There are three varieties of management: managing yourself, managing up and managing down. Much of this site is dedicated to managing yourself as a remote worker, helping you set yourself up for success. Managing up is making sure the work you do is visible to your managers and that you are a passionate advocate for your own professional advancement. There’s also traditional management, or managing down.
Do you think of yourself when you think of the term “management”? If you’re an individual contributor and don’t have anyone reporting to you, it’s tempting to think that management is not in your list of job responsibilities. However, it’s so critical that as an remote worker, with or without direct reports, that you manage “up” to your managers.
It’s difficult to be visible when you’re a remote worker. That’s why you have to be a passionate advocate for yourself. This is the only way you’ll counter the “out of sight, out of mind” realities that remote work reinforces.
Make your contributions heard. I send a summary of my weekly accomplishments to my broader team. They find out what I’m working on and have an opportunity to raise questions about things that may impact them. If I have done something for someone outside my group, I share that with my team and manager, too. Bonus points if you get a “thank you letter” from another group’s leadership or from a client for going above and beyond. I forward those correspondences to my manager and file them away in a “Kudos” folder for annual review time.
Advocate for your professional advancement. Strive to grow and learn, regardless of your tenure. Rarely are these opportunities given to you; you have to seek them out! I’ve rarely asked for professional development opportunities and been denied. Employers are happy to learn that their employees are thirsty for more knowledge, as it can only benefit them in the long run. They’ll have a more satisfied employee and you’ll gain new skills you can apply on the job. Opportunities abound with online learning libraries, professional development, conferences and seminars.
Ask to be involved. If you’d like to be involved with a new project that’s starting up, ask if you can work on it. If people are scheduling a meeting, or you catch wind of a meeting that you should be at but aren’t, chances are it’s an oversight. Ask to be added to the invitation list, and then contribute to the conversation once you’re there. Once you have several of these interactions under your belt, you’ll find you need to be less proactive over time to be included.
Make the most of travel. I’ve found that travel is less a time for work and more a time for networking. Make a point to be introduced to senior managers and other colleagues you’re not exposed to in your daily routines. When you’re a remote worker, you don’t get to have those random encounters with people in the hallway or pantry. Make the most of your physical time together and it’ll pay dividends when you’re back in your home office.
When you’re responsible for a geographically-diverse team, it can be tough to gauge how the team is doing when you’re not physically there and able to have casual interactions and have lunch or a drink together. Finding common meeting times is challenging with different time zones, and full days of productivity can be lost due to misunderstandings or late feedback.
You can succeed with healthy doses of communication, mutual respect and a climate where geography does not inhibit collaboration. As a remote manager, you’ll be better off if you can be supportive, direct, honest, knowledgeable and trustworthy.
Since you’re seldom face-to-face with your team, you must rely on voice, email and chat. If possible, physically meet the people on your team and establish some rapport. It’ll ease future virtual interactions, as you’ll understand the background and personality of the person you’re talking to. Make an effort to get to know each person as an individual. We’re not all comedians, but humor can go a long way in establishing rapport. Have fun with each other. Joking about a shared experience, especially work-related, is a great way to forge a relationship.
Meet as a Group
Your team may communicate in group settings and one-on-one. Try to be cognizant of the inefficiencies of meetings, and start and end them on time (or early). For update-oriented meetings, where people take turns sharing, try having them share their updates in a random order. With a predictable order, people tune out unless it’s their turn. The randomness can ensure they’re on their toes. When you have a conference room full of people with a few remote participants, it can seem to create this dichotomy of “people in the room” vs. “people on the phone”. If everyone is remotely dialed in and screensharing, there’s no such dichotomy and a sense of equality. If you do have multiple people in the room, be aware of this as you run the meeting.
Your role as a manager is primarily to communicate. Through one-on-one meetings at least weekly with your direct reports, you can find out what anyone is working on at any particular moment. Not to a micromanagement level, mind you, but as a manager you should be aware of what’s “in flight” with your team. Then you can be prepared to answer accurately when you’re asked what your team is working on.
