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How to Manage Remote Teams (Especially If This Is Your First Time)

March 17, 2020
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From time to time, we invite super knowledgable people leaders to share their ideas and insights with us This piece comes to us from our guest HR contributor Kat Myers, Head of People at Respondent.

With COVID-19, companies across the world have been making a swift move to working remotely to mitigate its spread. As a 100% distributed team, we at Respondent wanted to share a few tips for managing remote workers. 

Remote work poses unique challenges for managers, especially if this is your first time. It is, however, infinitely doable. The key is deliberateness. 

Establish a standard communicating procedure with your team

There are many spoken and unspoken rules at in-office organizations. Going remote means that many of those rules have to change — they simply don’t apply anymore. You must create a whole new standard of procedure. For example, what is the equivalent of a “tap on the shoulder” when you work remotely? As a manager, it is important to establish these norms early on to ensure proper and effective communication across your team. 

Here's an example:


1:1s and team meetings are incredibly important. 

Your team can’t pop into your office to discuss project strategy, or update you on progress. They can’t see you at all. This is why it is incredibly important to ensure they have scheduled time to speak with you. Maintain your 1:1s with your team, and consider increasing them in the beginning to ensure the smoothest possible transition to remote working (i.e. if you were previously doing them once a month, increase them to once a week).

We use Lattice for a number of important things. Lattice lets team members post an update to their manager at the end of the week on what was accomplished and what’s planned for the following. Managers take time to comment on these so that solutions can happen without a meeting. Additionally, it enables 1:1s to focus on challenges, complete with agendas to keep both parties on track. 

We recommend all team meetings be video. If you are like us, you believe that trust is the foundation of being a great manager. Tools like Zoom allow you to see people’s faces, make eye contact, read their expressions — it’s the absolute closest thing to in-person interaction. If you are in a meeting with more than one other person, we recommend using “gallery view” (or “Brady Bunch view” as we like to call it) so that you are able to see everyone in the meeting.

Team meetings should happen on a consistent basis so that your team can work together, build relationships, and stay on the same timeline. Some teams at Respondent end group meetings with everyone going around and sharing a quote or meme, which helps build camaraderie.


Embrace asynchronous communication.
 

You can’t be in meetings all the time with your team — nor should you — so plan for asynchronous communication. This is when you ask a question and don’t expect an immediate response. This is the opposite of a meeting, which is synchronous communication (Racheal asks a question in the meeting and Drake answers in real-time). 

Tools like Lattice and Google Drive enable asynchronous communication with your team. Instead of booking a meeting to discuss an issue, why not work on a Google doc together? This also aids with transparency across the team. 

I got asynchronous feedback from my team on this article. I posed a question at 5:43 pm one day and got a response at 1:17 pm the following day. See!:





With asynchronous communication, it can help to ask when an answer or feedback is needed or include this in your request. In Google Drive, you can give feedback via “comments” or “suggestions” and other feedback-givers can see your comments and either use them to guide their own, or build on the conversation. Together you can come to a conclusion, or smooth final product, without ever having to set up a meeting. This works particularly well for design, copy, code, workshop creation, and anything else that is an ongoing project and does not need an immediate response. 


Document everything! 

As a remote manager, you’ll have less opportunity to communicate with your team through unofficial channels (e.g. running into someone in the hallway). Start logging everything in an accessible place for your team. We use Slab for this, but even a Google Drive folder will work. 

Documenting information in an easily accessible place is incredibly empowering for your team. Instead of pinging you or each other constantly for established information, they can find their answer quickly and get back to work. This is information they can “pull” whenever they need it, as opposed to having to “push” for it, which can waste a lot of time and disrupt efficient work. 



Have fun!

It’s a stressful time right now. Be compassionate with each other and try to set up fun rituals for your team for some much needed levity. Maybe you have a social slack channel with a daily question like “what did you want to be when you grew up?” Or maybe you play “two truths and a lie” with a polling app on Slack. Whatever it is, take full advantage of opportunities to  build and strengthen relationships with your team.


Managing remotely is not unlike managing in-person. The biggest difference is the increased need to be extremely deliberate. You’ll find quickly what an effective tool it can be.