Being a manager is tough, especially when you have to suddenly—and quickly—help your team transition from an office environment to a work from home environment. You may never have thought about how to manage a remote team. Now, not only has your day-to-day work probably changed, but now the way in which you and your team get the work done and interact with each other is completely different.
Being remote isn’t better or worse. It’s just different. That's why proactively finding ways to connect and collaborate with teammates is that much more important, as is taking the time to reevaluate your managing style and what your team's needs are.
That’s where these three guiding concepts, created by Joshua Zerkel, Head of Global Community at Asana, come in. As a Certified Professional Organizer and manager who has recently made the same change—from working in an office to suddenly working from home—his personal experience helped shape his concepts around being a remote manager.
Here are Joshua’s three tips for successfully managing a collaborative remote team:
Having clarity is about ensuring everyone on your team knows what the team priorities are and how to work towards them, together.
Even in a traditional office setting, it can be difficult to ensure everyone on the team is clear about larger goals and individual priorities. So when you're leading a dispersed team, defining, articulating, and maintaining clarity are particularly important.
Solution: Every week, have each person on your team document their priorities in a shared document or Asana task. Establish a short weekly standup meeting in which everyone briefly goes over their priorities while hearing others'.
The added layer of sharing plans amongst the team can spark new ideas and connect them on potential collaborations, setting expectations for the week. As a manager, it's a time where you can offer guidance and get a pulse check on team bandwidth, blockers, and achievements.
In an office, you have lots of opportunities to connect in person with colleagues next to your desk or down the hallway.
But working remotely, it can be difficult to know where and how to set communication norms and conventions. When should you call a meeting versus message? Which communications should be in email, versus Slack, versus Asana? Inconsistent communications and practices can cause confusion and frustration on your team.
Solution: Set guidelines for what each communication channel is for—and document those guidelines in an easy to find place to reference back on or give to new team members when they join.
What should these guidelines look like? It depends on which tools your team prefers to use. For example, at Asana, Slack is used for chit chat and one-off questions, while Asana is used for longer, action oriented discussions and collaboration. Email is only used for communicating with external vendors or partners. Once you’ve established guidelines, err on the side of over-communication until your team starts to hit its stride.
Plus, don’t forget to make time to just hang out! Set up remote lunches or coffee chats without an agenda so people can talk and build camaraderie. Throw in some emojis or GIFs to convey emotion that can be harder to discern through text. Working remotely can be isolating, and finding time to hang out as a team is an important part of bonding.
While working together, colleagues often take breaks at the same time, share meals, and get cues from others about when to call it a day.
But working from home can blur the lines between personal and professional life. Suddenly, that pile of laundry is just itching to get folded, or you have to leave a meeting to tutor your kids in Spanish.
Solution: Determine what everyone’s working hours will be, and indicate these hours on a calendar or as a status where everyone can see. Depending on the nature of your work, time zones, and meeting culture, you can decide what's reasonable and when schedules need to overlap or not.
Make sure you encourage your team to take breaks throughout the day. Sometimes it’s easy to sit down in the morning and only stand up once or twice the entire day. When people don’t have the natural distractions of coworkers (or a dog who needs a walk or kids who need to be cared for) it’s easy to hunker down.
Finally, create a shared doc or Asana project where your team can share and collect work from home tips with each other. Every team will have different ways of operating, so having a library of tips from people in the same boat can be useful to share around your organization.
As the old adage goes, practice makes permanence. Good news is, if you establish clarity, determine communication conventions, and set a clear schedule and cadence, most likely your remote team will adapt well to those policies and become remote collaboration masters.
In the end, these three concepts for successful remote collaboration also translate well in an office environment. Whether your team is permanently dispersed or will be back in the office one day, being remote can be a good time to think about how you manage your team and create new habits.
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