Remote Management - Your Comprehensive Guide

Discover how to overcome the challenges of remote management and get the best from your remote teams.
A person attempting to do remote management by phone
Remote management doesn't have to mean remote micromanagement

What is remote management? Put simply "remote management" refers to all of the activities performed by a remote leader - with mindset, trust and communication featuring prominently as areas that define effectiveness.  

In the days before remote working, leaders had more choices regarding their management and style. If you wanted to take a traditional command-and-control approach, you could. If you wanted to be a micromanager, you could (not that we would advise it). You also had the time and space to develop a management style that worked for you – and hopefully for your people too.

However, when you lead a remote team, you have fewer options. When your team members are apart from each other, micromanagement is virtually impossible, not that your people would accept it anyway. 

Remote management requires a shift in mindset. It’s natural that as a remote leader, you’ll have nagging doubts in the back of your mind:

●  What are my people up to right now?

●  Are they happy?

●  Am I doing this right?

But, to be a successful remote manager, you need to shift your mindset away from those worries and ask yourself what more you can do to be a better leader for your people.

Here are five ways you can adjust your mindset as you manage remote teams.

1 – Trust is the cornerstone of remote management

The central philosophy of remote work – and the one that employees most value – is that output trumps input. If you get the work done, it doesn’t matter how, where or when you do it.

It can be understandably difficult for a leader to get their head around this shift in emphasis. After all, when everyone was in the same building from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, you knew exactly where everyone was and what they were doing. You were able to help your people if they needed it, as well as apply pressure when necessary. How do you keep people motivated and ensure performance?

Start by letting go of that old command-and-control mindset and trust your people. Give them the tools, the space and the opportunity to shine. They will reward your confidence with top performance.

2 – Communication

Communication is key. However, in this case, it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.

Instead of seeing you around the office, your people are mostly going to come into contact with you via written messages, phone calls or video conferences. If you’re the type of person that would lighten a difficult situation with a joke, you’ll find it much harder to do when you can’t be sure that the other person has understood it. The best policy is to be as authentic and straightforward as you can. Stay away from subtext or sarcasm.

Also, remember that your people may themselves be struggling with adapting to remote life, or experiencing problems outside of work. Try to communicate with respect, care and empathy, whoever you are talking to.

3 – Eliminate bias

Your remote teams could contain people from many different backgrounds working across the globe. There are some you may see regularly, while others you may never meet in your life. Some you may know well already, others you will have to spend time getting to know.

As a remote manager, you must trust your people and they must trust you back. They trust you to be fair to them and treat them equally regardless of background or anything else. Make integrity, transparency and openness what you’re known for as a leader.

4 – Confidence and courage

You may be wondering where in this new world of remote management is your opportunity to actually lead. Don’t worry. Remote management still affords the ability to be bold and courageous. In fact, it’s a requirement.

As you and your company adapt to a remote-first way of doing business, you’ll likely see examples of people (on purpose or inadvertently) doing things that don’t work. You could see examples where your way of working negatively affects team members of different backgrounds or in other countries. In these situations, you must challenge the entrenched ways of doing things. Don’t sit back and let it happen.

Remember, you’re pioneering a new way of leading. Have confidence in your values and vision and you’ll be successful.

5 – Enjoy it

While it’s natural to have those worries as you begin as a remote leader, wondering what your team are up to and whether they’re performing, try to look on the positive side.

Being able to lead your team remotely is a gift:

●  You suddenly have access to a worldwide pool of talent

●  Your team are all inherently happier because they can work remotely

●  No more commuting. You can work from anywhere too!

So, enjoy your time as a remote leader. Think about how you can better use the time you used to spend commuting. Find the ‘why’ behind your remote management style and rediscover your passion for management. Look at it as an opportunity, not a challenge.

Communication is key to effective remote management

Successful remote management is all about clear, concise and clever communication. When you get it right, you reap the rewards of asynchronous work. Let’s find out more.

Communication is the most critical part of getting remote work to work. Effective communication is essential for getting the most from your team, fostering culture and everything else that makes a team function well.

But, of course, communication is more challenging now. When everyone was in the office 9-5 every day, it was simple to get everyone together and get your message across, clarifying points if necessary. Now, everyone may not even be in the same time zone, let alone the same place.

You have more communication tools at your disposal as a remote leader; email, phone calls, video meetings, instant messages and more. But how do you get it right?

Here are five communication tips for successful remote management:

1 – Introducing Async

Asynchronous communication is how you communicate in remote work. It requires a shift in the leader’s mindset, but once you get it right, it brings benefits to all.

Async is communication that doesn’t take place in real time. Instead, there’s a time lag between one person sending out a communication and the recipients replying. Examples of async include email, Slack messages and pre-recorded video messages like Loom.

Working in this way can come as a shock to leaders who are used to communicating with their people in meetings or on conference calls. However, when everyone works remotely, often in other countries, it’s the only way to guarantee that everyone gets your message. After all, you can’t stop by someone’s desk for a quick chat if you’re in London and they’re in Cape Town.

2 – Overcommunicate

The key to effective asynchronous communication is clarity. You must make sure you get your points across clearly, ideally with no gaps that require people to ask questions to fill. The good news is, when you take time to compose an email or record a video message, you have more chances to get it right before you press ‘send’.

Make sure you cover everything in your communications, even if you think a detail is too small or something everyone should know already. It will save you time in the long run.

3 – The right channel for the right purpose

To ensure you’re as straightforward as possible, as well as most efficient with your time, make sure you use the right channel when you communicate. Here are some good uses for all your remote communication tools:

●  Phone call – one-to-one catch-ups, potentially difficult conversations

●  Email – updates to multiple recipients, formal communications

●  Slack (or other instant message app) chat – real-time updates, questions and answers

●  Pre-recorded video – explainers, plugging gaps from previous messages

●  Video conference – Team meetings, training

Remember that some of these methods are real-time while others are asynchronous. If you’re getting a team from around the world together for a video conference, you’d better have a good reason. Could it be an email?

4 – Watch your tone

When you were together in an office, it was easier for a leader to soften a difficult conversation with a smile or joke. It’s much harder now, when people may not always get the subtext of what you’re saying. Also, a massive part of how someone receives your communication depends on your body language and tone of voice, not what you say.

Minimise misunderstandings by keeping your tone open and approachable, even if it’s not how you’re actually feeling at the time. In written communications, be super clear and keep the subtext to a minimum. You have more opportunities to be yourself on video, but you should always consider how you come across, especially to team members of different backgrounds.

5 – Check for problems

Finally, be alert to when communication in your team is going wrong, whether it’s you or someone else who is not getting their messages across.

Here are some signs that communication is off in your team:

●  People stop engaging with each other

●  They don’t turn their camera on for video meetings

●  People aren’t asking questions

●  Text conversations and emails seem blunt

●  People do not feel safe to open up about challenges

If you see any of these, it could be time to rethink team communication.

Next steps

Who better to end this article than Jason Morwick, Head of Remote at Cactus Communications? As he told our Leading Remotely podcast:

‘It's those little things that you may notice as a leader that may cause you to take small actions, such as reaching out to someone and saying, ‘Hey, Matt, you know, I noticed lately you haven't been asking as many questions as you used to. Is everything okay? Is there anything I can do?’ and trying to get the person to open up.

‘If you are a leader who has created an environment of psychological safety, where people feel okay to open up without any sort of reprisal, they will be forthcoming and start to share information. Then you can start thinking about what actions you may need to take.’

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Remote Management - Your Comprehensive Guide