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Remote management doesn’t have to be a nightmare

Posted by InterVenture on August 7, 2020

People are not big fans of change. Science has shown that, due to our reptilian brain and inborn survival instincts, the vast majority prefers the status quo in their everyday rhythm. It’s just the way we’re wired. We fear losing control and enjoy the safety of what’s known and familiar.

But, for better or worse, change helps us grow.

Sometimes, we step willingly outside of our comfort zone and make a conscious decision to be brave and take a different path. Other times, the necessity of change is forced upon us. And then, what do we do? We adapt.

This is exactly what happened with the COVID-19 outbreak. Many C-level executives that got used to leading their organization in a traditional work setting, had to take a crash course on remote management.

Undoubtedly, switching from managing co-located teams to remote management has its learning curve. But companies around the world have proved that it’s doable.

So, why do so many forward-thinking leaders still struggle with remote management? What’s the catch?

Let’s start from the beginning.

Remote management

Remote work has been around for a while

First things first: remote work has been around way before it became necessary.

The pandemic has accelerated remote adoption. Everyone knows this. In fact, it’s all that the business industry has been talking about in the previous months. According to McKinsey, the current percentage of employees working remotely full-time is somewhere between 34% and 75%, depending on the industry.

This fundamental change in the way we work has also sparked conversations about virtual teams being the ‘future of work’. The latest research by Remote-How shows that 87% of managers believe this to be true.

However, companies of all sizes have been enjoying multiple benefits of the remote model for years, all thanks to rapid globalization and technology.

Those early remote work adopters were really onto something. They knew that a) the most talented people in the world don’t live in one place and b) location should never step in the way of a meaningful partnership.

As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansonn, founders of Basecamp and authors of ‘Remote’, wrote:

Talent isn’t bound by the hubs.

Alas, the benefits of sourcing globally to assemble an all-star remote team cannot simply undo the fact that remote management isn’t easy. But it definitely doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

The manageable challenges of remote management

Managing people is a tough job even when it’s done face-to-face. Due to the lack of live contact, remote management comes with an additional set of challenges.

By definition, remote management implies managing people who work remotely. This means that managers need to figure out how to set a work environment that allows them to:

  • Effectively set tasks and deadlines
  • Monitor progress
  • Solve possible team issues
  • Measure performance
  • Promote healthy relationships

…and more.

And all that while being physically away from their team members.

When it comes to remote management, things get a lot easier when the team has the expected level of work ethic and is comfortable working independently.

Now, let’s take a closer look at the most common challenges of remote management and see how to approach them.

Challenge

Why it occurs

How to approach it

Lack of supervision

Without face-to-face contact, managers struggle to monitor progress and fear of remote workers will slack.

  • Build transparency and trust
  • Focus on results
  • Establish the right performance reports
  • Give remote teams enough autonomy to do their work properly

Asynchronous communication

Without teams sharing the office, instant responses, and ad hoc meetings are not always realistic. 

  • Use project management and other tools based in cloud for easier collaboration
  • Introduce structured daily standups or weekly meetings
  • Ensure all employees are available on Slack, Teams, or some other communication platform during work hours (or establish overlaps if working in different time zones)

Establishing team culture

Without the team being physically close, it’s harder to promote synergy and establish team culture.

  • Understand that culture derives from actions people take 
  • Communicate values by sending newsletters, memos, and establishing virtual watercooler talks
  • Bridge the gap by organizing annual team-building events or virtual activities  

Building relationships

Non-verbal communication and live contact are integral parts of human interaction and are therefore important for building relationships.

  • Make the most of the virtual tools for communication, especially video
  • Show appreciation and encourage public praise for the work people do
  • Organize virtual social events (e.g. virtual pizza party)

Security concerns 

Especially in IT, data security is of paramount importance. Remote teams increase the risk of a data breach because the company does not control the IT environment entirely.

  • Understand that security is a problem that can easily be solved with the right technology
  • Introduce a security checklist that all remote workers must follow (e.g. hard drive encryption, disabled automatic login, safe web surfing, strong passwords, two-factor authentication, etc.)
  • Consult an IT expert who can help you properly tighten up the security
The quick tips listed in the table above merely provide a checklist of what needs to be done so that each challenge of remote management is properly addressed.

But the level of leadership and organizational skills play a vital role in terms of how successfully you’ll operate as a remote team/company.

There are numerous helpful frameworks and defined workflows, but without one fundamental value in place, it all falls apart. You guessed it – it’s mutual trust.

Remote management

To all remote managers: mutual trust is a must

When it comes to remote management, one thing’s for sure: those responsible for recruiting remote team members are more mindful when hiring new people. They are looking not only for talented individuals who are supposed to fit certain criteria when it comes to experience and expertise level but also for those who are comfortable with the remote setting and have great self-discipline.

Even before the pandemic, remote managers had trust issues and doubts about their teams and whether or not they truly work as much as they should. Business psychologists point out that the lack of trust shown by the managers might come as a consequence of the low-autonomy they experience (or have experienced) within their roles.

So, like in a chain reaction, the ‘I don’t fully trust you’ vibe is transferred from one link to another, and it creates a toxic environment. Trust is a delicate thing and it cannot exist without reciprocity.

Besides trust, respected psychologist, and organizational consultant, Dr. Arnie Dahlke, identified four key elements for setting up your remote team for success:

  1. Mutual respect
  2. Open communication
  3. Cultivating a problem-solving mindset
  4. Ensuring everyone stays focused on the organizational mission

To do so, remote managers need to resist micromanagement. Criticism, extreme supervision, and babysitting team members cannot bring anything good.

Dr. Dahlke suggests a healthy balance can be achieved with a simple switch in behavior. To be great at remote management, leaders need to do refocus:

Before

After

Control-centered

Problem-centered

Authority-centered

Person-centered

Pressuring others

Enabling others

Punishing others

Rewarding others

Great leaders need to develop social and emotional intelligence in order to judge their own actions as objectively as possible. In practice, this would mean that, when a remote manager feels the urge to take full control, they instead choose to trust their team and focus on the real problem underneath.

In an environment where remote managers set a great example, team members feel comfortable and motivated to do their best work.

Remote management: ideas that help us move forward

What remote managers still struggle with is letting go of all their preconceived notions about what remote work actually is. Too often, remote work is connected to the notion of outsourcing as a way of increasing output at the lowest possible cost. The truth is, technology has created an opportunity for people around the world to reach out to one another, connect in an instant, and do meaningful work. 

Offices are nice, but they are not required anymore.

The evolution of how we work happened way before the pandemic, thanks to the democratization of the Internet and constant technological developments.

So, it’s not really about ‘the future of work’ (although we admit, it sounds awesome). The authors of ‘Remote’ included a quote by the famous sci-fi writer William Gibson to wonderfully illustrate this point: 

The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.

In the age of hyperconnectivity, humans have the ability to do amazing work together. The new ways of communication are not here to replace our connections, but to complement and enrich them, and pave new paths for innovation. Understanding this is the key to successful remote management and the only way to trust one another – even when we’re not face-to-face.

At InterVenture, we believe workplaces should be oriented toward communities.

We believe in nearshoring because it brings the best out of remote work.

We believe in partnerships and close collaboration – not outsourcing.

We believe in the power of distributed, fully-remote, and hybrid teams. We love them all.

Lastly, we believe like-minded people should not be discouraged from working together just because they don’t live in the same place.

What do you believe in? We’d love to find out.

Explore InterVenture’s Own Team Model™ and Managed Freelancing to understand what we’re all about. Have a question? Send it our way at [email protected] We’re always happy to hear from you.

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