The transition to remote work can come with its own share of hiccups; perhaps doubly so if the shift involves supervising others as a remote manager.
When managing someone remotely for the first time, it’s common to have some sense of apprehension about the arrangement. After all, face-to-face meetings and casual conversations aren’t going to just happen organically like they do in an office setting.
You’re new to the lingo and tools surrounding remote work. Beyond that, your direct report (or team) might not live up to your productivity standards if they’re not working within view.
That’s not true, actually; that last one is a trust issue. While I can’t fix that for you, I can help to mitigate some of the fears you may have in your first leading-from-a-distance gig.
Having both been remotely managed and having served as a remote manager, I know these feelings quite well. As an employee, I’ve worked hard to “convince” managers who were skeptical about remote work, succeeding on several occasions, and failing just once. (It turns out that some bosses just aren’t cut out for remote work scenarios.)
I’m willing to bet that you’ll fall into the former category of those who can see the advantages of remote management, as opposed to its supposed pitfalls.
On that note, let’s confront some common remote manager fears!
Below you’ll find the top five remote manager fears, and how you can overcome them.
Fear #1: Employees will slack, leaving work undone.
This one scores high on the boss’ nightmare scale. Make no mistake, though: any remote employee who could leave a trail of unfinished Google Docs or spreadsheets in their wake isn’t fooling anyone. This role would likely be their last.
Fortunately, through deliberate hiring practices that enable you to test for remote work suitability, you can more easily pinpoint candidates who possess traits that’ll make them remote rockstars. Once they’re on board, regular check-ins via chat tools or feedback platforms like 15five help you to keep your finger on the pulse of your employees’ progress.
Fear #2: You won’t be able to get a hold of anyone urgently.
Uh oh. The company’s top client from Portugal just pinged you about your latest software release and your support engineer is nowhere to be found. A delay in response at this stage won’t reflect well upon your team. What can you do?!
Well … before a critical situation like this ever arises, you set up ground rules establishing when and how you expect to be in touch with your team and how they can reach you. This way, nobody “disappears” on anyone (unforeseen emergencies aside), and you feel at ease knowing that key people are accessible when necessary. Those who work on virtual teams are often already accustomed to proactive communication, which is an added bonus.
Fear #3: All operations will be bogged down by miscommunication.
What previously took one quick chat will now involve an ever-growing email thread that, much like a snowball, grows in speed and size as it moves downhill. Momentum will slow to a glacial pace, someone will take offense, and, somehow, it’ll all be your fault.
Clarifying project specifications or interpreting others’ opinions takes on a new art form when done remotely. But it can still be done quickly and succinctly. Create a few helpful forms to move projects forward, and post them to a shared folder for others to access 24/7. (Research shows that remote teams are better equipped to avoid groupthink.) Since remote work isn’t necessarily confined to the 9-to-5 workday, your team might just make headway while you sleep!
Fear #4: You’ll be left hanging on major projects.
Similar to fear #1, but with a twist: your employees’ workflows and pacing are out of control. Procrastination abounds, and “negative work”—that is, unknowingly duplicating colleagues’ efforts or unintentionally creating work for others—is the order of the day. As the one in charge, you’re stuck sifting through the mess.
This isn’t like a sixth-grade group project. Assuming your employees are true remote professionals, they’re going to contribute their fair share and then some to get the job done. Moreover, this is one area where they’re liable to manage up; a suite of productivity and project management tools like Doist and Trello exist to solve this pain point.
Fear #5: You’ll turn into a micromanaging freak.
Somehow, the knee-jerk response to managing those outside of one’s immediate proximity often is: “But I’ll be forced to virtually hover over everyone’s shoulder. I’ll become the kind of boss I hate!” Visions from the film Office Space ensue.
This is not your destiny. As mentioned above, you’re fully capable of keeping track of your team’s progress and contentment in their roles, and have the means to stay in touch. Hire intelligently, build thoughtful processes, and you just might find yourself as a remote-work champion.
When that happens, be sure to tell us how you’re motivating employees and setting goals remotely!