Conduct the Orchestra
I liken management to conducting an orchestra: as the conductor, you should know the music and the players so well that you can point to a section (oboes, trumpets, percussion!) at any time and know what they’re supposed to be doing. However, conductors never hop off their perch and rush into a section to start playing along (or worse, replacing a musician) when a composition could be better.
Don’t micromanage: trust your team to do the right thing and give them the tools to do it. Trust, but verify. It’s your responsibility to know what’s going on, but not your responsibility to take all creative license and ownership away from the team by micromanaging them as they work. Also, don’t have meetings for meeting’s sake. Meetings should be about collaboration, not “telling people things.” Continuing the orchestra analogy, you don’t assemble the orchestra and then not have them play. Send them an email instead!
I made sure my team knew that part of my job was to clear roadblocks. I made sure they knew they could come to me with any problem. I never wanted to learn about an issue after the opportunity to correct it had passed. I gave my own managers the same courtesy: if there was a problem that I couldn’t handle on my own, I’d involve them early in their role as roadblock-clearers.
As the manager of a team, you’re less likely to be an individual contributor yourself. Most of the work that you’ll be sharing with your managers is not your own: it was done by someone on your team. Give people on your team the opportunity to shine: have them present their work in meetings where senior managers are present. Don’t take credit for their work! You may be the manager, and may have helped create the climate for your team to work, but they actually did it. People likely lifted you up and gave you opportunities to be visible for you to get where you are. Now it’s your turn to pay it forward.
You must give your team constructive feedback, and do it in such a way that it builds them up and makes them stronger. People are your greatest asset. You have to believe in your feedback, too. It needs to come from a place of honesty, and a genuine intent to help the person grow, not cut the person down. The feedback must be given with regularity, too, not just at annual review time. We’ve all been there: getting no feedback is no picnic.
The phrase “I always have an open door” is often repeated by managers in an office. It means you can get in touch with them easily, for whatever reason! In my experience, the doors are open, but nobody’s home. They’re so busy with meetings outside of their office that they’re never there. Their email overflows and they don’t respond to instant messages or voicemails. Don’t be that person. Be available for your team.
As a remote manager, there’s no visual cue for your team to know if you’re available or not. You need to institute a culture where they know if they call you, email you or start a chat with you, you’re there and responsive. Be friendly and approachable, too. You want your team to feel like they can share opinions without fear of the consequences; to share personal details and discover, with delight, that they’re not alone; to realize that their manager or peer has fears, dreams and hopes just like they do.
Don’t throw your team under the bus. The buck stops with you. I’ve seen plenty of managers face down criticism of something their team did with classic deflection. There’s always an excuse – a mitigating circumstance – but in your managerial role, you cannot go further than yourself. When reflecting on something that didn’t go quite right, think about what role you played. What could you have done differently to result in a different outcome, despite the fact that the actual blunder was caused by one of your team, or an external factor? Chances are you can identify several things that you directly influenced (or could have influenced) and can learn from them.
Stick to the Plan
Be organized and play the long game. Have a clear vision. Reactionary bosses create a lot of stress around them. If you have a plan and make everyone aware of the plan, things go more smoothly. Ignoring timeframes, having urgent meetings and tolerating last-minute changes will lead to a lack of morale and the sense that most of the work will be thrown away.
Have the Tough Conversations
Things won’t be all sunshine and roses. People will have issues that have little bearing on the actual work they’re assigned to do. That’s why it is important to manage the person, not the work. By focusing on the individual, I think most of the time I was told the truth. I never felt like I was duped by an employee: when there was a family emergency or medical issue, it was legitimate. When employees are more disengaged or feel disenfranchised, they will attempt to deceive you more often. If someone is having an issue in their personal life that’s affecting their work, see if they’ll open up to you. There may be something you can do for them to help, either through an HR-provided support resource, a benefit like flex time, or just talking through options as if you were talking to a friend. However, there are times when rapport and communication will fail you. I had one such experience with an employee who was taking advantage of the team. They were not being a team player, missing deadlines and constantly griping about everything. If you have a toxic presence on your team, take action. Too many teams are held down by someone who isn’t pulling their weight and the manager doesn’t take action. It’s best to address those issues head on within the constraints of what your Human Resources team will allow.