Like so many of us over the past 2 years, ZayZoon has moved largely to remote work. Our team has had to evolve our best practices for managing remote employees. In my case in particular I’ve had to learn to manage all over again to account for the almost total lack of in-person contact. Here’s some things that work for me:
Check out those check-ins
For most of us managing pre covid, we did regular 1-1s with our direct reports every two weeks. That’s no longer sufficient for most remote teams. You no longer have the casual collisions where you might have stopped in to check-in. You need to schedule and operate your 1-1s much more frequently and with intent.
One strategy that works for me is to “Check-in” with every one of my direct reports Monday mornings, and “Check out” with everyone on Friday mornings. The Monday meeting is about setting up the week, establishing the key things we want to work on and accomplish that week. The Friday meeting is a bit more flexible. Sometimes it's just chatting, sometimes it's about what went right (or wrong) that week, and sometimes it's about showing the thing we talked about working on Monday.
Ultimately these meetings have to serve a purpose for both parties. Keeps me plugged into what everyone is focused on, and gives our team an opportunity to directly broach or raise anything that’s going on.
And if you’re reading this saying “well there’s no way I can check in with every one of my direct reports”, then you have too many direct reports.
Democratize information and tasks
If, as a manager, you have generally subscribed to people managing their tasks and activities in whatever way worked for them, it's still possible in the remote scenario. However, you have to absolutely centralize task and project management tracking for anything that goes across the team or requires input or exposure from other teams. Our marketing team does our best to track requests and tasks on monday.com, based loosely on how our product team handles inbox requests. It isn’t perfect but it forces us all to work off the same list.
We really also work on democratizing Slack and electronic communication. Have a question for someone? Don’t DM them unless you have a real good reason. Tag them and post them on a shared channel. You probably aren’t the only person with the question, or with the answer. Allows folks to not have to wait just for one person’s feedback or answer and speeds up the pace of work and approvals. You should default to oversharing.
This also has the secondary impact of encouraging your team to work cross-functionally with other teams which ensure they don’t have to always feel like they come “up and across and down” but can instead go straight across, making everyone more efficient and helping your remote teams built rapport across departments.
As you make more tools and data available to your team, you also need to get in the habit of focusing on your core themes, tasks, goals, and how you are personally and collectively measuring those goals. Share reports, share dashboards, share those themes at each meeting. And then do it again and again and again and again….It is your responsibility to ensure that your team feels connected and knows exactly what’s going on. That requires a great deal of outbound communication and repetition.
Read and acknowledge
I talked a bit about the democratization of information and communication earlier. That drives a great deal of responsibility to you. Me personally, I try to read and acknowledge any electronic communication posted by my team (and posted by other teams in a shared channel).
Why? Well for starters that post or that email or that presentation took a lot of work, and I want to demonstrate that work is valued. Second, it keeps me connected and involved, and aware. I think we read lots about C-level folks wanting people back in the office so they are more plugged in to what's going on, well if that’s not going to be possible with a distributed team, it’s your responsibility to go digging, to synthesize, to understand and to ask questions. Make the work feel valued, catch things going down the wrong path early, and celebrate quality work and wins.
For me, this often can be as simple as an emoji or checkmark on a slack post showing that I saw it and read it. You honestly will be blown away by how this practice helps you keep your ear to the ground and helps your team feel engaged. It is a lot of work to be sure, but you’re not commuting for 90 minutes every day, make that time count.
See what I did there?
Pick up the phone
Can’t stress this enough. Now, this might be a Slack huddle, or a Google meet, or Facetime. But doing these types of calls to your team and to other peers in the organization is essential. Do it while going for a walk, or while you’re making coffee and up and about from your desk. But you need to recreate the different touchpoints you might have had via happenstance with other folks on the team. In addition to the check-ins with your own team, I personally try to make a video call to at least 5 people on other teams every week that isn’t part of another group meeting. A lot of time and effort, yes, but immensely gratifying to retain and strengthen those threads that tie us all together professionally.
The big key out of all these things is that when managing remote, your time is not really your time, it belongs to your team. And you have to operate with the intent to ensure your team is engaged, aware and pulling in the same direction. Working from home affords us more time daily on getting ready for work, commuting to work, and time spent on random walks for coffee, but the tradeoff is you need to use that time to stay connected.
What are somethings you do when managing remote team members?