As the world moves towards increased connectivity, digital acceleration is pushing society towards new technological trends while also fundamentally changing the way in which we interact with each other. We are becoming interconnected beings in a way that no person could have foreseen 40 years ago (except perhaps sci-fi authors).
In that context, remote management isn’t something particularly new. Multinational companies, offshore software developers, and telecom companies (just to name a few) have been migrating to home offices and remote management well before the 2020 pandemic was a thing. In fact, if anything, the pandemic just pressed the fast-forward button on a trend that was already on its way to becoming a standard.
Workers on average report more productivity, less stress, and more engagement with their work when they do it from home. Keep in mind that those statistics should come with a huge red sign that says “as long as you aren’t overburdened”. Because, let’s face it, with a home office comes a whole new set of demands and challenges.
Management isn’t exempt from having to adapt to a virtual work environment. In fact, some of the worst horror stories you’ll find on the internet can be traced back to a manager who either treats virtual offices as their physical counterpart or it’s trying to adapt but is having a hard time with a flexible framework.
In turn, underlying those difficulties we often find misbeliefs about how remote teams should function, based either on unfounded information or a notion of “how things should actually be”. What are some of the most common misbeliefs and what are their consequences?
#5 Working from nine to five
Let’s start with a contentious issue: should remote teams have office hours? The proponents of flexible schedules argue that home offices give workers more agency in choosing when to work, this opens up the opportunity of aligning work hours with your productivity cycle.
If you haven’t heard that concept before, it’s very simple. We humans tend to be at our best at certain hours of the day, and those hours vary from person to person, with some being morning people, while others find their zone at the stroke of midnight. People who do home office have the flexibility to discover their cycle and build their work schedule around it.
On the other hand, proponents of office hours argue that flexible schedules can lead to miscommunication at best, and increased burnout at worst. For example, Microsoft found that their employees tend to have longer work hours when they work from home. Without the context of an office, it can be hard to separate work from leisure.
But even the most ardent proponents of office hours argue that remote teams should embrace at least a certain level of flexibility. A good compromise is to have scheduled hours for joint activities while adopting a flexible schedule with set goals for individual tasks.
#4 You only need Zoom and email, right?
Nothing could be farther from the truth. If we already have problems getting everyone on the same page in an office, add long distances and flexible schedules and you have a recipe for disaster. A good manager needs to open several communication channels.
Every remote team should have at least one system for face to face meetings, one system for asynchronous communication, and one system for instant messaging. You might be tempted to think that a single solution (like Skype) can fill most of those roles but systems can fail and, in that case, having another platform can be a life-saver.
But before you make accounts on every platform under the sun keep in mind that each one requires management. If they aren’t actively maintained, the team will gravitate away from them and stick to the most used tools. Balance is the key here (that or using a deck that can help you manage several platforms at once).
#3 Fix miscommunication with more communication
Nothing will make you hate remote work faster than having daily meetings. Grab that “this could have been a mail” feeling after a long meeting and multiply that times a hundred, and you may begin to understand how much of a hassle daily virtual meetings are.
Wait, but didn’t we just say that miscommunication is an issue? Yes, but having meetings every day, or heaven forbids, more than once a day, is a recipe for disaster. Not only you’ll be taking valuable time from the team, but you’ll also be increasing the signal-to-noise ratio of the message.
More communication isn’t a fix to miscommunication, assertive communication is. Sometimes a good morning with a pic sitting in front of your desk is everything you need to let everyone know on your Slack chat that you are up and ready to go.
Team meetings do have their perks, though: they help build team identity and create much-needed structure, especially for a group of people who are far away from one another. It can be reassuring to see your coworker’s faces and remember that you are not alone.
#2 So, is 8 EST ok with you all?
The internet is a fantastic thing. I can be closer to a friend across the globe than to the person sitting next to me on the commute. But even if we have triumphed over the limitations of space, we still have a ways to go before we triumph over time.
One of the harder aspects of remote teams who are all over the globe is finding the right schedule to meet or work together. If person A is 8 hours ahead of person B then you can bet that one will have to sacrifice an afternoon or an evening for work’s sake.
You will always find a person who will gladly do so, but you can’t rely on that goodwill. Remember, working longer hours, or during the evening is a big predictor of stress, overwork, and burnout.
Always find schedules that work for everyone, but try to cycle through those schedules so that the same person doesn’t always get the short end of the stick. Finding that right balance where everyone has to concede a bit will lead to a healthier team in the long run, even if it involves more work.
#1 I’ll email the file
It would seem like a no-brainer that with the rise of cloud technology we would rely more on services like OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Docs, or GitHub to share our work. But you would be amazed to know that most people out there still prefer asynchronous technology with all the risks that that entails.
Obviously, cloud computing has more benefits than just common storage or tracking the version history of a document. With the cloud comes integration, and since we are often working with more than one software, the more we can integrate them better.
Every time you have to export a document from one place to another you run the risk of something going wrong, of passing the wrong document or just forgetting it altogether. A remote manager will only be as good as the technology that empowers them.
The Key to Remote Management
While biological evolution might be slow, we humans are technologically evolving every single day, sometimes even too fast to understand what’s happening with us. Remote management isn’t the same as regular management for one simple reason, because we are leaving behind our nature as homo sapiens as we evolve to homo digitalis.
The new human, the interconnected hyperaware denizen of the digital world, has a different way to engage with others, and the sign of a good remote manager is understanding that difference and developing it to the best of their ability.