Managing a remote team might be an entirely new concept for you. Because of COVID-19, many of us are working from home full-time, for the first time, and will be doing that for the foreseeable future. At Storj Labs, most of our team is already remote—we have employees in 26 different states and 13 different countries, so remote work and managing remote teams isn't a new concept for us. We currently have three satellite offices, but coming into the office is optional. With that said, we'd like to share what we've learned over the years of managing remote teams with people who may be relatively new to the concept because of the pandemic.
What is Remote First?
You may have heard a lot about remote-first teams recently. In case you don't know what that means, we'll explain. Remote first means that the company's organization complements working in remote environments. All information is shared online. There are processes to ensure that remote employees are not unintentionally treated as second-class citizens. All meetings take place over video chat with the ability to record if needed, even if the majority of attendees are in the same office—Slack, Zoom, and confluence are go-to tools in our remote-first workplace. You can read more about remote-first work cultures in a previous blog in this series.
Here are a few examples of some challenges remote managers might face, as well as solutions.
Challenge #1: Productivity anxiety
If you're managing a team remotely, you may worry your direct reports aren't working, or that they're not getting their work done efficiently. You can't just pop by their desk to see if they're looking at their Twitter feed. Rather than assessing productivity based on how many hours someone is at their desk, remote working lends itself to naturally evaluating your team members based on their work output, regardless of how much or how little time someone spends completing a task. In our opinion, this is a much better way of measuring productivity, because at the end of the day, who cares about the number of hours clocked as long as the work gets done well.
You can also add more accountability from both the managerial side and the employee side with goal setting. We're somewhat new to goal setting ourselves, but here are a few things we've learned.
- Do the goals being set tie to personal/professional development and growth, or are they solely focused on objectives and key results (OKRS)? It's important to strike a balance between the two for an employee to feel that their goals aren't tied exclusively to one thing.
- Use goal-setting as a way to address deeper issues regarding a person's personal work experience. As we said, it's important to focus on OKRS, but strike a balance. For example, encourage your employees to block off time for "family" or "personal" time. If your direct report is experiencing stress from working at home with kids present, seeing "personal time" or something similar on their calendar will remind others that this time should not be interrupted. Being able to strike a balance between work and home will be key in making sure your employees are more productive and can achieve their goals.
Challenge #2: Distractions
Unfortunately, working from home brings a whole new set of distractions that aren't ideal for work environments. Whether it's family members, pets, bad internet, a comfy hammock calling your name, your favorite TV show, or video games—there are a lot of distractions you probably wouldn't have in an office setting. The first place to start is to try and create an actual workspace. If your company offers computers, desks, or other office supplies, that's a great place to start. A dedicated workspace will help an employee feel more focused and less apt to be distracted by the trappings of "home." \\It's also important to remember if your employee is working from home, they may need a little more flexibility than an in-office situation. Your staff may need to tend to pets, pick up children from school, take care of family members who are ill or elderly, and more. Be more flexible with their schedules as long as they communicate these needs clearly with teammates and fulfill their project commitments.
Challenge #3: Communication (or lack thereof)
When you don't see your teammates and managers every day, employees may struggle with seemingly less access to managerial support, accountability, and overall communication. They may also feel they are missing out on important information that was only communicated in a meeting they weren't in, or between people "at the water cooler." Also, cultural differences and language barriers could be a concern depending on your organization.
The most important step you can take as a manager is to build trust by communicating more often. Check-in daily to see if you can support your team's efforts, or try to facilitate communication between employees if necessary. Make sure to listen and ask questions that help people feel comfortable to open up about matters that might not be going well. If they are feeling isolated, make sure to acknowledge any feelings of isolation your team members may express.
Another solid idea is to have more frequent 1:1 meetings. We suggest weekly or bi-weekly depending on the need. During 1:1 meetings allow time for communication about personal experiences, and make sure to remind people it's ok to take a break and address family needs, personal needs, or take a mental health break—work is important, but burnout is real, so be flexible. During 1:1 meetings, establish team norms. Set ground rules around availability, Slack messages, and make sure to gain clarity around when someone is available or away focusing on work they don't need to be interrupted. As a manager, you can help set the tone by not slacking people late at night, or even displaying work hours for different time zones if your workforce is in different countries.
Besides 1:1 meetings, it's vital to try and establish a work culture and build relationships with the people you manage. It's much harder to do when you don't see each other every day, but we've found a few ways around in-person interactions and team building. Host a monthly social hour during work hours via Zoom, Google Meetings, or your preferred online meeting method. During this time, just let people chat, play games, share a beverage online, whatever. The important thing is to socialize and try not to talk shop. Another effective way to help people feel more involved is to hold quarterly all-company meetings. At Storj, we generally bring the whole company together from all over the world to gather and interact, learn and solve problems. Obviously, we can't do this at the moment, but even having an online all-hands lets everyone, in every department, gather together, see and speak with one another, and feel like they are part of a community.
This pandemic won't last forever, but we hope that during this time of increased remote work, these tips will foster a better online culture for your workforce. We're still learning, like the rest of you, but we did feel we had a little bit of a leg up on the whole remote thing since many of us have been doing it for years.\\This blog is a part of a series on remote work. In this series, we share examples of how we address remote work at Storj Labs, where the majority of our team works remotely. To view the rest of the blogs in this series, visit: https://storj.io/blog/categories/remote-work.