Many managers believe their employees are the main challenge of remote work environments. Will they be as productive? Can I reach them when needed? How will I know they’re doing a good job?
But if you manage a team remotely, the biggest challenge isn’t your employees…
Don’t be alarmed. Like anything else, managing remote teams is a skill to be learned. And for many managers over the past few years, there was no training or practice before being thrust into a remote management position. So most just ported over their in-person management behaviors to a remote work setting.
But now, a few years in, many managers are realizing these same strategies are not going to work. Let’s explore some of the most common remote mistakes, and what you can do as a manager to get the best out of your remote team.
Common Remote Work Management Mistakes
Managerial mistakes are common with remote teams - especially when managers have little experience managing remote teams (as was the case when millions went remote in 2020).
These are the top mistakes you can make managing a remote team:
1. Becoming a micromanager
This usually stems from the false belief that if you don’t manage your team super closely while working remotely, they won’t get anything done. But breathing down their necks (through constant emails and Zooms) will only result in a lack of trust, which contributes to a toxic remote work culture.
2. Requiring “proof” of working
Requesting your team send you a list of the work they’ve done each day is the fastest way to contribute to remote work burnout. Not every productive day is accompanied with a big list of “accomplishments”. Some of the most important, deep work can take days or even weeks…and can look like a single line item on a to-do list.
3. Not communicating the vision
Many employees work much better when they see the whole picture. Simply spewing lists of to-dos at your team without informing them of the company’s overall vision will only lead to confusion, a lack of team cohesion, and projects that take longer to complete.
4. Pushing too hard to build “culture”
Maybe you have done some research on what it takes to do remote work well, and came across articles about the importance of a strong remote work culture. Thing is, most of that advice is crap, and is filled with ice-breaker activities and forced vulnerability. When you try too hard, it’ll be awkward. Culture happens naturally with the collection of people you put together. Give them space to connect and they will.
5. Not listening
There is a barrier in relationships when you work remotely. You can’t hear the voice inflections or see facial expressions as well as when you’re in person. This really comes into play when it comes to hearing your team out. A challenge brought up in a direct ping still won’t hold the same weight as hearing the way it sounds. This usually causes managers to gloss over issues that are major and not take their team’s concerns seriously.
6. Poor onboarding practices
Hiring remotely is a challenge. If new hires are familiar with your software and programs, and are used to working remotely, things may go smoothly. But those who aren’t will need more comprehensive onboarding for a remote job. This includes better team integration, reviewing company content, and complete comprehension of your management software.
Best Practices for Managing Remote Workers
Remote work management isn’t rocket science. It’s just new for most people. Which means there isn’t a ton of advice out there for making the process easier (that’s why we wrote a book about it).
Now that you understand the most common mistakes made by remote managers, let’s explore some of our best tips for remote work management:
1. Create a space for your team to actually work
There’s no need to have different apps for emailing, messaging, file sharing, and task management when a single tool will do.
Not only does this make everyone’s job easier by having direct access in a single place, but it also makes your job easier. Now you can check in on a project and find the deliverables you need, without having to bug your team (or get irritated when they don’t respond immediately).
Bottom line: everyone needs access to their work and to each other in order to do their jobs well in a remote landscape.
2. Educate yourself on remote work vs in-person
It’s truly your job to learn the differences. As a manager, being able to prepare for the inevitable challenges of remote work is crucial. Just like in-person management must arm themselves against the classic lunch thefts and complaints about the thermostat, you have to arm yourself for what’s likely to go wrong.
A few of those to take into consideration:
- Communication breakdowns
- Dehumanization (higher difficulty in expressing empathy when all that’s seen is a username and profile photo)
- Lack of capacity and rising work expectations
- Unnecessary status meetings
- Siloed departments
Understand how these can occur so you can put steps in place to prevent them altogether.
3. Build a communication culture
This doesn’t mean an over communication culture. There is no need to demand your team ping you with every little deviation of their day. What you do want is for your team to trust that when they need something, you’re there to support them with that.
This can look like having one-on-one meetings with your team at least once a month and asking questions first. Don’t wait for them to come to you. The best remote work management practice you can do is be proactive in solving their challenges.
This can often be difficult for new managers who aren’t used to reaching out first to see if everything is okay. But when an employee has been more absent than usual from the team campfire chat, you’ll need to be willing to have that hard conversation.
Here at Basecamp, we value being straightforward. This includes in your outreach to your team to make sure they have what they need. Over time, your team will learn that they can come to you first and will start seeking support earlier.
4. Establish flexibility
Whether you’re working with a company that’s been remote for years or are managing through a transition, you’ll have to do some work to dismantle the 9-5 mentality. Many people see remote work as a perk because you can work from anywhere, at any time.
The thing is…if management is not adhering to that, you end up with a remote company that functions like a 9-5 except without the socialization breaks and with burnout. There’s actually a huge benefit to not requiring your team to work the standard 9-5, as written in Remote:
“A company that is efficiently built around remote work doesn’t even have to have a set schedule. This is especially important when it comes to creative work. If you can’t get into the zone, there’s rarely much that can force you into it. When face time isn’t a requirement, the best strategy is often to take some time away and get back to work when your brain is firing on all cylinders.”
As long as real time collaboration isn’t an issue, practice allowing your team to work hours that best suit their work style and preferences.
5. Trust your team
You have to know that your team will do the work they’re supposed to, in a timeframe that’s perfectly acceptable. When you don’t trust your team, it leads to micromanaging. This leads to employees feeling scrutinized and forces them to do even more because they know you’re watching closely.
This is a perfect recipe not for a high functioning team, but for a terrible case of remote work burnout. And that’s difficult to fix.
Ultimately, your team will do their jobs. If they’re truly not working at all, you’ll be able to tell quickly and can address it at that time. The majority are not scamming your payroll.
6. Lead by action
There is a lot said in many remote companies.
“Take time off whenever you need it!”
“When we’re off, we’re off. Don’t work during off hours.”
What we find most often is that these words aren’t backed up with actions nearly enough. Because here’s the thing: you can say this all you want to your team and even be genuine about the expectations for them, but if you’re not practicing these same values, your team will not believe it’s okay for them to act that way.
What you do is incredibly important. If you want certain actions from your team, you have to embody them yourself.
Think of these remote work management practices as your map. It’s easy to get lost in the fog of the day-to-day management of a remote team. But if you follow these practices, you can be sure you’re sticking to the right path headed towards your destination.
Of course, working remotely or in a hybrid work environment makes communication tricky. If your team needs a better way to collaborate both in-office and at home, consider the all-new Basecamp. It has everything you need (and nothing you don’t) to do your best work and keep everyone up to speed. Best of all, you can get started for free in just 30 seconds: