Managers of remote teams face the challenge of combating the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. How do we move away from micro-managing and set up and lead our remote teams to success? Join me as we discuss the four pillars of remote team management:
- Set Expectations
- Create a high-bandwidth workspace
- Give feedback and show appreciation
- Build the team
Welcome to the Collaboration Superpowers podcast. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely. Welcome to another episode, everyone. Last time I ended by saying that we would be speaking today to Bree Reynolds, but I’ve changed my mind. I’ve been preparing a talk for a presentation that I’m giving in Agile Vietnam, and they want me to talk about remote team management. So I’ve been putting together this presentation. I thought it would be fun to share the information with you.
When I was putting this talk together, the first thing I thought about was how is remote team management different than management in person. When I looked back over the content in the interviews, it seemed that the loss of context that we have when going remote seems to be the biggest differentiator, which is basically how do we know what each other are doing. And I say basically, but that’s a pretty big question to be asking.
The loss of context also includes, of course, the very important physical cues that we get from each other when we work together in an office. You can tell when somebody is tired or if they’ve had a bad night or if they’re in a really good mood. You can just see that. And when we work remote, we don’t see that, and that loss of context causes all kinds of problems and misunderstandings and delays.
Now this loss of context is very real. But what is also very real is what we get when we get remote working right, and that’s something that I’ve called before remote first. And I think that’s one of the more compelling arguments for businesses right now, which is whether or not your team is working remotely, it’s good to have the processes in place to be able to work remotely, so that when something happens, you’re ready to deal with it. For example, bad weather or transportation strikes, sick children at home, needing to wait for a package. There are all kinds of reasons where people might not be in the office. And instead of having just work stop, you can find a way to make it continue. And that’s the concept that I call remote first.
So then how do we do this? How do we set our remote teams up for success? The thing that needs to be in place for it all to work is trust. Trust is the glue that binds the team together, and it’s based on reliability, consistency, and responsiveness.
And for the rest of this talk, I want to talk specifically about how to do this. If you’re starting out with a new team, then you’re focus is going to be on hiring the right skill set. Are these people able to work remotely? You want to look into things like their bandwidth connections. Are they able to communicate via instant messaging? Are they available for videoconferences? How do they handle time zones? And their level of responsiveness, amongst other things. But these are just sort of the top-level things that you want to look at. Now whether you’re working with a new team or you have an existing team, make sure the expectations for how to work together are clearly defined. My favorite way of doing this is by creating a team agreement, and that’s taking your team through the process of discussing the information that you share, how you communicate, and how you want to work together, and agreeing on the set of guidelines for your team.
Now setting expectations is only one aspect of working together. And the most important thing (and that varies from business to business) is that we become results-oriented. So it’s not how much time and when did you put the time in that matters, but it’s the results that you deliver that matters. Like I said, this looks very different from business to business, but it’s worth sitting down and thinking about how your business can become more results-oriented.
Okay, so setting expectations and moving to a results-oriented environment is one of the major pillars. The other one is creating a high-bandwidth work environment for the people that you’re working with. What you want to do when you are creating a high-bandwidth workspace is you’re trying to simulate the office online. And I go into that into more depth in a previous podcast, episode 36. But one of the more important ways of doing that that I just want to mention here is by working out loud, basically narrating your work and making it observable to your colleagues in a way that’s useful. Make sure to listen to the podcast for more information about that. And if it’s an option for your team, then make sure you get trained. There are great workshops like Pilar Orti’s online leadership course, like my Work Together Anywhere workshop. These are places where you can get trained on how to be an efficient, remote team.
After setting expectations and creating a high-bandwidth workspace, I would say the next category of focus would be giving feedback and showing appreciation on remote teams. Again, we run into a lack of context problem here because there are serious limitations with giving verbal-only feedback or written-only feedback.
Now on co-located teams, feedback is ongoing because we see each other. So we have those visual cues and the one-on-one talks and the chance meetings in the hall. And on virtual teams, we have to be deliberate about making our feedback continuous. On the Happy Melly team, we use the merit money system where each of us gets 100 points every month, and the only rule is we’re not allowed to keep our points for ourselves. We have to distribute it to our remote teammates with an explanation as to why we distributed it.
Another way of doing that would be hosting regular team retrospectives. You can even do both of them at the same time, which is what the Happy Melly team does. And of course appreciation is part of feedback. And we need to remember to say thank you to each other. And I think this problem exists in the co-located space as well. But it’s so much easier to forget our remote employees.
One of the last focuses for a remote team manager is ongoing team building. Since you’re not going to run into each other in the halls, you have to be deliberate about creating unstructured time. Whether that’s having virtual lunches together or virtual drinks or getting a Kubi for your remote employee to attend an office party, there are lots of options here. You just have to make sure to do it.
So these are, of course, not the only things that remote management entails. But I think that these are the four very important focus points for managers. You can’t really go wrong by starting here. So again, those focus points are setting expectations for how you’re going to work together, creating a high-bandwidth workspace for your team, giving feedback and showing appreciation, and a focus on ongoing team building.
Managing a remote team requires a shift in mindset, and that shift in mindset is based on trust. As a remote team, we need to be reliable, consistent, and responsive to each other and help each other succeed. Like Jurgen Appelo says, management is too important to leave to the managers. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make a remote team work.
Okay, I hope my thoughts on remote team management have been useful for you. If you’d like to give me feedback or if you have anything to add, then please reach me at collaborationsuperpowers.com. All my information is there.
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Next week we will definitely be back with Bree Reynolds from FlexJobs.com, the makers of [inaudible – 08:28], so stay tuned for that. A huge thanks to Nick, the podcast monster who keeps this podcast organized and going. You can hire him to make you a star at podcastmonster.com. All right, everybody, until next week, be powerful.
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