In this post we look at some of the ways you can manage remote staff working from home, with a specific emphasis on communications and how to cultivate a sense of connection. These are some of the methods that we have found to be effective and believe can be useful to managing your remote staff holistically and thoughtfully.
In this post we look at some of the ways you can manage remote staff working from home, with a specific emphasis on communications and how to cultivate a sense of connection. These are some of the methods that we have found to be effective and believe can be useful to managing your remote staff holistically and thoughtfully. Ultimately how you engage with and manage your staff is your decision – but we have years of experience as both remote employees and managers so are intimately aware of both sides of the fence.
- Provide regular, positive and direct communications
Empathy is key. How well do you know your staff? Do you care about them? Where are they working from geographically? Do they have a family? Do they work regular hours or a shift? These types of questions are important but not necessary to know. They can certainly help you develop a relationship with your remote workers. Why should you care about their lives and stories? Well, depending on the kind of work you do you (or your staff does) you likely want to achieve the best results. Leaders instill in their people a hope for success and a belief in themselves. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals.
I have had many managers as a remote employee. Some care about me, others do not. Some start meetings by jumping right into the details at hand and others ask how I am doing. They show that they care and create a human interaction. This not only makes me feel valued but it shows me that my manager is paying attention to details. And if my manager cares about me, they are far more likely to care about our clients and partners.
- Schedule time for 1:1s
Managers are responsible for increasing the output of their organizations and neighboring organizations they influence. Managers “leverage” their time by spending small amounts to have large impact through three activities: 1) information gathering 2) decision making, 3) “nudging” others to complete tasks or bodies of work. Through effective management you, as a leader, can creativ high leverage actions and outcomes: delegation with supervision, training and influencing processes with unique skills or knowledge. What better way to gather and share information then to learn from people with firsthand insights and feedback? A 1:1 that is scheduled and recurring helps build trust, exchange data (information, guidance, insights), and allows for bi-directional feedback.
Often when working from home I felt out of the loop. This not only hurt me but it hurt my firm. I also learned things from clients and partners that my management would have benefited from learning. But in cases where regular 1:1s did not exist, it made it harder to share this information. I remember one specific example well: a client didn’t place an order because our product was missing a key feature that they required. As a result, the deal didn’t go through. My manager saw only that the deal moved out of our revenue pipeline but never the reason why. It would take nearly five weeks for us to speak about said deal and by that time the client had selected another vendor to place their order with. A 1:1 could have greatly accelerated internal communications, reduced friction, and led to better outcomes. The absence of this 1:1 time led to negative business outcomes, including delaying decisions, abdication, and unnecessary interruption.
- Make sure everyone is updated via email
We have noticed that sending daily email updates — even if we don’t have anything major to announce — helps make workers more relaxed and secure. Informed and at ease employees helps create a spirit of trust and collaboration. People’s time is highly valuable so all meetings should be purposeful and well-executed according to their type; this is why emails are a great medium for exchanging information and sharing themes or key updates at scale. Emails can be read at all hours which is useful for staff in different timezones. Emails are also a unifying form of communication. While we hope that all of your staff should have 1:1s with a regular cadence, some might not. And an email gives everyone the same playing field and leverage.
- Tone and messaging are key
Tone is critical in emails and impacts largely how your message is received. In a time when there can be a lot of confusion, for example Covid19 or another emergency, we have the ability to greatly impact how people feel about a message by setting our tone. Messaging is important and can lead to new constructive conversations; a tone that is frustrated, dismissive, or upset can cause confusion or anger among the consumers of this content.
We remember a senior product manager who used to write thoughtful notes with clear bullet points about next steps. The tone of his emails was optimistic and organized. That set expectations that we should create products that were upbeat and well thought out. We also remember another product leader who was always distracted in virtual meetings. His tone was snippy and short. He was brilliant but his message – through his words, actions, and body language – indicated dismissiveness. This percolated to his staff and how they interacted with clients and other internal stakeholders. Get the tone right – especially if you don’t know people well – because they will be paying attention. And your actions will influence them in ways you can’t imagine or predict.
- Feel free to experiment
You should know your staff. Their likes and dislikes, the values, and work ethics. Hold a weekly or monthly team meeting and check-in. Ask yourself the following: What decision is needed? By when? Who should be consulted? Who decides? Who ratifies or vetoes? Who needs to be informed? These questions can guide how often you interact with your remote staff and what you convey when you do.
I feel strongly that in the right setting it is important to encourage people to discuss things unrelated to serious work topics; give space for people to let their guard down or provide a personal update. One team that I know well and that is high functioning and made entirely of remote workers does a 30 minute call once every two weeks to enable staff to briefly discuss the following: a) One thing going well b) One thing that each staff member is grateful for.
It’s important to regularly check in and ask employees how things are going while cultivating a culture of confidence, openness and communication. Employee input not only guides company-wide decisions but also plays a crucial role in improving employee engagement. These steps will make your workers more loyal, come at a small cost to you (asking questions and doing a quick check-in has zero costs), and will help you gain new insights to run your business. Managing remote staff that works from home might be a new challenge for you. Lean in by doing the small things well. This will not only lead to good outcomes for you and your team but will enable you to unlock new value. And that is what all managers should aspire to.