I started helping companies figure out how to manage employees remotely in the late ‘90s.
The reasons were clear: It saved time, saved money, and improved the potential hiring pool because no longer would a company be limited to talent based on proximity alone. Well, welcome to 2020 and the millions of people working remotely for managers who haven’t once trained or much considered how to be a boss from afar.
The Problem with Managing Remote Workers
Managers are worried because they don’t have any real systems or tools in place, and they can easily envision a day when deadlines fall all over the floor and they (the managers) can’t explain clearly enough what their remote teams are doing or not doing to fix the challenge.
It’s a reasonable fear.
But the solution is NOT to bury someone in project management software hell. In fact, there are so many ways to do this wrong that an entire league of management consultants exist just to fix all the bad choices managers are doomed to make in moments like these.
Managing Remotely Is About Facilitation – Not Control
The goal of management in general is to help your team accomplish their tasks. You facilitate them. Your goal is to make their work environment as fluid and frictionless as possible. You exist to block other teams from interfering with your people. You profit when your team accomplishes their tasks and projects are completed on time and within budget. And it’s your job to know enough about all that’s going on to keep your boss in the loop, but MOSTLY to the tune of “we’ve got this” or “we’re slipping a bit.”
Tracking hours isn’t the answer period. That’s primitive. It’s not even worth a paragraph, but oh, here we are.
Tracking projects and flow is important, but so much software is built in a way to become a job unto itself. Systems that require 20% of a person’s daily attention to keep populated means that you’re eating more than an hour and a half of every eight-hour workday just filling in an app. That’s almost a full day EVERY WEEK lost to “productivity tools.”
What do you really need from your team? Status updates. Deliverables. Adherence to the deadline being the deadline.
What do they need from you? Assistance in clearing roadblocks. Resources when deadlines can’t be met. Support when challenges interfere with clear-cut experience.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” - Mike Tyson
There are some software tools that do this better than not. I’m very biased (I’ve had past business experiences) about Workfront as a tool because it’s built to allow input from a lot of other tools. One person wants to use Slack and another wants to use MS Project? Perfect. It all threads in. That’s the kind of tool your team needs because it means no one has to change their existing habits in terms of software.
There are other products out there to evaluate, and this post isn’t about software, but keep the essential detail: Flexible tools mean easier input and fewer hours wasted on accountability.
What is useful are small and simple status updates. In Slack or email or Teams or whatever everyone uses, send twice daily updates on projects. Keep the flow going. Workers be clear on if you’re ahead or behind or on time. Red/yellow/green works well.
Further, have brief meetings, not more meetings. An hour isn’t the universal meeting unit of measurement and nor is 30 minutes. Do 20. 15. 10. You’ll be amazed how much people can transfer in 10 minutes if you keep the status updates sharp. If someone’s part in that meeting requires more than a whole ten minutes, that’s an offline 1-on-1 call, not meeting material.
Above All Else, Facilitate Success
The tools won’t save you. Communication will.
Everyone has been gifted more time by removing their commute and all that entails. Don’t fill it back up with monotony. Lead these people to success by facilitating their interactions and give them all that extra time to do even better, more thorough work.
Treat your team like the winners they are.
You manage the best to deliver incredible results for a company that trusts your leadership. Make sure you preserve that reputation by keeping your team rolling forward.
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