This article has been contributed by Sharon Koifman.
We’ve all heard that remote work is here to stay because of its uptake during the COVID-19 pandemic. And we’ve read about the tools we all should have and the importance of having a culture where distributed teams feel connected, among other aspects.
But have you ever wondered what not to do? What mistakes to avoid in your first experience managing a virtual team? Before COVID-19 took place as 2020’s protagonist, remote work grew at full speed with a 91% growth over the past 10 years. But even though there are millions of remote companies, there are many others who weren’t prepared to make the transition. And because of this, there is a vast number of first-time remote managers who aren’t sure how to lead their team in a virtual setting.
As the owner of DistantJob, a fully remote company, I’ve experienced remote management for more than 10 years. So I know what can go wrong… Here are the seven biggest mistakes you should avoid as a first-time remote manager.
1. Hiring the Wrong People
First lesson: Success doesn’t come only by hard work; it also happens when you have the right team working by your side.
This is why you should invest time and energy during the recruitment process. Make sure you are spending this time wisely. Otherwise, there is a higher percentage that you will make a bad hire that will cost you money and affect your team’s energy and morale.
Keep in mind that hiring the right people to be part of your team is not just about seeking candidates with a great CV (experience, education and knowledge). It’s also about the so-called “soft skills” and the passion that people have for what they do. Soft skills are especially necessary when hiring remote employees; you need to make sure employees communicate efficiently, are self-reliant and can deliver tasks on time (among other skills).
If you are wondering how to avoid hiring the wrong people, the answer is simple: Don’t take shortcuts on hiring procedures.
- Have a recruiting process and methodology
- Know what type of employee you want to have on your team.
It’s crucial to take the time to establish what skills you are looking for in a candidate and create strategies to know if a candidate will fit in your company’s culture. In other words, create a recruitment cheat sheet.
Remember, hiring is not about having a checklist and believing the person who fills it the most will be the best candidate. It’s about asking the right questions and knowing that a candidate is more than just a resume.
2. Lack of Efficient Communication
When you are leading a team remotely and don’t have the right communication tools and strategies, misunderstandings become your number one enemy. If you want to have the desired results, efficient communication has to be your priority. Make sure that as a manager, you set the ground rules from the start. This means, have clear guidelines on how communication will work on the team. For example:
- Where are meetings taking place? (Zoom, Hangouts, Skype…)
- How can they reach you? At what time?
- Emails are for ________?
- Instant messaging apps like Slack are for_____?
Also, avoid inefficient communication by having constant video calls to catch up with everyone’s work. And yes, video calls = camera on!
This is important because even though you can’t read body language in a remote setting, you can see facial expressions and connect better with your team. It doesn’t have to be daily, but weekly meetings can last less than an hour and still be incredibly productive. Besides, it’s a great way to boost communication and collaboration in your team.
3. Not Recognizing Employees Efforts
Recognized employees are happy employees. Appreciation, on a deeper level, is a fundamental need for humans. No one likes working hard, spending a lot of time and energy in a team where their work is ignored.
According to a SurveyMonkey and Bonusly survey, 63% of employees who are recognized are very unlikely to look for a new job. Not that you have to over-praise your employees, but if they are working hard, they should know that you appreciate their effort. If not, they will think their job isn’t valued and that they could eventually seek a better job.
Recognition goes hand in hand with constructive feedback. Part of your role as a leader is to make each member on your team grow. We all have our weak spots that sometimes we can’t see and we need someone to tell us, “Hey you could be much better at this.” It might not be the greatest feeling they get, but they’ll know you care about them and that you want to see them progress. Also, ask them for feedback on you and your management. This will help you improve and understand their perspective, which translates into a better team connection and transparent communication.
4. Micromanaging/Lack of Trust
All managers, whether remote or not, have micromanaged at one point in their lives. If a manager says they haven’t, they are probably lying. And when it comes to remote teams, this might be a challenge because you can’t use the sneak peek technique. You can’t go out of your office and glance at what employees are doing. As a remote manager, you’ll experience your inner micromanaging voice in your head saying, “Stop what you are doing and over control your employees because they are likely watching Netflix right now.” Get rid of that voice and start building trust in your team.
Every person is different, and everyone has a working flow. You could have employees that are indeed watching Netflix, but still, be working and delivering excellent results. Some employees love working while watching the sunrise with a cup of coffee, while others are owls working in the middle of the night.
