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Ten Top Tips For Managing Remote Teams: Part One

It has been a year since the UK entered its first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic, and organisations around the country (and indeed, the world) were forced to adapt at the flick of a switch to large-scale home working. ‘WFH’ and ‘Zoom fatigue’ have entered the lexicon, and many a professional meeting has been interrupted by an inquisitive child or attention-hungry pet. But while hope is on the horizon, with vaccinations charging ahead and an end to lockdown on its way, many workplaces are understandably cautious about returning to office-based working just yet, and others have found unexpected benefits in this new arrangement. So with large-scale remote-working likely here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, here are the first five of our ten top tips for managing remote teams:

1. Choose the right team

What motivates someone to work in an office with 15 or 20 or 200 people is different from what motivates a remote worker to work independently from home or a remote office, where there is no one to bounce ideas off without picking up the phone or sending an email. To get the most out of your team, you need to be clear on what qualities, skills, and attributes are necessary for effective remote working so you can choose your personnel accordingly. They will need to be self-motivated, and not over reliant on others for ideas or encouragement. They will require excellent communication skills, so they can clearly and confidently convey to you what progress they are or are not making on a project, and proactively initiate discussions about support they may need.

2. Define your team’s purpose

People work better when they are working with purpose. Clarifying not only what it is your team needs to deliver, but why it needs to be delivered, will give team members the sense that what they are contributing to has value. This boosts motivation as well as focusing your team on the output to be delivered. Make a point of reminding your team of this purpose in meetings, and actively invite discussion on how weekly outputs help achieve this purpose and add value to the organisation, its customers, and its stakeholders. Getting your team members actively involved like this ensures this purpose remains in the front of their minds, and may also help manage the team’s work more effectively – after all, if no-one in the team can think of how a task adds value, should you really be spending time and resources on it at all?

3. Establish how your team members want to be managed

Every manager has a preferred way of communicating, managing, and supporting their team. But each team member has their preferred way of being managed, and being aware of this – and adjusting your managing style as appropriate – will help get the best out of every member of your team. If you call one person and say, "How are things?" they will see it as supportive, do the same to another and it’s micromanagement that will cause them stress. The easiest way to discover what management and communication style suits someone best? Ask them. By establishing rapport with each individual member of your team, you can create trusting and collaborative relationships that will allow you to discuss candidly and constructively how you can best support each team member to perform at (or very near) their best on a consistent basis.

4. Delegate effectively

Effective delegation has multiple benefits. For the team member given new responsibility, it is an expression of trust in their ability, as well as an opportunity for them to learn new skills, acquire new competencies, and develop self-confidence. For the manager, delegating tasks and projects allows you the time and mental space to focus on the things that only you can do. However, it is important not to delegate tasks simply to get out of them yourself – that isn’t delegation, it’s abdication. Delegation is providing the structure, clarity, support, and encouragement for your team member (or members) to do a great job. It is being crystal clear on the output to be achieved for your organisation, what resources are available, and what is the timescale for completion. When you delegate a task to someone, be there to support them when they need it – would they benefit from a weekly or twice-weekly catch up to review progress, obstacles, and opportunities? Or would they prefer a more relaxed approach, with the ability to discuss issues as and when they arise? Again, it comes back to having a collaborative discussion with your team members on how they are most effectively managed.

5. Manage your focus and priorities more effectively

How do you expect to manage a team effectively if you can’t manage yourself? You can’t support your team properly, delegate effectively, or deliver your expected outcomes if you allow yourself to become overwhelmed with all the tasks, projects, and people vying for your attention. Optimising your own effectiveness means being clear with your priorities and the steps needed to achieve those outputs, so you are not wasting valuable mental resources on tasks that do not create value. So each morning, before you sit down for your first meeting, or check your emails, take a moment to think “What are my key outputs for today? What can I do to move this project forward? How can I obtain feedback from my team members to ensure that I'm supporting them as best as I can?” Effective management of your own brain and what goes into it at the outset of the day will grant rewards in your focus throughout the workday – and the better you manage your priorities and focus, the better you will manage your team.

If you found these tips helpful, do watch out for our next post, where we will share the second half of our ten top tips for managing remote teams.

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