Career & Jobs

5 Top Secrets Behind Being An Effective Remote Manager

Since March 2020, when Covid-19 shut down many offices and gave companies a stiff push into the remote-first work era, various studies have indicated that productivity is not much different from before. Daily check-ins, frequent remote social interactions and an outpouring of social support and connection were tactics remote managers used at the onset of the pandemic to connect with their teams. But two and a half years later, remote managers continue to struggle leading remote and hybrid teams—as evidenced by trends like “quiet quitting” and “quiet firing”—catching fire and the workforce suffering from low engagement and retention rates. A recent Microsoft study found that 85% of leaders say the shift to hybrid work has challenged their confidence that employees are being productive. And as companies use technology to track employee activity, it has led to “productivity paranoia.” So how can leaders figure out how to become better remote-first and hybrid managers once and for all?

Widespread remote work upended the traditional idea of the “workplace as a place,” especially for employees in the tech industry who generally don’t need to be in the office five days a week, according to Joe Du Bey, co-founder and CEO of Eden, the all-in-one HR and workplace experience platform that helps companies run smoothly. Their survey of 1,000 tech employees found that 84% of respondents said hybrid work was their top preference. In fact, when asked why workers stay in their current roles, flexibility ranked higher than pay. Yet, Du Bey readily admits that studies consistently show this new normal comes with a serious engagement problem.

He told me that when his company first went remote-first in March 2020, they did not have a system in place to manage remote team members effectively. They were used to seeing each other daily in an office, and their “town hall” had been the physical location at their San Francisco headquarters. “Like so many companies, our prior work policies did not work well in a remote-first world,” Du Bey said. “So we had to change some norms and add new tools to enable remote team success.”

Du Bey described how his company started by developing a strong writing culture. Any meaningful project was required to have a written overview before it started in order to level information access for both remote and in-person colleagues. While they have kept their San Francisco office open, their “town hall” went from a physical location to a digital one. At the same time, they established a new set of tools to enable success for their employees in a remote-first reality. “Beyond extensive writing in Notion and Slack, we started leveraging tools like Zoom and Loom to make it easy for video chats and instruction,” he said. “We found it wasn’t quite enough, so we got to work and built our own software to create tools for hybrid office management such as our desk booking product and people success suite of tools to make it easy to do performance reviews, employee surveys, and even manager and direct report one-on-ones.”

From his experience at Eden, Du Bey learned that unless managers pay attention to fully remote workers, it can lead to a lack of information flow and missed opportunities to build critical relationships. He highlights five strategies that are essential to provide equal advantages to remote-first workers that in-person employees enjoy:

  1. Execute performance management processes that capture 360 degree feedback so managers know how a remote-first colleague might be positively or negatively impacting others and that they do not suffer from “out of sight, out of mind” or get shortchanged for their accomplishments.
  2. Establish frequent check-ins so that critical information flow goes to the right people and there are opportunities to build relationships with senior team members to compensate for the loss of proximity in the office.
  3. Mitigate “proximity bias” in which in-person workers get extra career advantages than remote workers because they form close interpersonal relationships onsite and their contributions are more observable.
  4. Provide praise and constructive feedback on a rolling basis throughout the year to shape a remote team member’s professional development in a seamless way.
  5. Capture feedback from remote employees about the company, typically in the shape of long-form engagement surveys or shorter pulse surveys, so that the company can remedy any issues that are negatively impacting the remote worker experience.

The earlier Microsoft study found that “productivity paranoia” risks make hybrid and remote-first work unsustainable, recommending that leaders make three pivots to create a more sustainable remote work culture: (1) end “productivity paranoia” by not worrying about whether employees are working enough and helping them focus on the work that is most important (2) make concerted efforts to rebuild social capital and strengthen team bonds by bringing workers back to the office for in-person time (3) re-recruit employees by prioritizing learning and development and bringing the right resources into the flow of work to close the skills gap and help both workers and the business grow.

Perhaps the most challenging secret sauce in building a sustainable remote-first work culture is winning employee trust and loyalty, Du Bey concludes. “The hardest thing about managing remote employees is building rapport, trust and engagement,” he says. “This is important since employees who are less engaged are much less likely to be retained, and an environment where work becomes more transactional is bad for a company’s culture and long-term performance.”

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