5 line manager strategies to help you become more effective with your remote team

The widespread shift to remote working has arguably been one of the biggest leadership and management challenges to face today’s leaders for several years. And as big a challenge as this is on its own, the problems intensify when organisations begin to implement hybrid models, resulting in some employees working from home, and others from the office. For many, remote just isn’t working. 

The truth is that remote working has never been easy, even prior to the pandemic. Back in 2013, former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer sent a memo to all employees stating that the remote working policies that were in place would be removed, ending her message by saying ‘we need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together’. 

IBM followed suit, with CMO Michelle Peluso stating that ‘it’s really time for us to start bringing our teams together, more shoulder to shoulder’. And if IBM - a company that builds the very infrastructure needed to facilitate remote working - can’t make it happen, then no organisation should feel bad for struggling with the remote revolution. 

But today’s leaders have little choice but to do everything they can to make it work. Today, people don’t want to - or can’t -  work from the office, so taking the easy way out and banning remote working simply isn’t an option any more. Instead, leaders must make the effort to implement new strategies that maximise the potential of remote and commit to building culture in remote teams

Here are five simple line manager strategies for helping you to become more effective and efficient when leading a remote team - or a hybrid team - through to success:

1. Focus on People

Previously, many managers have primarily been focused on production. Today, in a remote working world, managers need to shift their strategy to focus on their people by adopting a more connected or humanistic management style

Building, developing, and maintaining relationships must be the very foundation on which processes are created, working to generate a level of emotional security and safety that enables teams to work productively without the in-person support and collaboration networks that were once the cornerstone of success. Managers need to communicate a shared vision, facilitate discussion, and get to know their people. 

The global pandemic means some members of your team could be struggling with feelings of isolation, unhappiness and stress; it is the connected managers responsibility to acknowledge and contain those emotions within the group, offering positivity, clarity and clear direction to maintain productivity, nurture agility and drive connectedness. 

Culture is particularly important to people in remote or dispersed teams. When it isn’t possible to meet physically, there is a danger that culture can be eroded, leading to disjointed and disengaged silos. Actively taking measures to reinforce culture – such as by referring to it when praising individuals, conducting onboarding sessions, annual performance reviews and remote meetings – can negate this risk and further drive improved energy and engagement.

2. Focus on Individualism

This is a vital strategy not only in terms of being more effective with your remote team, but also in terms of being more effective with a hybrid team. One of the main reasons why remote working experiments fail is because a standardised, blanket approach is used for every remote worker. Every good manager knows just how important it is to adapt their in-office approach to each individual member of the team, so why are so many using a single approach for remote workers rather than a more humanistic management style that recognises each individual? Now more than ever, leaders need to figure out what works for individuals, and tailor their approach rapidly to suit. 

3. Focus on Flexibility

Teams need structure. Whether it’s a team hierarchy that ensures employees know who to turn to when they need support, or day-to-day schedules that keep everyone on track, structure is a critical part of workplace success and culture. But this level of rigidity doesn’t always translate well to remote working environments. While it can be difficult to shift from a highly structured way of working to one that’s more ambiguous, a focus on flexibility can significantly increase productivity and efficiency. It encourages cross-team communication, encourages remote work collaboration and makes vital support more readily available. 

4. Focus on Trust

According to Gartner, one of the reasons why managers are ineffective at leading remote teams is because a ‘mutual lack of trust undermines remote work good intentions’. A new trust-based strategy is what’s needed to boost the effectiveness of remote working - and remote leadership - with managers trusting that their employees are behaving responsibly, and team members trusting that their manager has their best interests at heart. In order to build trust in remote teams, it’s important for managers to empower their employees to achieve their best through a greater sense of autonomy.

5. Focus on Digital

In the office, the ‘how’ is often less important than the ‘what’. For example, the journey that your team took to achieve the end result is ultimately - in the eyes of the board, at least - less important than the overall outcome. But maintaining this approach with a remote team can mean that managers aren’t leading in a way that drives the best results. Remote working is not the same as working from an office. If your team isn’t currently using digital technologies - video conferencing, file sharing, and so on - then a strategy rooted in technology is essential for optimising performance and productivity. 

Making it Work

Even though some of the world’s biggest companies have failed in their remote working experiments, that doesn’t mean that remote working can’t be beneficial. Remote working fails because companies don’t invest the time or the resources into coaching, training, and developing leaders that have the skills and knowledge needed to create strategies that ensure they manage with effectiveness and efficiency, every day. 

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