I love working from home.
I love the ability to fit my office wherever it fits into my life on any given day; I love that remote work can be done on a flexible schedule (most days); and I love the personal growth its afforded me in developing the skill of looking for my own answers and becoming more proactive to find what I need on my own. Working remotely for a growing business that helps organizations serve the common good is just the icing on the cake! So you can imagine my happiness upon getting promoted to Project Manager at ParsonsTKO last year.
Since being promoted, I’ve learned a lot about how to manage people and teams in a remote environment. Stepping back to reflect on this experience has allowed me to clearly identify some important lessons. Here are the things I consider as five keys to effective remote management.
1. Learning when to delegate, rather than do.
Delegation can be tricky in any context — and interestingly, I’ve found that a remote environment can make it even more challenging. Much of our work takes place in Slack, a communications platform that supports egalitarianism among our team. Because everyone has the same chance to identify and respond to opportunities, the tendency of a proactive person is to jump in and do whatever beckons when needs emerge. Sometimes this is wise. Other times it can be quite counterproductive.
In the remote context, another obstacle to delegation is scheduling. I can’t just peer over my cubicle wall, see that a colleague is free at their workspace, and pop by to provide extensive details about something I need help with. Sure, writing down a series of tasks or providing a comprehensive outline might seem like enough. But when your remote team asks for deeper insights into what you have asked them to do, it becomes necessary to talk it through together. Everyone’s days are busy. If online calendars don’t align for a while, there is a temptation to do the work myself rather than wait for a meeting to delegate it effectively.
One of the many things I’ve come to recognize, is that the question of whether or not to delegate can be mostly a matter of urgency.
While I try to hand over responsibilities as much as possible, if there’s an immediate need and no time for a round of back-and-forth, then it is usually best for me to just resolve the need quickly without having to involve any additional parties. Yet it’s important to recognize that this approach often comes at a cost – a lost learning opportunity for my team. I’ve found that a great solution to this, is to make it a point to circle back to explain the approach I took.
2. Learning how to delegate in a way that empowers your team.
Here’s another truth: Most times, there actually is a very particular way that I prefer a deliverable to look and be organized. But instead of modeling the final result from the driver’s seat, I’ve had to learn how to coach from the passenger’s seat. Ultimately, it’s more effective for employees to walk me through how they think we should reach the outcome, and use prodding questions to drive their thinking if they’re stuck, instead of providing an answer. This means letting go of my perfectionism, and being open to alternative ways of achieving results that – gasp! – may even be more effective than my own preconceived ideas. My role? To make sure my team feels supported, and has the confidence, ability and resources to do things well on their own.
3. Trusting employees to do things that you can’t easily track.
When everyone works from home, you inevitably miss some of the nuance and contextual information that comes with working together in a shared office. It’s impossible to monitor your peripheral vision to see that colleague has actually talked with Susan in accounting, like you asked them to do in the morning. How, then, do you know when it’s necessary to follow up, versus trusting that something’s been done as promised?
In my experience, this comes down to knowing your team well. When team members are super-passionate about a particular piece of work, I find that they jump right on it. But when there’s less excitement about a task (perhaps for something more routine in nature), I may flag it for monitoring and follow-up. It’s also helpful to consider employees’ workloads, skill levels and natural work pace when determining how quickly they should be executing necessary tasks.
4. Ensuring a free flow of timely information.
In an office setting, co-workers will see you in the halls, stop by your office, and share lunch with you in the breakroom. These avenues for informal communication just aren’t as readily available in a remote context. This makes it all the more important to proactively share relevant information that keeps all employees equally informed. Consistency and standard processes matter. For instance, I have standard face-to-face check-ins with my team each week via Zoom video conferencing, and supplement with daily communication across multiple technology platforms so that they feel fully engaged.
5. Supporting a culture of collaboration
At PTKO, I’m fortunate to benefit from a culture where anyone can do, create, and improve how we work together. Being in a place where everyone’s input is valued is a gift. This is strongly reinforced by being a largely remote organization – the physical distance forces us to be intentional in terms of documenting our work and processes. It’s rare for all of us to physically sit in the same room at the same time, so there is no waiting for a special meeting to share suggestions for improvement. All it takes is being willing to download relevant documentation, research potential solutions, and make improvements based on good logic or relevant evidence. Technology gives us amazing opportunities to collaborate in new ways, and good managers will always take full advantage of those technologies.
The remote workplace is always evolving, and so am I
Of course, I’m still learning in my journey as a manager. I make small stumbles every day. Fortunately, I work with a team that embraces failure as an opportunity to learn and grow and is always willing to work through problems together, even though we’re miles apart.