The transition to remote work was like the transition to emergency remote instruction for schoolkids. Neither companies nor schools were prepared for such a drastic disruption. They implemented systems quickly and figured out processes on the fly. Everyone adapted the best they could.
At the start of the pandemic, most people could only guess which skills would help them succeed while working remotely. Now, after ten months of working from home, skills gaps have become obvious. Associations have an opportunity to offer education that helps professionals acquire and improve remote work skills, especially skills for managing remote teams.
Remote work in some form is here to stay
In November 2019, when we published a post about helping members adapt to remote work, only 3.4% of employees worked remotely full-time. One year later, 42% of the American workforce were fully remote.
80% of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic. 47% of them will allow employees to switch completely to remote work.
That’s good news because 65% of employees want to work remotely full-time after the pandemic. 31% prefer a hybrid remote work environment—so that’s 96% who desire some form of remote work.
The percentages may be higher or lower in your association’s market but it’s safe to say that, where possible, remote work is here to stay. The question is: do supervisors and managers in your industry know how to effectively manage remote teams?
7 skills for managing remote teams
Only a tiny percentage of companies have a senior level person overseeing remote work who ensures managers and employees are trained and coached on effective remote work practices. Company executives might expect their HR team to take on that role but many HR professionals don’t have the expertise.
Forward-thinking companies will bring in remote workforce consultants to help them build the culture and practices for remote work. But most companies will flounder through just as they’ve been doing—unless they send managers to your association to learn about remote team management.
We’ve identified seven skills necessary for managing remote teams.
#1: Practice ROWE management
In a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE), managers focus on results, not activities and hours logged. This model completely upsets business as usual for many managers and employees.
For ROWE to succeed, employees must understand the organization’s goals and how their work fits into the organization’s strategy. Managers must set clear expectations and priorities, and hold people accountable to those outcomes.
Managers need to learn how to create this new ROWE culture and implement processes that allow employees time for deep work. They must build a culture of trust so they don’t micromanage their staff.
Managers must know how to hire people who can thrive in a ROWE culture. They need to learn how to assess performance and coach employees. Although these principles can be taught in a general way, industry-specific training is more effective.
#2: Look out for employee wellbeing
Supervisors and managers must understand the routines, rituals and boundaries that help employees create and maintain work-life balance and wellbeing. It’s easy to spot employees in the office who come in early and stay late, but not when they’re working from home. Managers also need to know how to coach employees on creating an effective and ergonomic home workspace.
Of course, HR has a role to play, but managers are the ones closest to their staff. They can model the right behavior and set appropriate expectations. Your association could partner with remote work consultants or HR firms to develop this wellbeing content.
#3: Improve team communication and collaboration
Communication and collaboration cover a wide range of related topics. Managers must understand how to keep everyone on their team in the loop. They need to identify tools that can enhance remote communication and collaboration, and teach themselves and their team how to effectively use these tools, for example, by creating protocols for each tool.
Managers also must help their team find ways to communicate regularly with colleagues in other departments. To enhance collaboration, they must master the basics of project management so team responsibilities are understood, and budgets and timelines are met.
#4: Run productive virtual meetings
Virtual meetings are an essential communication channel. Meetings are necessary for keeping a remote team in sync, but they must be a good use of a person’s time—on point and purpose-driven. Finding the right balance is especially challenging when employees need social interaction.
#5: Nurture connection and camaraderie
Skills training must tackle the toughest challenge of remote work: creating opportunities for informal socializing between teammates and co-workers in other departments. These “watercooler” moments help people make new connections, learn about organizational culture, and develop and deepen relationships.
#6: Demonstrate empathy
Managers are the glue holding their teams together. They must ensure their employees have the resources and support they need, especially when working from home. Managers must learn how to get employee feedback and find out what employees need—that requires trust and empathy.
Empathy has always been a valued skill for leaders, but it doesn’t always come naturally. Many managers have been conditioned to act more removed than these times require. They must unlearn their usual management style because empathy is essential in a remote work environment.
Employees may look fine on the outside, but everyone is dealing with some level of stress. Some employees are struggling with household challenges. Some are having a hard time with isolation and need more social interaction.
Newer staff don’t enjoy the same relationships as staff with longer tenures. Work relationships can seem intimidating and impossible to develop remotely. Younger employees are missing opportunities to learn about their new company, industry and professional life because they aren’t able to watch and overhear others like they would in an office setting.
Empathy helps managers understand professional and work challenges from the employee’s perspective. For example, 65% of employees feel it’s important to learn new skills to remain competitive, yet 41% say their employers have lowered the priority of training.
#7: Manage a hybrid team
When workplaces open again, many people will continue working from home either some or all of the time. Managing a hybrid team is trickier than managing a fully remote team. Managers must ensure all employees are held to the same standards and given equal treatment.
Managers must avoid playing favorites when some employees return to the office. They must understand how to keep remote employees in the loop, not out of sight, out of mind. Remote employees must have the same opportunities to contribute as employees on site.
Learning how to manage a hybrid team reduces the chances of creating a remote divide. Misperceptions won’t fester and misunderstandings will be quickly resolved.
Associations have an opportunity to provide educational programs that teach these remote team management skills. Assess market demand by starting with webinars and virtual conference sessions. Then, if the interest is there, offer mini-courses and/or full-length online courses, and provide certificates or digital badges when learners complete a learning pathway. Ensure that members and industry professionals turn to your association to acquire the skills they need to thrive in the remote working environment.