Thanks to advances in technology, the ready availability of Wi-Fi, and changing attitudes and business processes, flexible and remote work is more accessible and popular than ever before. Work has become less of a place and more of an idea; it doesn’t matter where you’re working, so long as the work is getting done.
In a recent survey conducted by PGi, 60% of respondents answered that they had the ability to work remotely at least one day a week. This increased flexibility and distance have created new challenges for businesses around the world, and specifically for managers, who have to navigate a new dynamic of relationships that span distance and time.
However, with a little planning and an awareness of the potential pitfalls, you can ensure that you’re an effective remote manager.
Here are three mistakes that every remote manager makes, and how you can avoid them:
1) Not Following Up
Regardless of whether you’re managing face-to-face or virtually, it’s important to be reliable. If you assign a task or are tapped for a question or document review, your team needs to know that they can count on your input. It’s natural, however, for things to occasionally slip through the cracks or get swallowed up in the sea of busyness.
When an in-person manager forgets to follow up on a project or a request for help, it’s simple for the employee to poke their head in their office or bring it up in the hallway to jog their memory. However, if you physically remove the manager from that equation, it suddenly requires considerably more effort on the part of your employee. An email may not seem like a lot of extra work, but it’s that lack of spontaneous input and interaction that hinders trust building.
Worse yet, when a remote manager doesn’t follow up, it can create or worsen the feeling of isolation that often accompanies remote work. No one wants to feel like they’re forgotten, and remote workers in particular are often left behind (especially in a hybrid team where some members are together and some are not).
Be diligent about setting reminders or writing notes to yourself so your remote workers’ requests aren’t lost.
2) Not Being Approachable
It’s important for managers to be both available and approachable to their team in order to create an environment of trust and confidence. Everyone has questions, and one of your most vital jobs as manager is to be available to answer them or, better yet, guide them to find the answer themselves.
However, managing remotely creates some barriers to this trust. You’re not just down the hallway; you might be across the country, separated by not just distance but time as well.
In other words, it can be tough, given the absence of an actual door, to maintain a virtual "open-door policy." But there are ways to recreate such a policy even for remote managers:
Meticulously maintain your online “presence” by keeping your calendar up to date with your availability. Even if you just go dark to run an errand or two, flag that on your calendar so your team knows whether you’re actually available or not.
Establish a daily online meeting time where your direct reports can join if they need to discuss anything. Lock the meeting room whenever someone joins to maintain a sense of privacy and trust.
Create your own clear-cut rules on how you want to be contacted and communicate them with your team. For example, if you’ve given your team your mobile number, when is it appropriate for them to use it? If they feel like they’re harassing you, you lose out on that valuable trust element.
3) Not Using the Right Tools
One of the reasons for the increase in remote work is that the bare-bones tools to make it functional are ubiquitous: phones, email, texts and video chats.
However, just because these tools are available does not necessarily make them the right tool for your team’s unique job. Every team collaborates differently, and it’s up to you as the manager to unearth your team’s unique collaboration style and deploy a tool or tools to facilitate that communication.
For example, if your team works together on a lot of documents and are often working at different times, an asynchronous tool like a shared online workspace might be a better fit than trying to navigate the maze of schedules to get a video call on the books.
On the other hand, if you manage a lot of creatives, they might thrive better in that online video environment where brainstorms can happen spontaneously rather than being buried in email and lost in the noise.
Ultimately, effective remote management boils down to effective remote communication. Following through, establishing your communication guidelines, and choosing the right collaboration tool all revolve around communicating more efficiently and effectively. Keep that in mind and you can avoid remote management meltdown!