This is a guest post by Stuart Cooke, Digital Marketing Manager of MyBaggage.com.
The work from home (WFH) culture has been steadily growing in popularity in recent years. Then, 2020 and COVID-19 happened. The pandemic accelerated this style of working with huge numbers of non-essential workers made to work from home.
Many businesses are now considering making this a permanent arrangement. Huge organizations like Twitter have already said their workers can remain remote from now on if they wish.
As such, professionals have had to adapt quickly to this new way of working. This situation has presented unique challenges for everyone. Managers, in particular, must learn to manage their teams at a distance.
Managing employees remotely on a daily basis is much harder than when doing so from a common office every day. Without the benefit of physical face-to-face interactions, remote managing requires a very special set of qualities and skills. This has led many employers and leaders around the world to ask themselves the proverbial question-- “ have I got what it takes?”
If you're not sure you’ve got the skills, we’re here to help you be a #boss!
Here are the seven leadership qualities every remote manager should have to succeed in managing their remote teams:
1. Effective Communicator
Communication has always been an important leadership quality but it’s even more important now. In normal circumstances, bosses can talk with their teams standing face-to-face. This condition makes managing much easier. It means bosses can say more through non-verbal cues like hand and facial gestures and body language. The subtleties of language are conveyed.
Working remotely removes the non-verbal aspect from communication. As such, it’s vital that good leaders are able to communicate effectively whether by phone, email, or video conference. Otherwise, important information can easily get lost or missed.
When speaking on the phone or via video, it’s important to be as clear and concise as possible. Ensure everyone is on the same page and avoid assumptions about understanding. Take an understanding check, summarize, and repeat important details. Similarly, when putting together an email, it’s imperative managers get their points across through their written word.
2. Proficient Listener
In addition to being able to communicate well, good managers must be able to actively listen to their teams. They want to minimize confusion and prevent lost details.
It’s important for employees to get regular catch-up meetings with their managers. While working remotely, employees often feel disconnected to the team or even the company. Regular updates from both sides not only provide updates as to the status of work, but create a sense of connectedness and familiarity. It also allows the manager to take a mental and physical health pulse check of their employee.
It’s important employees feel heard and their feedback valued. Particularly when it comes to current processes and systems in place that facilitate the employee's remote work. If employees don’t have the right tools, they’ll struggle to do their jobs effectively.
While remote working has a huge number of benefits, it also means there’s a lot more for managers to keep track of. Managers must juggle their own (usually heavy) workload with team catch-ups, one-to-ones, project meetings, performance reviews, and staff feedback. All communications that are generally much easier and more effective in-person.
When working remotely, bosses must be even more organized and ensure they're staying on top of all their people responsibilities. It’s much easier for tasks to get lost, dropped or forgotten when the daily reminder of the face in the office isn't seen.
While working remotely can seem great in the early stages, and there are a number of benefits, it’s not without its challenges. Workers may begin to feel lonely or isolated when not seeing their colleagues each day. After all, our co-workers very often become a valued support network, especially when work is stressful.
This means managers need to display and spread positivity to their remote teams. This can mean, for example, behaving upbeat about any new processes or systems that have come into play due to remote working. Changes can be presented with a ‘WIIFM’ (or ‘what’s in it for me’) positioning. Rewards such as care packages recognize employees for their efforts. Finally, positive feedback and communicated appreciation-- even seemingly small-- go a long way to bolster positive feelings about work.
Trust goes both ways. Not only do managers need to be trusted by their teams, but they must also trust their employees. In the early stages of remote work, many managers were concerned that allowing workers to work out of sight off-site meant slacking off. Essentially, “While the cat's away, the mice will play” thinking.
However, studies have found that remote workers can actually be more productive than those workers who go into the office every day. As such, managers must trust that their teams are conducting themselves professionally and getting their work done.
Managers must also keep employees updated about the business. They must, furthermore, make sure to keep any promises made to their teams. This will help build trust, ultimately leading to a happier and more productive workforce.
6. Work-Life Balance Role Model
Here’s another quality that goes both ways. When working remotely, particularly when working from home, there’s the temptation to keep checking emails or just keep working. The employee never technically leaves the office, and therefore, doesn't mentally switch off for the day.
Managers need to, not only, practice good work-life balance for themselves, but also encourage their teams to do the same. Here, the manager sets the tone for the team. If the boss doesn’t ‘turn off,’ then the team won’t either. Workers who don't switch off, no matter their role or seniority, are more likely to not manage stress well and suffer burnout, among other serious mental and physical health issues.
It’s important for managers at all levels to promote work-life balance. It’s even more important they practice what they preach and stand as the role model.
7. Empathetic and Caring
Last but certainly not least in importance is to remember that working remotely can be tough. Productivity may be up, but not everyone is great at working from home. Employees who have children at home or those who are not as comfortable with digital tools may find working remotely extra-hard.
Managers need to recognize and show empathy towards those who may be struggling. It pays to offer a certain amount of flexibility to those who are finding the situation difficult. This act of caring shows a thoughtfulness about employees' wellbeing. In turn, this emotional gesture will produce a more passionate and loyal workforce.
Managing teams remotely requires an elevated set of leadership skills and qualities. What sets great remote leaders apart from the pack are the ones who lead with people at the forefront and foster those relationships.