Executive Vice President and General Manager of Hostdedi and Liquid Web on adapting and maintaining personal connections while managing teams remotely.
A remote work situation requires the same fundamentals of managing people and maintaining the community of an office environment — it just magnifies the importance of diligently sticking to the fundamentals.
Now more than ever, the fundamentals of team management matter. In the face of current global realities, remote work is a gift, offering us the unique opportunity to innovate while, first and foremost, protecting the health and safety of employees and their families.
As companies around the world are navigating how to best operate online, many managers brand new to remote team management are faced with the challenge of learning how to lead in an unfamiliar environment under stressful circumstances.
I’ve been managing remote teams for nearly three decades. For most of my career, I worked for companies that operated on a global level. Early on, I had to learn how to manage teams around the world, often through the challenge of employees across many different time zones. In some roles, 100% of employees telecommuted. In others, only 15% worked from outside the office. In many ways, because I’ve built a career in technology, I’ve had broad exposure to the ins and outs of the trials many managers are now tasked with navigating.
Here are some strategies for managing remote teams.
- Re-review individual objectives. If you are a manager or leader, take the time to re-review each individual’s objectives and recognize where specifics may have shifted. Perhaps more time may be needed on some projects, or adjustments need to be made for projects requiring physical presence. As an individual contributor, seek clarity about moving forward under new circumstances. Clarity is critical in times of uncertainty – seek it out at all levels.
- Set ground rules. When embarking on a new way of working—especially with teams who are newly working together remotely—it is vitally important to have frank discussions about how the team wants to work and what your expectations are from each other. What time of day can you depend on them to be online? Under what conditions will they be unavailable, and how will they let you know? By level setting ground rules, you provide helpful structures for what will become the new norm of interaction.
- Check-in often and individually with your team members. The power of maintaining personal connections is vital for all remote teams, but its importance cannot be understated in times of uncertainty. It can be tempting to just drop a note on Slack to check on your team. Resist this. Setup individual check-ins with each member. Do it often. Allow time for chit chat and asking about family. Check in daily with brief video chats. Connect virtually over a cup of coffee. Technology is incredible, but it is imperative that, as often as possible, we maintain the personal connections that make us human.
- Decide which office rituals you’ll maintain online as a team. Take some time to determine which regular meetings are essential and should continue taking place with your remote team. But just as important as deciding which structures to maintain is understanding what you can let go of. Do you need to force everyone to sit through a four hour video call? Probably not. Determine what things are important, what you’re going to gather for, and what you’re going to decide to let go of for a while.
- Commit to fully engaging when the team is together. When working remotely, probably the greatest challenge is managing distractions—both your teams’ and your own. When you’re not face-to-face with someone, it can be difficult to make sure that everyone is giving their full attention, but it’s essential for both morale and productivity.
A remote work situation requires all of the same fundamentals of managing people and maintaining the community of an office environment—it just magnifies their importance.
When you’re physically separated from your team, it can be tempting to do things like sort through emails while you’re on conference calls. You have to resist these urges and offer your full attention. Set up dedicated times in the morning and afternoon to tend to your email so that your team knows you’re fully present and expect them to be, as well. There’s so much you can get away with if you’re all in one room. While working remotely, it’s important to pay attention to basics around how to run a good meeting.
- Encourage trust. For people new to remote work, one of the most crucial parts of building a healthy and productive work environment is wrapping your mind around the fact that you’re going to have to trust people. Trust that your team members will get the job done. This confidence will allow them to trust you, too.
- Determine your responsibility. You have a responsibility as much as your teammates to be online and communicative and trustworthy. The best way to do this is to put a schedule in place and stick to it. A lot of people think working from home is rolling out of bed and going about your day in pajamas, but getting up and showering and getting dressed can really help to put you in a ready-to-work, focused mindset. Find the place in your home in which you can be most productive. Face your day the same as you would face it if you were going out.
Just as in team management, the fundamentals of how you care of yourself are also magnified and take on a greater importance when working from home—especially as we confront the possibility of long stretches in isolated environments. Eat nourishing foods. Drink lots of water. Set up a space that makes you feel good. Schedule short breaks that allow you to get up and walk around between meetings. Move your body and remember to check in with yourself. Make sure you’re caring for your physical and mental wellbeing.
We are all making adjustments to the ways we live and work. There is so much right now that feels out of our control. What we can control is how we show up for our community and how we can encourage them to show up for one another. We do not have to lose our sense of togetherness—we can strengthen it. This experience will push us out of our comfort zones, but that is the space where growth can take place.
You will get to know your co-workers in this period in ways you would not have before. You’ll get to know their pets and partners and kids. Frustrations will arise, of course, but do your best to embrace and enjoy the moments of joy and spontaneity that will accompany this new way of working.
Let us also embrace this as an opportunity to innovate how we think, operate, and work together. We will all come through this changed. My hope is that we are changed for the better, forging community in new ways, and understanding what it truly means to be a team.
Carrie Wheeler is the Executive Vice President, Managed Applications at Hostdedi with over three decades in technology leading through disruptive market events. Learn more about Carrie’s career in tech here.