Managing people is hard enough, but try doing it remotely.
On a weekly basis I spend the bulk of my hours at work meeting 30 individuals via Zoom for 30 minute check-ins. During that time we cover a myriad of different metrics that rate their performance, but I choose to focus on three things:
1. Connecting — Technology has widened the talent pool, but also breeds disconnection. Instead of being concerned about physical location as a barrier, I try to immerse myself in a session as if we were in the same room. Human connection is a powerful thing no matter where you are. Relationships are formed over time through trust regardless of distance. Working remotely can present challenges, but with empathy, active listening and genuine care the virtual gap can be closed. Think of having a conversation with a friend over coffee. The same principles of building a friendship apply here. Connection is the foundation for any working relationship to thrive.
2. Community — Working from home sounds glorious until you look around and realize you’re alone. If you can feel isolated in an office full of co-workers imagine how remote employees can feel. The concept of a “virtual water cooler” has been talked about, but how do you make it happen? Slack is a great place to start, but the platform you choose isn’t as important as its function. Instead of gathering at the lunch table or local bar, respond to someone’s question, comment, photo or video. It can’t be forced, nor in some cases facilitated. It takes several people in the group to take initiative and put in the effort to communicate. And the best interactions are when the manager isn’t involved. The voluntary part of it makes it real.
3. Cultivate — The uniqueness of each member of the team makes the whole together special. Most managers try to control employees working remotely because they have trust issues. The problem is the more policies and procedures you enforce, the more problems are created. Trust is built via connecting — everything grows out of that. Don’t try to mold everyone to be the same, celebrate their differences. When each person brings their unique talents and strengths to the table, why would a manager quell them? A manager’s role is to bring out the best in each person by leveraging personal strengths. If you’re not developing people as a manager you’re crushing their spirit. My job is to allow my team to shine by getting out of their way.
As a leader managing people remotely is challenging, but a true test of your abilities. Similar to organizing volunteers, when you are stripped of power, money and resources all you have is your relationships. My belief is if you can lead others remotely, you can lead any team anywhere. If you want to test your leadership capabilities manage people from a distance. You’ll be forced to give up control, ego and certainty…and that’s not a bad thing at all.