How Remote Managers Can Work Best with In-Office Teams

How Remote Managers Can Work Best with In-Office Teams

Picture yourself working from an office, surrounded by colleagues. Maybe you have a fantastic downtown view, or a really funky modern space. Perhaps there are a couple of friendly dogs milling around, or some coworkers with an especially sharp wit. Now imagine that your boss is nowhere to be seen.

Sound like a fantasy? You wouldn’t be alone in thinking so!

But bosses aren’t invisible, and they most definitely exist, for everyone. (Even the CEO answers to a board and shareholders.) In this scenario, however, your manager is one of the many remote managers out there. Still sounds like a pretty good setup, right?

Turn the tables, and now envision yourself as the manager. You’ve got to somehow keep tabs on an employee or a team of employees across the country (or the globe), while building relationships with them and ensuring they have everything they need to be effective and get their jobs done. Not such a fantasy anymore, is it?

When an entire team works remotely, they likely share similar routines or methods toward accomplishing their tasks. When some team members work from an office, however, the dynamic shifts—and remote managers are left to figure out how best to manage while offsite.

I learned this firsthand, as part of a broader marketing team that was mostly onsite. My direct report worked from one of the organization’s offices. I hadn’t been accustomed to this setup; it required some initial adjustment.

For those of you who might find yourselves managing an individual—or a team—from outside the office, here are some tips:

1. Set communication expectations, and understand your limitations.

Create a communication routine that works for all of you, sharing how you can be reached throughout the day and the ways in which you’d like to reach your team. Be it a daily stand-up call, weekly one-hour check-in via video, or ongoing chat, ask for feedback and get buy-in to the communications modes and frequencies that work best for your team and keep you connected.

Keep in mind the fact that, occasionally, you’ll be out of the loop from spontaneous hallway conversations. It’s possible that your office-based team members will hear important news before you do. The upside? You’ll be the first person they share it with—provided you’ve established a good rapport and a sense of transparency.

2. Develop productivity habits.

It will take some effort to ensure that you’re optimizing your team’s time and capitalizing on the distance rather than letting it detract from productivity. If one of you is best at tackling bigger projects in the morning and managing your inbox in the afternoon, it will influence when team meetings should take place, and when to block off time for your to-do list. Consider using a project management tool like Trello or Basecamp to have a central hub for file sharing and updates.

Last but not least, treat your team as if they’re remote—remember to take stock of the deliverables they produce, not the time spent in front of a screen.   

3. Build rapport creatively.

Get to know the person behind the role on your team. A good icebreaker: What are your favorite hobbies? You know, the stuff you do when you’re not earning a living/cooking/cleaning/raising kids/caring for family/looking after your pets? Maybe you’ll have a self-taught ukulele player on your hands, an ultramarathoner, or an expert knitter. Everyone has a backstory, but you don’t know until you ask.

Start by setting the tone for a positive working relationship: show empathy and a good sense of humor. (I don’t know anyone who can resist a well-timed meme.)

4. Be flexible.

Sometimes your team will need to take time off, shift meetings for an appointment or a kid’s field trip, or (gasp!) work outside the office themselves. Accord them the same level of respect for their time and personal priorities that you receive, knowing that they’ll get the job done (and will probably do it more enthusiastically) with a manager who understands that life throws us all curveballs sometimes.

Speaking of baseball—be prepared to pinch hit for one another if an urgent task surfaces or if you’re up against a major deadline.

5. Goal setting and tracking.

Consider your colleagues’ various roles and responsibilities, and find ways to measure your collective and individual progress. Actively bring them into the process in regular 1:1 meetings and quarterly or bi-annual ‘big picture’ discussions. Wherever possible, develop quantifiable metrics that are clear to the team and accessible from anywhere.

Maybe you’re using social media dashboards to allow you to track follower growth and reach, or Google Analytics to better understand site traffic and visitor flow in an effort to improve the user experience. Note milestones, but also look beyond measurable data to find opportunities for professional growth, skill acquisition, and mentoring. Invest thoughtfully in your team and all of you will benefit.

6. Unless it’s urgent, leave work at work.

This can be an especially hard one for remote managers, whose personal and professional lives tend to blur. Since your office might be just down the hall from the living room, you may feel as though you can drag your laptop over while munching dinner or watching TV. Don’t do it. Learn from your office-based colleagues, who leave at the end of the day and quite possibly don’t touch their computers until the next morning. (Same goes for text messages.) Your onsite team may not be used to being as connected as you have to be, so be sensitive to their preferences after hours and unplug.

Remember to protect your free time fiercely; none of us have enough of it, and there’s always an opportunity cost to choosing ‘professional progress’ over personal interaction at home.

Whether you’re in-state or in another time zone, if you’re new to remote management, these tips and tricks will help you on your way to becoming an attentive, supportive, and effective distributed manager.


By Kristi DePaul | March 29, 2016 | Categories: Build a Remote Team


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