In the post-pandemic world, remote working is here to stay. In the current labor market remote options—whether fully remote or hybrid—are becoming a characteristic seen by prospective employees as a requirement instead of a differentiator.
While much has been written about productivity in a remote environment, relatively little has been said about management. Having worked remotely and managed virtual teams since 2009, I believe the reason many companies are hesitant to adopt remote working is a misalignment between the virtual setting and the existing management philosophy.
While there are an infinite number of considerations to make when adapting to virtual teams, I have listed and expanded on my top three below:
No. 1 — It’s not that Different
The first thing to consider is the previous (in-person) management process. If the primary management metric being used is when an employee checks in with their timecard, there are definitely going to be issues with converting to remote work. But if you have a well thought out process and your employees have clarity about their role, you do not need to adapt that much.
When we think about clarity, this is what I mean: Do your employees know
- What they are doing
- When it is due
- How they are to do it
- Who is responsible
- What their priorities are
No. 2 — Communication, Communication, Communication
The biggest difference between virtual teams and in person teams come in how they communicate. Teams that operate in the same space tend to have a significant amount of passive communication.
By passive communication I mean overhearing someone on a call, chatting around the watercooler, or asking across cubicles if a task has been completed. This supplements active communication in the form of e-mails, instant messages and video calls to “fill in the gaps” around some of the clarity objectives mentioned above. However, virtual teams only have active communications.
Given this fact, managers must be intentional about their communications, from both a content and frequency perspective. No longer is it possible to see a team member with a furrowed brow indicating confusion or flushed cheeks that could be a sign of anger.
Frequent structured check-ins can go a long way with virtual team members to assess their comfort level associated with their responsibilities. Along with check-ins, thought must be given to the things that need to be communicated.
For example, do team members understand the expectation for video call attire with a client in attendance? Whereas in person members might see that difference by simply looking around, it would be easy for a virtual team member to miss this fact.
Oftentimes the question arises as to which mediums (instant messenger, e-mail, video calls, phone calls, etc.) to utilize for virtual communications. The answer: All of them. Certainly they can be used for different reasons but managers should not worry if they are communicating in too many ways. It is much more likely they are not communicating enough.
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No. 3 — Focus on Outputs
The most common struggle I witness with recently converted remote managers is that they are used to focusing on inputs. By inputs, I mean hours an employee is viewed sitting in a chair.
In a virtual setting this is obviously quite difficult to track without borderline creepy tactics such as video recordings, keystroke tracking, etc. These types of surveillance-esque strategies can easily create a hostile work environment and should be avoided in most cases.
The best way, and arguably the only way, to manage in a remote environment is by focusing on the outputs. For firms, our business consists of providing outputs to our clients. This could be a tax return, management report, payroll, etc.
If we start by focusing on these outputs as the measurable performance indicator for our team members, we allow ourselves as managers to both trust our teams and also provide clarity and accountability for them. This is a great thing because providing clarity and accountability is what managers are supposed to do.
To sum these points up, managing remote teams is not that different from managing in person teams correctly. The lack of passive communication and the inability to track only inputs exposes issues with our prior management philosophy.
But if we focus on being intentional in our communication and allow ourselves to trust our team and focus on the outputs they produce, a new world of possibilities will reveal itself. Embrace the change and throw yourself into this new world. It is not going away anytime soon.
Tate Henshaw, CFP®, has always been obsessed with problem-solving. It led him to major in mathematics at the University of Georgia, which led him to Polay+Clark and now co-founding Arc Management. Whether it is helping design a proprietary royalty database, integrating a cloud-based merchandise fulfillment system for a Grammy-winner, or running a Net Present Value calculation on a contract proposal for a NBA All-Star, he has yet to come across a problem he cannot solve. He brings this love of efficiency to the cloud accounting landscape via custom-curated ecosystem’s for his clients. This results in additional free time for his passion in music and quality time with his wife and two young daughters.
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