3 Ways Managing Remotely Made Me A Better Leader

Managing people is hard enough, but try doing it remotely.

On a weekly basis I spend the bulk of my hours at work meeting 30 individuals via Zoom for 30 minute check-ins. During that time we cover a myriad of different metrics that rate their performance, but I choose to focus on 3 things solely:

1. Connecting – technology has widened the talent pool, but also breeds disconnection. Instead of being concerned about physical location as a barrier, I try to immerse myself in a session as if we were in the same room. Human connection is a powerful thing no matter where you are. Relationships are formed over time through trust regardless of distance. Working remotely can present challenges yet with empathy, active listening and genuine care the virtual gap can be closed. Think of having a conversation with a friend over coffee. The same principles of building a friendship apply here. Connection is the foundation for any working relationship to thrive.

2. Community – working from home sounds glorious until you look around and realize you’re alone. If employees can feel isolated in an office full of co-workers imagine how remote employees feel. The concept of a “virtual water cooler” has been talked about, but how do you make it happen? As a suggestion, Slack is a great place to start. The platform you choose isn’t as important as it’s function. In this case it’s to organically build relationships during personal time. Instead of gathering at the lunch table or local bar, it’s responding to someone’s question, comment, photo or video. It’s not something that can be forced, nor in some cases facilitated. It takes several people in the group to take initiative and put in the effort to communicate. In fact the best interactions are when the manager isn’t involved. The voluntary part of it makes it real.

3. Cultivate – the uniqueness of each member of the team makes the whole together special. Most managers try to control employees working remotely because they have trust issues. The problem is the more policies and procedures you enforce, the more anarchy is created. Trust is built via connecting so everything grows out of that. Don’t try to mold everyone to be the same, celebrate their differences. When each person brings their unique talents and strengths to the table, why would a manager quell them? A manager’s role is to bring out the best in each person by leveraging personal strengths. If you’re not developing people as a manager you’re crushing their spirit. It’s not enough to have the right people on the bus. Each person has to be on the right seat in order to reach the promise land. My job is to allow my team to shine by getting out of their way.

As a leader managing people remotely is challenging, but a true test of your abilities. Similar to organizing volunteers, when you are stripped of power, money and resources all you have is your relationships. My belief is if you can lead others remotely, you can lead any team anywhere. If you want to test your leadership capabilities manage people from a distance. You’ll be forced to give up control, ego and certainty…and that’s not a bad thing at all.

How To Manage A Remote Workforce

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Most people would love the option of working remote, but what about managing a remote workforce?

It’s hard enough to manage people in the same location, but doing it remotely will test your creativity and leadership ability.

The book Remote gave me a deeper understanding of why remote work can be beneficial, but currently I have the challenge of managing a team spread out across the country. Here is what has worked over the past 3 months:

Trust – If there’s one scenario where micromanaging will destroy you it’s managing a remote team. Telecommuting lives and dies on trust. Give it to receive it. Be clear about the objectives, but offer autonomy for how to get there. Most companies make the mistake of hiring based on experience and skill set whereas attitude and motivation determines which workers are elite. Working remotely is the perfect hybrid between corporate and entrepreneurship. To take it a step further, if all managers were trained to lead as if their team wasn’t on location (even if they are), performance would skyrocket.

Connection – Avoiding commuting and parking is beneficial, but feeling isolated is downright scary. The most overlooked aspect of working from home is the lack of social interaction. It’s near impossible to replicate a virtual water cooler, but you have to try. Communication platforms such as Slack are step in the right direction. The key here is building community. That normally happens outside of work, so encourage employees to develop relationships informally, even set up the connections for them. As their manager, you’re the bridge to the company. Tying remote teams to something bigger than them is essential. Think outside the box and get suggestions from your team to form stronger bonds.

Feedback – It’s not abnormal to not talk to your boss daily, but managers of remote teams need to over-communicate or risk strayed performers. Without clearly defined markers, there’s no absolute way to measure progress. If you think managing people is difficult, it’s much more daunting when they live thousands of miles away. Leading a remote team is high-maintenance, but if done right the global talent you can amass is far greater than the limits of a morning commute. Make a note to email almost daily (depending how many are on your team) and meet via video weekly. Providing direction goes a long ways towards overall success.

So far the short journey has been extremely enjoyable. If you love developing people, the nuances will reveals themselves over time. Keep an open ear, communicate frequently and create a sense of belonging. Scaling leadership isn’t easy, but it’s the wave of the future.

How Remote Working Can Enhance Leadership

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The fear of hiring remote workers is if left unsupervised people won’t finish their work. But at the heart of that argument is a lack of trust.

As a leader with your subordinate nearby, you still shouldn’t micromanage him/her. Often we don’t manage the way we would like to be managed.

Here is how remote workers can enhance your leadership.

As a manager, focus on the outcome, not the process. Translation: be concerned about people getting their work done, not how they complete it.

Working remotely relies on trust. Leaders trust their workers to get the work done and until they don’t, they’ve earned autonomy.

Remote working is teaching us that location shouldn’t determine practice. If we limit ourselves to talent nearby, we miss out on the global resources accessible by technology. In order to harness the best talent around, managing remote workers is a necessity.

The concept of working remotely isn’t a pipe dream for workers anymore. Once technology bridged the gap between locations, it opened the portal for virtual connections.

Leaders sometimes forget how it feels to be managed. The golden rule applies here: lead others the way you want to be led.

Today’s leader is a coach. You coach by leveraging individual strengths to help optimize the team. Motivating, guiding and supporting are the leadership skills needed to manage from afar. The beauty of managing remotely is that it is built on the foundation of trust.

Trust means respect and what makes us all feel “safe” at work. That’s what we all want from our leaders.