After navigating over two years of disruptions to the “normal” workplace, most companies have accepted, if not embraced, that remote work is here to stay. Yet even though we’re heading into the third year of remote work, it doesn’t mean companies or leaders are doing it well.
What many fail to understand is that remote work is a skill, and just because someone excelled in their managerial role when working in a physical office, there’s no guarantee they will be successful in a remote or hybrid environment. As leaders and executives, we need to continue to develop our management skills to support this new way of working. Here are four tips for leveling up your remote management skills that we have used successfully in our organization.
First, your meeting rhythms set the cadence. We start every day with a 15-minute huddle where we review priorities and issues for the day. It gives me an idea of what’s happening across all our engagements and an opportunity to fix issues before someone gets stuck. Every week we have a one-hour team meeting where we recap progress by client and plan for the following week. We also share our performance scores (based on a simple planning and tracking system) so I have an idea of where everyone is against their goals for the quarter. While we started these meeting rhythms when we were in an office setting, they have served us well as a hybrid, high-performing team.
Next, measure performance in terms of contribution, not presence. On the topic of performance, seeing an employee at their desk after 5:00 pm is no longer a signal of hard work. The organizations that reward facetime over-contribution create politically driven, toxic cultures that ultimately don’t measure up. Now more than ever, recognizing employees’ performance in terms of the contribution that they make to the business, in quantitative and qualitative terms, should be the standard for performance development and moving the business forward. A simple spreadsheet literally saved my butt when we moved 100 percent remote in 2020. I had action plans in place for every member of the team that formed the basis of quality performance development conversations every quarter.
Always remember, intention is key; accidental friendships don’t happen remotely. I started my career with a large consulting firm in the 90s and, on my first day, I was introduced to 11 other people who were starting the same day. Our “start group” spent every day together for the next 6 weeks. The proximity (and the happy hours) created friendships that still exist today. The accidental conversation and rapport building that is so important for a healthy, high-performing organization just doesn’t happen over Zoom. It must be built intentionally. Make it a point to share personal experiences and encourage colleagues to ask questions to get to know each other. I’m proud to say I know every one of my team members’ partners’ names and they have all met my kids. Zoom brought work into our kitchens and living rooms and I see that as a wonderful opportunity to build richer, more personal work relationships, provided that we do it intentionally.
Finally, the tougher the conversation, the closer it needs to be. After two years of managing a team and helping clients navigate through transition, I still prefer to have tough conversations in person. It allows me to read body language in a way that I can’t over video and adjust what I’m saying and how I’m saying it to make sure that my message is received effectively. If I can’t have the person in front of me, then I prefer the phone over Zoom. It makes it simpler – there’s no body language to read and I have the option of having notes in front of me. I still use notes whenever I can for tough conversations, including terminations. And importantly, I try to have the conversation as soon as possible, regardless of how it’s delivered. The longer the wait, the harder it is to deliver the message and the more likely the information will be misunderstood or result in an unexpected emotional response.
Whether you are working totally remote or in a hybrid model, leadership, communication, and the way we manage work has changed. The good news is managers can strategically level up their skills and create opportunities for intentional, structured leadership that allows our employees to contribute effectively, grow professionally, and benefit from the flexibility that remote work provides.