3 ways to effectively manage remote teams

Coronavirus remote work telecommuting

We’ve all heard the saying, “Out of sight, out of mind.” In an age of ever-increasing remote work, however, we may change that phrase to say, “Out of sight, top of mind.”

As we rapidly transition to a work-from-home reality, one which experts expect to last well beyond our response to the coronavirus pandemic, it can be hard to separate ourselves from our work. Without an office to leave, it’s all too easy to never turn off. At a time when people are dealing with lots of internal pressure, one of the attributes to avoid as a leader is to become a micromanager. If you want to effectively lead a remote team, you’ve got to be willing to let go.

A lot of times, that’s easier said than done. Remote work, which inevitably means less interaction between team members, can make leaders and managers overcompensate for the distance.

“When a traditionally in-office workplace goes remote, company managers often feel powerless and disconnected with their employees,” notes Hush Blankets CEO Lior Ohayon, “and these feelings sometimes cause them to micromanage."

While the impulse makes perfect sense, succumbing to it won’t benefit anyone. Especially in a world where many team members are already juggling family life, work and the stress of an unprecedented year, the last thing they need is breathing down their neck via both email and Slack.

With that in mind, I want to discuss a few strategies that will allow leaders to interact and engage with their team members productively.

Schedule regular check-ins
Rather than springing surprise meetings on folks or constantly badgering them via online chat, take the time to put regular, structured check-ins on the calendars of your team. These meetings should exist in many forms: team chats, project updates, one-on-ones, etc. The nature, length and frequency of these meetings will vary depending on the size and nature of your company, but I would recommend making them as regular as possible and doing your best to not postpone or cancel them.

Regular meetings offer team members the chance to feel heard, report progress, ask questions and address concerns. They offer management the chance to get updates, monitor projects, and assess timeliness and quality of work. They also provide the peace of mind that comes from knowing where everything’s at. If you create a good structure, you won’t feel the need to constantly pop in for updates.
Use collaborative tools
In a cloud-based work environment, there are plenty of tools that can keep you apprised of happenings without needing to reach out to an actual person. Almost every cloud-based platform — from project management systems to online accounting software to Google Docs — comes equipped with easy-to-use collaborative features. Why send an email to a team member at 7 p.m. when you can hop online and get the information for yourself or schedule the email to go out the next morning so you aren’t bothering anyone during after-hours?

Micromanagement often happens as a result of an impulse, a pang from a leader, rather than a long-term plan to constantly monitor people. Tools that allow for easy collaboration and transparency are a great way to relieve the momentary stress of wondering what’s happening with X project or going on with Y client. Putting rules of engagement in place, so you set appropriate guidelines for utilizing these tools and when to use them, can relieve a lot of stress.

It’s important, though, to not make these tools a kind of micromanagement in their own right. Give people instructions on how to use them, and check in yourself from time to time, but don’t be a set of eyes constantly peering at the work of others. Doing so will only create feelings of negativity toward the tech you need to make remote work viable.
Don’t micromanage yourself
Understanding how to work from home in a healthy and productive way includes not applying undue pressure on yourself. If you were already prone to being a work-all-the-timer, you’re probably doubly so now. Unfortunately, overexertion on work isn’t good for performance, quality of work or mental health. Consider setting boundaries for yourself if you also want to respect the boundaries of others.

If you want to avoid fatigue, burnout and disenchantment (and who doesn’t?), learn to harmonize the professional and personal aspects of your life. Nobody can do that if they are spending every waking hour worrying about their team’s and their own work.