1. From speaking to writing
The biggest difference between managing a remote team versus an in-person team is what you could have guessed: Communication.
When it comes to communicating, there’s one form that is more popular than others in remote teams: chatting via apps like Teams, Workplace by Facebook or Slack.
This is a big shift for most managers who are used to operating in co-located teams. When you have a question, the instinct is to talk to someone about it – not write it out. When you have a new project to kick off, you hold an in-person meeting. When you have a question, you walk over to someone’s desk to ask them about it. However, in remote teams you don’t say it, you write it.
On the contrary, quite predictably while in-person, most managers default to in-person meetings as their primary mode of communication. The most successful remote managers understand this, and are diligent about writing – clearly, precisely – to communicate with their team on a daily basis.
2. Building Trust
As a leader, you have to trust your teams, irrespective of if you’re in-person with them or remote. But as a remote leader, that trust becomes even more paramount. Building trust and rapport across the team is the #1 thing managers should prioritize and what new managers most frequently overlook.
If someone goes out and runs to the grocery store in the middle of the day… so what? If someone takes the afternoon off to go watch their kid’s school play… so what? In fact, it’s great that they get to do those things, live their life, and get work done too. Should it matter how many hours are being put into the work or when the work is being put in? Or are the results more important?
That being said, how do you trust people to get the work done, while also keeping them accountable to a high quality of work?
3. Social connection.
Naturally, when you’re not in person, you’re not as socially connected to your team as you might be if you were in-person. This matters, as research has demonstrated the value of social connection at work. For example, one study shows that individuals who had 15 minutes to socialize with colleagues had a 20% increase in performance over their peers who didn’t.
As a remote manager, this means you need to be more intentional about how your team members are connecting with one another – and how you’re connecting with them. For example, many remote companies default to video as a means of creating a higher fidelity of connection. Additionally, some remote managers will invest in doing some sort of in-person team meet-up.
4. Have the hard conversations, quickly.
Telling a team member something they don’t want to hear is hard enough. But how do you do it when you’re not in-person? Finding a way to have the hard conversations quickly is crucial in remote teams. As a result, remote teams tend to emphasize structures, processes, and habits that help force hard conversations to happen sooner. For instance, more remote managers report having formal onboarding processes compared to co-located managers and, more remote managers have a mentor or work buddy than those in an office environment.
In summary, when you’re a remote leader, you can’t afford to not be a good writer. You can’t afford to not be intentional about social connection. You can’t afford to not trust your employees.
If anything, being a remote leader tests you as a leader in all the right ways: It forces you to communicate well, and have strong processes for people feeling connected in your team.
As you’re considering how you can become the best remote manager, or maybe you're helping some of your managers transition to remote, keep these four things in mind as a leader.