Managing a Remote Team: 3 Tips From a Cool Manager

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I’m sure we’ve all heard the quote from the movie Mean Girls when Amy Poehler’s character says, “I’m not like a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.” This had me thinking: How does the dynamic between a manager and his or her colleagues shift when managing a remote team? What makes someone a cool manager instead of a regular manager when you never actually see each other in the flesh? 

Striving to be a cool manager in the workplace is one thing, but managing a remote team in a global pandemic presents a whole new set of challenges that none of us had ever experienced before. Your team may face distractions when working from home, technical difficulties with video calls, a poor internet connection, among other unusual challenges. 

When confronted with these issues, it can be hard to hold your team accountable and maintain positive relationships in the same ways you did previously. But as a manager, it’s your time to step up to the challenge, reassess your leadership strategy, and keep your cool while navigating the new normal. 

Engage Your Remote Team

In a normal office environment, your team members are able to chat in person, take a coffee break, or grab lunch together. Remote teams don’t have the opportunity to spontaneously bump into each other, so it’s important to actively set aside time for friendly water cooler talk. In fact, 48% of remote employees reported missing social interactions with coworkers more than anything else about the office, according to a study from Owl Labs

To keep spirits high, take designated “coffee breaks” with your remote team to get on a call just to talk and build deeper relationships with each other. These meetings can bring back a little bit of normalcy and allow your colleagues to have a conversation that’s not about work—whether it’s sharing what’s going on in their lives, what they did over the weekend, or what TV shows they’re watching, 

To take it up a notch, plan themed meetings. For example, my team has had meetings where we dress according to a silly theme, such as wearing a Canadian tuxedo, college apparel, or our favorite color. We’ve even had a self-care day where we applied facial masks and relaxed in our pajamas. 

Something as small as picking out an outfit before a meeting can have a meaningful impact on your team’s morale and remind us that one day getting dressed up for work will be the norm again. Plus, thinking of weekly themes can be a fun group effort in itself that engages your team and helps keep your workplace culture alive. 

Check In Regularly 

We’re all guilty of doing something we shouldn’t while we’re on the clock working from home. Without being tethered to the office, it can be tempting to run a quick errand, take a midday nap, or watch TV while periodically checking your computer. The copious distractions of work from home can make it a challenge for your team to stay on top of their to-do list. When managing a remote team, you must find a balance between granting your team a bit of leeway and ensuring that they’re getting the work done. 

Check in regularly with your remote team members to allow them to earn your trust. Drop them an occasional chat to say good morning, ask for a status update, or send a funny meme to get them engaged and note how long it takes them to get back to you. If your team members are able to respond thoughtfully and quickly most of the time, you know you can put your faith in them to get their work done. 

To the same token, your team must also prove they are willing and capable of coming to you with questions and to ask what they can do to help the team go above and beyond. If your team members show these characteristics and your expectations of them are clear, there’s nothing wrong with allowing your team a little flexibility in their work day. 

Fight Work-From-Home Fatigue 

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty to people’s lives. Initially, everyone buckled down and did what they needed to do in an effort to stay healthy and excel in their jobs in the face of an economic crisis. Eight months later, the virus and economic turmoil persist. Everyone is exhausted. Working parents are especially spread thin from juggling childcare, a job, and their own mental health amid a disorienting new normal. Your remote team may miss going into the office and crave a change of scenery from the same four walls that surround them day in and day out. In some cases, their motivation to do good work may be falling on a long list of priorities. 

Being a manager means that you’re also a leader. When something goes wrong or performance is down, it falls on you to find a solution and resolve the problem. But fighting work-from-home fatigue is easier said than done. In order to get back on track, you have to address what the problem is, use data to justify your concerns, and lead your team members through an empathetic but direct approach. 

Demonstrate that you understand the challenges of working remotely during a pandemic and can see why they may have difficulty focusing at work. If your team is having trouble managing their workload, consult with them to identify which tasks are a priority and which ones can wait. Then, connect them to any resources you have available to help them stay on track. 

Have faith in your team and help guide them toward success. Managing a remote team during the coronavirus pandemic comes with countless challenges, but it also presents an opportunity to learn how to lead more empathetically and creatively over the long term. And who knows, this could be your moment to be distinguished as a cool manager.

Nicole Lamendola is Senior Manager on the Performance Marketing team at BrandMuscle.

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