Instead of controlling and trying to make robots that work from 9 to 5, begin trusting your team. If you have set ground rules, each member knows how the team and the company works and understands the culture and the processes involved. Plus, at the end of the day, remember: You hired them for a reason.
5. Taking ‘’Out of Sight, Out of Mind’’ Seriously
Working remotely has plenty of benefits, such as flexibility, happier employees, more productivity and less stress. But when leaders aren’t involved in their teams and demand results, there are often more downsides than benefits. Employees get frustrated with their jobs, feel lost and can be disconnected from the team.
Did you know that 20% of remote workers struggle with loneliness? Even though 20% is not the same as 70%, it is still a significant number. And loneliness not because they aren’t in an office full of people. But because their leader doesn’t seem to care about them, and the team isn’t fully connected one to another.
Caring about your team is about asking simple questions, such as, “How are you doing? Is everything okay?” Also, seeing how each employee is performing. Imagine having a kick-ass employee who always delivers on time and who overall does an excellent job. But this week they delay all their tasks and aren’t getting the results you thought they would. Instead of getting angry and demanding them to improve, make sure they’re okay. You never know if they could be having a personal problem or going through something difficult.
How can you fight this big mistake? Besides asking the simple questions above, always remind your team that you are there for them. And that if they are struggling with something, they can reach out to you instead of being afraid of you.
Being a manager isn’t about bossing around employees. It’s about leading your team and showing them the path to achieve your shared goals.
6. Forgetting About Virtual Water Coolers
Remote workers are more productive. They set their workflow, work when they are more productive, and don’t get distracted by office noises or coworkers. However, working at an office can have its benefits as well. For example, water coolers or coffee corners, are the perfect space for coworkers to meet, talk, share ideas and brainstorm about projects. Companies like Facebook or Google prioritize these spaces because of all their benefits and even have areas for employees to play video games or rooftops with spaces to sit and talk. First-time remote managers tend to think that because remote work is remote, these kinds of interactions aren’t possible. But this is entirely false and is entirely up to you.
Let me give you a perfect example of this. At DistantJob, we have installed the Donut application on Slack, whereby every Tuesday, employees are paired to share a virtual coffee. It’s the perfect opportunity for them to break their work routine and talk to their coworkers on the other side of the world.
You can also get creative and celebrate birthdays by Zoom or hold happy hour once a month after work. Or if your team is into video games, organize a gaming night! There are plenty of ways you can bond with your team and connect with each member.
7. Missing the Burnout Signs
We are currently dealing with the COVID-19 situation. Most countries around the world have been under lockdown at some stage, which means that employees with kids have had to change their routines, dealing with them all day long while working at the same time. Other employees are dealing with anxiety and struggle with their regular tasks. A survey by Blind found out that burnout is growing faster among remote workers because of the pandemic and quarantine situation.
Having employees who are continually experiencing burnout means they aren’t giving 100% and that eventually, they are likely to quit. This is something that all managers must be aware of, especially during the circumstances we are living in. As a virtual manager, your job should be to prevent those burnouts instead of dealing with them. This means that instead of waiting for an employee to collapse, give them the tools or strategies to fight the burnout monster.
The most efficient way of doing this is first by connecting with your team. Secondly (this is very important), be empathic. Understand that they could be excellent employees and give incredible results, but there are days they aren’t going to give all of what they have, and that is okay. Making them realize that you understand them, that you care about their wellbeing, will lead to preventing these burnouts.
Also, by encouraging them to have a work-life balance, employees will be less stressed. This means respecting their work schedule and not calling them at 2am or expecting them to work on weekends when they aren’t supposed to.
Want to be a Successful Remote Manager?
“Leadership is communicating other’s worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.” – Stephen Covey.
As a first-time remote manager, you’ve been given the opportunity to help others become better versions of themselves. Managers are not supposed to only demand results and be the enemy! Part of our job is to make sure we meet the goals and objectives we established from the beginning. But also, to help our team progress and believe in themselves.
Leading a remote team for the first time is challenging. You are getting out of your comfort zone to an unknown virtual zone that might be scary at first. And it’s more than normal to make mistakes, I mean, we are all humans! But the difference between bad managers and good managers is their power to learn lessons from those mistakes! Avoiding these 7 mistakes is fundamental for success, mainly because success is not a one-person achievement. It comes with the hard work of each person on the team.
About the author: Sharon Koifman is obsessed with remote work. Sharon currently runs Distant Job, a remote staffing agency from Canada specializing in finding full-time remote developers who work from all over the world.