.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
As I answered to your previous question about feedback, sandwich the conversation. Keep is factual and short. Include clear examples of the feedback and clear opportunities of how the person can improve. You should request a web meeting to followup.
Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic? Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
If you don’t have an HR professional on the team to lead the remote work, find one. Besides the emotional and environmental challenges of moving to remote work, you want to make sure you have someone that understands the legal guidelines that need to be followed. Having this person will help mitigate issues across the board.
What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?
Have regular meetings during the week. Recognize team members that are doing a good job. Get together in person when you can.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My movement would be the “A Nap for Everyone” campaign. Research that shows getting a full night of sleep is very important to your cognitive skills and daily decision making. Studies show that a short nap in the mid-afternoon can boost memory, improve job performance, lift your mood and ease stress. If I can’t nap, which is most of the time, I like to open my Headspace app and do some breathing exercises to just relax and rest my mind. I think the world would be happy and have more positive energy if we all had equal time for a nap.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Albert Einstein — I like to overthink things and cloud the obvious. I like this quote because it reminds me to not overthink the obvious and get to the point! Then I can take a nap.
Thank you for these great insights!