To be a successful manager or leader you must be able to simultaneously wear multiple hats. It’s no longer enough just to be the figurehead that gives orders with the expectations that your team will blindly and happily follow them. While this relic of a management style no doubt still exists, those that get the most out of their teams are usually not the ones that employ such tactics, rather they use modern techniques that promote inclusivity, empowerment, and motivation.
Nowhere encapsulates how much managing has changed as much as the shift towards remote working. Not only is it necessary to embody multiple skills, and to deploy them effectively, but to do it in a digital environment. The paradigm shift that’s currently taking place is not only affecting the employees or team members, but also those that have to manage remote teams.
Being an inspirational, empowering, and inclusive manager was already difficult enough when the standard, in-person, working environment was in place. But when one makes the shift to remote managing, the impromptu meetings, quick reminders, and check-ins, and – perhaps even most importantly – the casual conversations during breaks that can build bonds all don’t happen.
Additionally, there are added challenges you must face. So, if you’re asking what are the most dangerous traps to avoid when managing a remote team, don’t worry there are ways to avoid and solve them.
Not Using the Best Tools for Online Collaboration
Never before have digital communication tools been so important. And if you aren’t using the best possible online collaboration tools you are not only handicapping your team but perhaps even the organization as a whole. While email has been a vital tool for decades now, and phone calls for decades before that, it’s now video conferencing is becoming increasingly important. It was not so long ago that it was merely a supplemental tool that could help businesses or organizations stay connected through intermittent video conference calls. However, now that’s changed.
Just using email, phone calls, and video conferencing is far from enough for effective remote collaboration. When teams are decentralized other tools beyond the basics are much more needed. This includes tools for project management like Trello or Asana as well as more communication-oriented tools like MS Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts, or Zoom.
By implementing the project management tools (Asana, Trello) you can see the status of projects. This can allow for effective task delegation and progress monitoring. These tools show the team members the status of the project, what tasks they and others have to do, and when they need to be done. This promotes synergy between the team members and can help to facilitate the successful completion of tasks and large projects.
Furthermore, when it comes to the communication component, tools like Teams, Slack, Hangouts, and Zoom are crucial for face-to-face conversations and team meetings. Through the successful implementation of tools like these can team members stay on the same page. Allowing for deeper collaboration and success of the team. When there is more communication it allows not only for fewer mistakes to happen because of misunderstandings but also to foster relationships and trust between the team members. The latter is vital for the success of remote teams as one of the biggest drawbacks when it comes to decentralized teams is the lack of trust and social bonds.
Focusing on the Amount of Work, Not the Quality of Work and Outcomes
As a manager, it can be easy to not look at the big picture when analyzing the effectiveness of one’s employees. And perhaps the easiest (and oldest) metric used to gauge the quality of an employee is how long they have worked. But as there is more and more research that shows that just because one works more, doesn’t mean they’re better employees. And as a manager of a remote team, you should avoid solely measuring your team’s performance through the lens of hours worked. This is for many reasons. More hours don’t mean better outcomes. And, in fact, people become less productive after they work so many hours in a week. This can lead to more mistakes which can have negative consequences for a project.
In addition to affecting the project negatively, it can also have adverse effects on the team as well. Team morale can boost productivity and outcomes if it’s nurtured, or it can hinder it. Those that are overworked can begin to feel resentment towards the team, manager, project, or even the organization as a whole. It’s no surprise then that a manager should avoid focusing on hours worked rather than the outcomes as a whole.
Not Utilizing Real-Time Communication Tools
Email revolutionized not only the workplace but how we interact with people as a global society. It allowed us to send messages around the world in nearly an instant. No longer was it necessary to make a phone call to say just a few sentences. It changed how office communication worked. Those days are gone, however. Email, as asynchronous form of communication, is now a “slow” method to communicate with others. Apps like Messenger, WhatsApp, and Telegram have reinvented social communication. And Slack and Teams have done so in the professional realm. It has allowed for quicker communication and better collaboration, specifically when it comes to teams. The various channels in the Slack platform allow for various levels of communication – a general community, specific teams, or one-on-one chats. Tools like this, as well as other video conferencing tools, can provide a space where a team can chat in real-time, or you can quickly have a video conference call that can save hours of waiting for email replies.
