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Managing in a Remote Environment

While the world was already trending towards a more remote-friendly work structure, the 2020 pandemic propelled the adaptation much more quickly than it may have been projected. We’re now settling into our hybrid work environments and adapting to new ways of managing our employees.

For most people, the phrase “managing our employees” in and of itself is a turnoff. We tend to shun anything related to management as automatically and categorically “micro-management” – which is a dirty word for most people. No one wants to be hovered over, or pigeon-holed into mindless processes that require little creative or critical thinking. At the same time, managerial layers are put into place within organizations to create efficiencies and clear accountabilities which are necessary components for success in all facets of collaboration.

So how do managers actually “manage” in a world where their employees are frequently only reachable by phone, text, email, or Zoom?

I’ve found two key concepts to be critical for managing my team. Early on in each person’s tenure, I make it very clear that I have two distinct expectations.

  1. We are flexible, but not at the expense of being accountable.
  2. We are casual, but not at the expense of being professional.

Being flexible in our work environment means that we can allow for doctor’s appointments, kid’s carpool, a long lunch break, and even a mid-day workout on any given day or week of an employee’s time. This flexibility is essential and easy to accommodate in many (not all) work environments. This flexibility does not relieve an employee of their responsibility to work the agreed-upon number of hours each week, month, or year. It also does not mean that working off-hours (when the majority of their colleagues and clients are offline) is efficient or productive. It can be the opposite because it restricts their ability to be collaborative. As a manager of remote employees, it’s important to encourage them to lean into their managers as well as their peers during the hours most employees are available.

Working in a casual environment equates to the infamous mullet descriptor—business in the front, party in the back. We can allow our teams to wear flip flops and sneakers, or to work at their standing desk while they balance on their balance board, as long as when the zoom cameras are on there is no evidence of the chaos outside of the 1’ x 1’ view.  We’ve even made that digital view manageable with virtual backgrounds and background noise control settings.  Encouraging teams to utilize all of these options is to everyone’s advantage, but make no mistake, whether their background is a virtual library or an actual office setting, their undivided attention and focus is a must-have for meetings. While everyone accepts and enjoys the occasional and unplanned pop-in, children and pets should not be present during meetings. It is also imperative to always be camera-ready, even if no one ends up turning on their cameras. These simple things demonstrate to clients and colleagues that the time with them is important, and everyone is prepared.

These are easy things for any manager to communicate to their employee. We all want permission and autonomy to work and self-manage our time and tasks. And it’s always better to set these expectations clearly and early as opposed to after they’ve become an issue. Ultimately, the goal of every manager is to equip their team for their own personal success! 

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