The number one question we get from companies transitioning to remote work is: “but how do we know if our employees are being productive?”
Many leaders worry that if they cannot see their employees working, then they have no way of knowing if they are being productive. We are calling BS on that. Just because we cannot see what people are doing, does not mean we should automatically assume bad intent. As a manager, it is our job to cultivate an environment in which our team can thrive. If they are ill-equipped to be productive when working outside of the office, that is a failure on our part — not the employee’s.
Remote management is no different from in-person management. Aside from the obvious difference that your employees are not working in your company’s office, the style in which you should manage them should be the same as you would manage an individual who works with you in-person. When we talk about management or remote management, there are five core competencies that we will discuss: building trust, communication, employee engagement, change management, and empathy & EQ.
Building trust on your team is the single most important component of successful management. Successful remote management is predicated on the idea that managers must understand the value of trust. If you do not trust your team and your team does not trust you, your team will not function properly.
So, how exactly do you establish trust on your team? You must be vulnerable, empathetic, transparent, available, and committed. At GoCoach, we use a number of exercises and strategies to show vulnerability to create a safe and supportive environment for the team.
As a leader, make sure that you are frequently checking in with your team to understand how they are doing. At the beginning of a meeting or in Slack, have your team share how they are feeling at that given time. After your entire team has checked in, share how you are feeling with them last. This follows the principles of servant leadership, in which, as a leader, you do everything last to ensure you are providing the opportunity for your team to lead before guiding them.
Start, Stop, and Continue
The start, stop, and continue exercise is another way you can collect feedback from your team to learn what you need to improve on and continue doing as a team. Set aside 30 minutes to an hour to brainstorm what you need to start doing, stop doing, and continue doing to improve your team’s productivity and success. The outcome of this exercise will be a list of driving themes, which will become action items and a guide on the strategy moving forward. Assign each team member the appropriate action item(s) to hold accountability moving forward.
Virtual Office Hours
Holding regularly scheduled virtual office hours for your team, where they discuss how they are feeling, will provide them with an outlet to share their emotions and context for you to understand what they are navigating. If you do not understand how your team is feeling, it will be really difficult to drive goals. So, do not make this conversation about the goals and instead, focus on them, their emotions, and how you can help. This is how you create an engaged culture.
Use your calendar to map out your entire day. Do not limit it to meetings and tasks that you need to complete. Ensure that you are giving yourself the time to take breaks, go for a walk, eat lunch, etc. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.
VUCA is a military term which stands for: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. As leaders and as managers, we need to flip VUCA. Reignite your company’s vision and use your values as a beacon. Switch Volatility with Vision and Values and apply those to all of your decision making. Hold your employees accountable to this as well. Next, change Uncertainty to Unity. Drive unity by building trust with your team through check-ins and other team-building exercises. Switch Complexity with Clarity and Communication. Over communicate with your team frequently to ensure that everyone is always on the same page. It takes most people 5-7 times to register something. Repeat your messaging to guarantee alignment. And finally, take Ambiguity and turn it into Agility within your workforce. Share experiences along the way to figure out what is working and not working to build that bridge to the future state.
The Johari Window is is a simple and useful tool for understanding your own self-awareness and improving communications and group dynamics with others. It includes four quadrants, of which information is:
The Johari exercise helps put into perspective how you work and communicate with others and how you continue to improve and build trust with your team. When you focus on the needs of your team, you will continue to deliver success through the inputs they provide. By opening the window, you let others in to help you continue to learn and grow, which provides more opportunity to deliver and execute in a cohesive way that benefits everyone.
There are a number of ways you can show vulnerability as a leader, but the critical component is consistency. The strategies, exercises, etc. we outline above are only effective when done continually. Building trust does not happen overnight. You must create a dialogue with your employees to build a safe and supportive environment in which your employees feel comfortable discussing things with you.
Now, more than ever, leaders must get in their employees heads and understand what is going on in their personal lives and career lives. Is there something going on with their family? Do they have kids at home? And in their work lives, what is their history and future plan? Listening to them and understanding what they are going through will provide you greater context and opportunity to help, which will help improve their overall output.
As a leader, you play many roles. Your title means nothing, but the roles you play matter most. You are an advocate. You engage your team and advocate for their success. You are a coach, providing one on one support when your employees need it. You are a liaison. You enable two-way communication. You are your team’s support by lending an ear and encouraging openness. A communicator, repeatedly communicating about occurring changes. And finally, you are a change management expert helping guide everyone through changes with clarity.
People need to hear a message 5-7 times in order for it to register. Read that a few times and let that process.
Leaders must over communicate a message to ensure that everyone on their team understands exactly what is happening. Do not assume that something is clear to your team just because it is clear to you or to someone else. Even the simplest messages should be repeated to guarantee that your team knows exactly what is going on and what is expected of them. Overcommunication ensures alignment.
Effective communication will increase your ability to be an effective leader, maintain an environment of trust and transparency, and set communication protocols to ensure employee alignment.
Why is communication with your team so important? Research shows that employees are most willing to listen to their direct manager. Whatever you do or say, your team will do or say too. As you navigate change and ambiguity, first focus on them and how they are doing. Next, you need to figure out if anything has changed. Have the business drivers changed? Business performance? Team objectives? Scope of goals? Your ownership? Once you identify the drivers that have changed, you must then figure out how you will manage the outputs, rather than the inputs. What are the new time frames for these outputs? Change takes time and you must factor that in when setting deadlines for your goals.