Never Organizing In-Person Meetups
While modern digital tools have revolutionized how teams operate and have fostered phenomenal growth regarding the ability to remotely collaborate, it still has its limitations. Just as a Slack chat is better than an email thread, and a Zoom call is better than a Slack chat, real-life interaction still is the apex of communication. So much can be said about how much video conferencing has been able to improve the social bonds of team members and helped to promote trust between individuals around the world. But we still haven’t reached the point where it can fully replace real-life interpersonal communication.
This can be easier to facilitate for some organizations compared to others. If a team is distributed around the world then it’s certainly going to be more difficult than if they are scattered around a city, state, or even a region. However, that’s not to say it’s impossible. There are some organizations that finance team-building events and pay for all of the team members to make the trip for an in-person meetup.
This depends on the financial means that a company has available of course, but investing in such an event whether it’s international or local, can have a positive effect on the teams. By mixing a bit of work and fun you can help to strengthen the ties between team members and foster increased cohesion. If one can pull it off these benefits can have a positive lasting impact on the team and the outcomes.
Not Communicating Enough with Your Team – Or Communicating Too Much
Communication is key, as you can probably tell as we’ve mentioned it a few times already. However, a successful manager needs to walk a tightrope between overcommunication and not communicating enough. In addition to trust-building, this balance of communication is another big challenge for remote teams. This is because it’s sometimes expected that a team member should be available, always. This can lead to overwork and missed expectations if there isn’t an established agreement upon the time that a team member is available to communicate. If someone wouldn’t be expected to answer work phone calls on their home phone, they shouldn’t be expected to field work emails or Slack messages after they have “clocked off”. Just because they may be in a home office doesn’t mean that they should always be available for work.
While communicating beyond work hours is one issue when it comes to over-communication, it can also occur during working hours. If there are continuous notifications appearing on the computer screen it can be hard to focus and to get specific tasks done. In this instance, quick communication can actually hinder the productivity of the team. So, the comms channels should be utilized in a way that promotes collaboration and productivity, and not the opposite.
Conversely, if a team is new to remote working, not communicating enough can be a major problem. This is particularly true if the team members aren’t familiar with the tools, and therefore don’t use them effectively. So, an effective manager should help foster an environment that allows for the beneficial use of communication channels.
Not Creating Space for Conversations
Continuing on from the previous section, it’s up to the manager or leader to create an environment that fosters empowerment, productivity, and inclusivity. One can do this by setting clear expectations as well as through the implementation of rules or boundaries regarding how the team communicates. An example of this could be through the silencing of chat notifications during certain hours or something like this. Additionally, they should set the tone for the conversation spaces. That is, talk between team members should not only be for serious work-related content. While work discussions can help to form bonds between team members to some degree when casual conversations happen even more bonding and trust between people can form. Such bonds and increased trust are significant in helping the outcomes of the team because the increased comfort can lead to deeper discussions and addressing problems or mistakes in a better manner when team members are more comfortable with each other. And when a team is truly a team and not just a collection of individuals it also provides external motivation since the success of the team is valued compared to just that of the individual.
Making space for casual conversations can be an important component of this.
Rushing Through Meetings
It can be tempting to try to get through a meeting as quickly as possible. After all, meetings aren’t usually people’s favorite things. Also, when you compare an in-person meeting to a virtual meeting, this can be particularly true. A virtual meeting also doesn’t allow the same level of interaction as one that’s in-person. Usually, a real-life meeting one can chime in quickly, but it may be more segmented or structured when it’s virtual. This can perhaps be because the norms of virtual meetings are still new for many people. And it may feel like you are interrupting the speaker if you have something to say. And if you wait until an appropriate time, the timing actually may not be appropriate if the subject has changed.
As a manager, it’s important to allow space for others to address anything you or others may say. You can do this by scheduling meetings longer than it should take to allow for a back and forth between team members to address any questions or concerns.
Not “Walking the Walk”
One of the most important ways a manager can inspire and promote a healthy and optimized team culture is by example. If you have put in place rules and expectations, make sure to follow them to a T. If you do things like you say that it’s unacceptable to be late to a meeting then show 10 minutes late, then you’ll quickly lose the respect and trust of your team. Leading by example is a highly effective way to set the tone and to promote a successful culture.
Failing to Nurture A Trust-Based Culture
Everything discussed pretty much comes together in the form of the work culture. By not nurturing a trust-based culture you can severely hinder your team’s ability to work together successfully. If team members can trust each other, the outcomes are much likely to be better. You can do this by avoiding the most dangerous traps when managing a remote team.