Rapid tech advances and a globalised workforce have kept the physical vs remote workplace debate in business headlines for several years, but the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown it into sharp focus.
Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures revealed that as of April 23rd 2020, 49.2% of adults are home working, compared to around 4.7% at this time last year.
And while government advice to ‘work at home if you can’ is likely to change when the crisis subsides, many organisations and employees might prefer to stick with a business model which, if applied successfully, can cut costs, improve work/life balance and enhance productivity.
If you’re interested in courses like the online Management BA, there’s every chance you’ll lead a team from afar in the future – which is why you should take stock of these seven habits of successful remote managers. Let’s take a look!
1. Be flexible and compassionate
According to leading organisational psychologist Adam Grant, leadership which evidences flexibility and compassion is at a premium when you’re managing remote workers, and particularly so at a time of crisis when anxiety levels are already elevated for many.
Leaders who prefer a top-down, authoritative management style in a physical office might find it hard to resist the urge to micromanage, but Grant warns against this, stating:
‘In remote work, we don’t need micromanagers. We need ‘macromanagers’ to highlight our contribution to the team and reinforce the broader purpose of our work. One of the most meaningful parts of a manager’s job is making other people’s jobs more meaningful’.
So being flexible and compassionate with your remote staff will likely increase their efficiency and effectiveness, and since business is ultimately about achieving results, why wouldn’t you cede some power and control to facilitate success?
2. Adapt communications
According to Dr Albert Mehrabian’s classic 1960s studies, the interpretation of messages is 7% verbal, 38% vocal (based on positive, negative, or neutral intonation) and 55% visual.
Therefore 93% of communication is non-verbal in nature, which naturally means that video communication can be useful for remote managers as it mitigates to an extent against the lack of physical proximity and might mean there’s less risk of information being ‘lost in translation’.
However, it’s also wise to use video technology tools sparingly – a daily team video call first thing in the morning might be reassuring in the first couple of weeks after a remote team is embedded, but once this stretches into months and becomes a permanent situation, it could become counterproductive. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is now a regularly reported phenomenon since remote working became norm. This can be avoided by switching up video calls with emails, live chat and old-fashioned phone calls.
3. Use the same tools and systems
Business management tools like Sage and Slack can make remote leadership more efficient, improve workflow and ensure that projects are completed on time and to budget.
But you’ll have to ensure that every team member has the appropriate access to the same tools and are trained properly to work collaboratively.
And if you don’t already use a system, ask individual team members what type of features they would find most useful – while it will serve a certain purpose for you as a leader, the software tool you choose should also help diverse team members to deliver, and no one knows their jobs better than them.
Being democratic and implementing a system that satisfies the needs of most team members simply makes business sense as it ensures support for all types of remote staff – from administrators to account managers and specialists at the production end.
4. Invest in culture and values
In the current situation where remote working for many is effectively enforced and companies are concerned about their very survival, it’s understandable if culture and values aren’t first and foremost in leaders’ minds – especially if the firm wasn’t particularly culture-driven in the first place. It’s likely that increasing output, retaining existing clients and attracting new ones is paramount and that these prioritized pressures are cascaded throughout the team.
But under regular circumstances, remote work can lead to a stronger company culture – practising transparency and kindness every day means employees are likely to be psychologically healthier, happier and more productive, which is ultimately good news for your bottom line too.
Culture and values are often dismissed as nebulous and wishy-washy by old-school iron-fist leaders, but you can start to implement a positive culture in simple and straightforward ways. For instance, have longer and more regular one-to-ones with your team members to find out what motivates them, the things that inspire them in life at large and to ascertain how you can help them at work.
By leading with emotional intelligence in this manner, you’ll get the best out of your remote team. Conversely, if your first action as a remote leader is communicating a list of stringent demands and expectations to your team, you’ve set off on the wrong footing.
5. Manage based on results
One of the biggest benefits of remote work is the flexibility it offers, so don’t dilute this power by being too pernickety about where and when work is done.
Setting clear goals is reasonable, but provided staff meet agreed deadlines and satisfy customer expectations, allow them as much flexibility as possible so that they can work around other commitments like childcare and complete key tasks when they’re able to offer their undivided attention.
For many modern businesses, the 9-5 Monday to Friday working week is a relic of a bygone era that’s no longer fit for purpose – remote working is your chance to ditch it for a system that’s more effective.
Insisting on rigid working hours is a little like putting remote employees under house arrest, but being flexible and open-minded can get great results. For instance, Microsoft Japan productivity jumped by 40% during a four-day working week trial at the end of last year – perhaps this is the type of initiative you could champion as a forward-thinking remote manager?
6. Guard against overworking
If you’re concerned that remote working will encourage many staff to spend all days in their onesies drinking beer and watching Netflix while doing very little in the way of actual work, you’re probably unjustly projecting your bad habits onto them.
It turns out that remote workers are actually more productive than office workers. A Stanford University study by Professor Nicholas Bloom revealed that telecommuters work a true full shift or more each day and the resultant productivity boost is equivalent to a full day’s work, as opposed to office workers, who regularly arrive late, leave early and are distracted during their shifts. Furthermore, attrition rates reduced by more than 50% for telecommuters, they were off sick less and took less holidays.
So it might be counterintuitive, but rather than being concerned about slacking, you should probably be more perturbed about particularly dedicated workers overworking and burning themselves out when they’re operating from home. You can address this by insisting that all appropriate breaks are taken and that whenever possible, they leave their desks to stretch their legs and get some fresh air.
7. Be sociable and have fun
Last but not least, be as sociable as possible and have fun! You don’t need to have your remote staff in stitches with endless wisecracks, but a sense of humour goes a long way and there are a few simple ways you can inject some levity into the working relationship.
For instance, sending company swag to new remote employees after they sign their contract is a wonderful way to create a warm first impression – their welcome pack can include branded clothing, gadgets and edible treats (points for extra effort if you include additional items for their family members).
Subsequently, don’t let a birthday or company anniversary pass without marking the occasion with a carefully selected gift and build rapport by gifting new products and services to employees before they hit the shelves.
On a more regular basis, sharing humorous memes and playlists can be a great way of bonding, while a weekly virtual pub quiz is a wonderful way to relax together after a hard week and wind down for the weekend.
Adopt these seven habits and any remote team you lead will punch above its weight and be exceptionally productive – you can thank us later!
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