With remote work, we can longer rely on the simplicity of face-to-face interactions. We must use tools provided by our organization and determine which tools should be used for which type of communications. Instant messaging is great for sending short, tactical messages (roughly between one to two sentences). Anything longer should be sent over email. And if you find that you are going back and forth over email and your correspondence has turned into a longer threaded message, it is time to set up a meeting. When setting up a meeting, make sure that you have a clear agenda and only invite people who need to be in the meeting. Do not set up a meeting just to set up a meeting and invite everyone. Ensure that someone is tasked with taking notes and this a clear outcome of the meeting. Video calls are a great way to get face-to-face time with colleagues, but it does not need to be used for every single meeting. As leaders, we must respect that not everyone will feel comfortable being on video at any given time and allow for the option of dialing into calls instead.
Please keep in mind that these tools exist to support you and your teams — they are not here to help you micromanage your team.
When employees are passionate about their job, team, and/or company, they will do anything to continue producing.
Engaged employees bring higher service, quality, and productivity, which leads to higher customer satisfaction, which leads to increased sales, which leads to higher levels of profit and shareholder returns.
To keep remote employees engaged and performing at optimal levels, follow these four principles:
Socialize: Hold regular check-ins with your team, as outlined earlier.
Prioritize: Spend regular one on one time with each member of your team.
Incentivize: Set clear goals for each employee’s growth and development.
Stabilize: Be their rock and constant advocate.
The importance of engaged employees cannot be overstated. When your employees are happy, productivity increases, company culture is enhanced, customer satisfaction is boosted, and employee retention will rise. As a leader, it is your responsibility to make sure that your employees feel like they are valued and the work that they do matters.
Change capability is generally defined as “helping ourselves and others not only accept…change but to become agile leaders. To adapt skillfully to changes imposed by external forces and to be awake to emerging trends and market shifts that could open up opportunities or create risks to the status quo.” As companies shift to remote work, there becomes an increase in ambiguity which can lead to fear and uncertainty. Having a clear changement management plan in place, with change champions, ensures that you are providing your employees with clarity as you lead this change.
The challenge when leading a change initiative within your organization, is that many people will resist change. Why do we resist? Often, we fear losing control, the unknown, losing authority, losing face, we do not see the risk involved in not changing, we do not see the benefits to changing, we feel excluded from decisions around the change, we are change-fatigued, or the change feels unfair. As leaders, we must understand the reason that people are resisting change because it will become easier for you to address their concerns and get them on board when you know why they are struggling.
Before you can lead change within your organization, you must first prepare yourself for change. To do this, you must identify your own areas of resistance. Reflect on the “What is in it for me” factor. Think about why this change is taking place and how you might be able to help or hinder in certain situations. Identify where you are in the resistance path to recognize where you currently stand before communicating to employees. Next, discuss your own objections or concerns. Then, you should coach and identify the value proposition for YOU for this change. Understand the benefits, risks you will avoid, or potential risks if you resist. And finally, make a personal choice to support and participate in the change.
Assessing your team during this transition is an important step to understanding how they are dealing with the change. As goals, outcomes, processes, and more change, leaders must recognize where each of their team members are at within this change. A stoplight exercise can be a great way to visualize where each of your team members falls within the process. Are they red, or a resistor? Most of your team will likely be a question mark, or yellow, as they see how things go. They might continue what they have been doing. Team members who are onboard with the change, will be your change champions. They can help you turn your yellows into green. For those in the red, resisting the change, you will need to let those people go if you cannot get them to turn yellow. You want to keep your change champions who will unify your teams, help your question marks by understanding their areas of resistance, and you cannot do that if you keep people who are working against you.
How exactly do you get your entire team onboard with the change? First, you must drive awareness of the change that is taking place, which will help build desire. Over-communicate to get people on board with what is happening. Share knowledge about how to change and provide employees with the ability to implement new skills and behaviors. To ensure that the change is kept in place, be sure to continue to reinforce it.
Develop corrective actions by coaching your team. Please keep in mind that the actions you take will be different for each individual. There is not a one size fits all solution here. If patterns emerge, then you may want to design a group activity to address these areas.
Change is a process, so it will take time. Understand and acknowledge it within your team by creating an awareness-building plan and conduct a series of communications and coaching activities. As a leader, you have to be able to lead your employees through the change, by introducing them to the change process. They need you to manage them through this transition in order for it to ultimately be successful. Exercises like Start, Stop, and Continue and Check-Ins can be a great way to hold yourself and your team accountable during this process. Once you have transitioned, be sure to continue to reinforce it and celebrate your successes.
Empathy and EQ
As a leader, you should always lead with empathy and EQ. It is what allows you to connect and relate to your team. Emotional Intelligence is defined as “the level of your ability to understand other people, what motivates them and how to work cooperatively with them” (Howard Gardner).
Empathy and EQ are so important when managing your employees because it allows for more effective conflict resolution, increased collaboration and productivity, improved communication, and increased trust across your team. As we mentioned earlier, building trust is paramount when managing a remote team. Never make assumptions with your team — always ask first and establish trust.
To hone EQ on your team, you should first practice active listening. You can do this by having phone calls with your employees instead of defaulting to a video call. Really listen to what they are saying, how they are saying it, ect. When you’re talking to your team, take the time to get to know them. Ask them questions to learn their story, experiences, and more. And celebrate and reward employees who practice empathy. Bring your values to life and hold yourself and your team accountable to sticking to them.
To take action, develop an action plan and add it to performance evaluations. Provide individual coaching and encourage employees to ask for help so that you can help them along the way. Training and hands on support will allow for continuous skill development within your team, so be sure to continue to work with your employees to help them grow. When you’re actively listening and supporting your team, they will be more engaged with their work and produce greater results.
For anyone managing employees remotely for the first time: you have got this. New work environments can be difficult to adjust to at first, but if you continue to develop your skills building trust, communicating, managing change, etc., the better you and your team will adapt and perform together.