7 Mistakes to Avoid as a New Remote Leader
If the recent events have turned you into a remote manager for the first time, you’re not alone. More than 500 million people have suddenly been catapulted into a full-remote setup due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes traditional businesses that previously scoffed at the idea of remote work.
Transition to remote is challenging, especially for managers who have never managed remote teams before. Through trial and error, experienced managers acquire leadership styles that they’re comfortable with. Remote work compels them to adapt, and fundamentally alter their habits.
There are 7 common mistakes that new remote leaders often make. Let’s take a look at them:
1. Not preparing a remote work plan
If you are feeling jittery going remote for the first time, think about your team. They would be nervous too. It’s important to prepare a plan and share it with the team to align them. The plan should include specific things that each member needs to do to ensure a smooth transition to remote work. It should also state things that need to be changed, now that you will no longer be on-site.
For example, going remote might alter your existing meeting schedule. It might change the approval process or feedback loop for some of the tasks. Proactively think of specific work engagements that would be affected and address them with your team.
Sharing a plan with your team would not only make collaboration easier but also provide confidence to your team that you’re on top of the challenge. Many managers dive into remote work believing they’ll improvise along the way. That’s a recipe for disaster.
2. Not standardizing your remote tools
There are a wide variety of tools available to help remote teams. They range from email, Slack (team messaging), and Zoom (video calling) to Taskworld (work tracking) and Google Docs (document collaboration). In the absence of a standardized policy, each person would start using the tools that they are familiar with. This would simply add to the chaos.
State which tools to use for which specific purpose. This would avoid tasks and important messages slipping through the cracks. You want to avoid situations when one person is waiting for a meeting on Zoom, another on Google Hangout, and the third simply sifting messages in Taskworld.
At Taskworld, we use our own tool for work tracking and messaging, Zoom for video calls, and Whatsapp for emergency communication. This setup works well for us. Explore a few tools to see what works best for your team and then standardize it.
3. Losing patience with your remote team
A common mistake that most new remote leaders make is having the same expectations from the team as before. This causes them to lose patience when mistakes happen.
Bear in mind that if the remote setup is new to your organization, your teammates would take some time to adapt to it. It’s unreasonable to expect that productivity wouldn’t drop. It might feel like your worst fears about remote work are coming true. It’s important to resist the temptation to become more controlling. Instead, trust your team 100% and tell them that you expect everyone to find the right cadence after a few hiccups.
You might find that not everyone in your team would naturally transition to remote work. Even some of your best performers might struggle initially. It’s important to trust them and mentor them whenever an opportunity arises.
Multiple studies have shown that remote work makes organizations more efficient. Support your team during the transition and you’ll start seeing the results soon.
4. Undermining little things that matter
Little things that can be ignored in-person become real game-changers in remote work. Ensure that your team follows some basic yet often overlooked aspects of remote communication, such as:
- Dressing appropriately for video calls – It shouldn’t seem that people are on call straight out of their beds. This affects the energy of the entire group.
- Having a fast and stable internet connection – Give people the freedom to work from anywhere they want, as long as they have stable and fast internet access. You don’t want situations when people are on the beach and have to reconnect 3 times in a 30 min call.
- Having access to proper audio equipment – Laptops usually don’t have state of the art built-in microphones. There are plenty of external microphones that can significantly boost the audio quality in video calls. It makes sense for organizations to invest in it.
- Timezone management – In 100% distributed teams, it’s important to have one timezone that everyone uses to schedule meetings. All remote employees should be available for calls in the work hours of this timezone.
When you embrace remote work, these things no longer remain an afterthought. Employees are responsible for creating an environment that’s conducive to collaboration.
5. Trying to overcompensate for physical distance
When you don’t see your team’s faces every day, it’s easy to feel you have lost touch and aren’t “connected” enough. This leads to a lot of remote managers overcompensating by latching on to every opportunity to call their team. This results in many meetings that could have been simple emails. Occasionally it might lead to unnecessary workshops whose sole purpose is to make people communicate with each other.
Although such initiatives come from the right intentions and genuine care for the team, they can end up wasting a lot of time. Using a collaboration tool reduces the need for frequent meetings and calls as they help your team keep track of priorities and important updates.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that it’s not important to talk to your team and see their faces. Simply be careful of how frequently you do that.
6. Panicking when you’re not busy
Remote work makes it harder to do management by wandering around (MBWA) and hold impromptu meetings. It also reduces micromanagement and follow-up meetings if the entire team is using a collaboration/work tracking tool. This means that managers often find themselves with more time than they’d expect while leading a remote team.
If you find yourself in the same situation, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t doing enough. This extra time is one of the many benefits of remote work. It’s a testimony to the fact that we waste a lot of time in the office on unproductive tasks.
Use this time for something all managers want to do more of – strategic thinking. Look at the existing processes and find areas to improve. See how you can improve collaboration with other departments. Try to anticipate business conditions in the upcoming quarters and plan new initiatives.
7. Confusing flexibility with encroaching personal space
No matter what the setup for remote work is, it does come with flexibility for most teams. People can plan their workday around when they’re most productive.
This makes it harder to switch off from work. To help your team, establish core hours where everyone is supposed to be responsive to messages, calls, and meeting requests. Outside of those hours, don’t expect the team to be available for work unless there’s an emergency. As a manager when you set this precedent, it will trickle down to your team as well. Gradually everyone would get more sensitive towards each other’s private time.
To be productive, it’s important that your team gets quality time away from work to relax. When managers are mindful of this, the team is more likely to be supportive during crunch times at work.