Why the new remote manager needs to be clear, caring, and ignore people's Slack status.
You've been made a manager for a reason: you're the best person at your company to nurture the needs of a specific set of people. Maybe they're designers, maybe they're data scientists. Maybe they're a team of developers set across the globe. You know what your team is good at, now you need to set the right conditions for these people to thrive.
But in today's covidian landscape, growing your people may need to be done remotely. So here's a mindset you should strive for:
Your attitude—and everything about the way you work online—will set the scene for how your team spends their days. Whether your team is fear-based or confident. Fulfilled or frustrated. Lethargic or energized.
Everything starts with YOU.
In pre-remote, you could rely on body language to gauge trust within your team. Or if you were lucky—you'd rocketship trust by going offsite for a few days to really get to know your people.
When managing a remote workforce, the trust equation can seem trickier, but it's entirely doable.
Try micromanaging someone 7'000 km away with a six-hour time difference. It just doesn't work. — Chris, CEO
The solution? Give trust by default.
Implicit trust frees up an enormous amount of energy in your team—empowering people to feel confident in their roles, share more honest opinions, and be more innovative in their work.
And spare no reasonable expense in this department. Your job is all about setting people up for success. Give them the option of working from a home office, or at a coworking space. And fund the full amount—no questions asked.
Prioritize stable settings vs. digital nomad setups. Why? Because people that are in a stable work environment are better geared to smooth collaboration. Things like the right space, not needing to hawk for WiFi, and a comfy chair count.
Get to know who your people really are. And recognize that every staff member relationship is going to be unique. When you honor that uniqueness and take a genuine interest in someone's life, it signals that you've taken a genuine interest in that person's success.
And you do that by being curious about who people are outside their work persona. Then, it's up to you to join those two worlds together. Because the world of work and home are going to be blurred now. Cues are converging to create something we're calling the remote lifestyle.
It's a distance-based collaboration ecosystem that relies on freedom, trust, and communication to propel people and processes forward.
We're not talking corporates gone full digital nomad here. This is a team member who has made a conscious choice to work from the social and professional place that suits them best. Because just as you—the manager—has access to a global workforce, them—the team member—is now open to browse any opportunity across the world.
Why would they want to hang their personality at the door, when the door to their office may be literally just outside their kitchen? There should be no disconnect between who they are as a person, and who they are as a worker. As a manager, you need to honor that.
Trust people and care for them. When a manager cares, even the most difficult of situations can be quickly transformed into learnings. — Vaida, Head of People
But how do you really get to know someone? After all, not everyone is a natural communicator. Some people just aren't comfortable sharing details about themselves, while some managers tend to shun diving into personal details.
One suggestion is to write team intros.
Ask every new team member to write an introduction about themselves. Part travel guide, part autobiography, this content could very well be amongst the most popular at your company. It also becomes an invaluable resource right before jumping on a call to know a little more about someone with whom you're trying to build rapport.
And if you're willing to take it a step further, try writing human user guides about yourselves. How do people like to work? Are they communicators? What values are important to them? What's their preferred management style? When do they work best? What's in their work surroundings on a daily basis? A user guide is an instruction manual to the entire person you'll be working with.
How Pierre quickly built rapport with his remote team.
“As a remote manager, you need to share. Sharing personal things about yourself allows people to find a connection with you.” — Pierre, CTO at Slite
Remote conversations can be really powerful. The fact that you're alone, in your own space, with someone looking straight at you makes it easier to tackle sensitive topics without tucking away in some private part of the office.
Having staff overseas was difficult because I had no idea when people were working or why they weren’t online when I thought they would.
Then it hit me: I knew nothing about their lives.
I started making a conscious effort to make a more personal connection with my team by sharing things about who I was—things about my space, what I was thinking, what I messed up, and what I was doing during the day which wasn't related to my job. I make a point of doing this every week.
It can be as simple of sharing a quick photo of my desk for the day. Or if I just cooked something, I'll post it to our #chill-cooking channel.
And then my team started doing the same thing and we began to understand each others' work habits and lives a little better. Context is super important in remote. And when you share personal things, people find a connection with you.
We live in uncertain times and the rule book has been thrown out the window—up to you to make up a new one.
Start by setting expectations for your team but be flexible with them. Remember that remote work reaps rewards when people have the freedom to work whenever they work best. After setting some guidelines, when someone works should be as banal as knowing where they shop for groceries.
A good place to start is by creating a Remote Handbook to speak about how you should behave when you work together. By defining what remote work looks like within you team, you're taking away misunderstandings before they happen.
A handbook also protects you from the urge to micromanage. It's easy to tell yourself "Don't do it!" but when you're accustomed to peeking across the office to see how someone's doing, it takes discipline now to keep yourself from nudging into the great void of time and space.
“Ignore people's Slack status” —Pierre
Compounding the difficulty is the tool buffet we now have at our disposal. Why haven't they looked at that document today? Why are they not pinging me for questions? It's 10am, why are they not online? Remember that the word Slack is also (ironically) a synonym for procrastination and that communication is valued in terms of quality, not quantity. Used wrong, tools can be distractions too.
So define things like when to use email (when a reply isn't urgent?), when to use Slack (when you want a reply within the day?), and whether texting about work has a role within your team (SOS!).
And agree on a collaboration tool that works for you. You'll want somewhere to save team knowledge, share ideas, and work together from a central space.
Marc Cinanni is a creative writer who's fascinated by the emergence of remote as a new way of life. His pieces are punchy, absurd, and often personal. He writes for remote teams, managers, and people interested in feeling better about the way they work. Follow him @marccinanni.