To say that COVID-19 accelerated the remote work movement would be a massive understatement. Within just a few months, most employers shifted their entire workforce from offices to homes, with little to no prior experience from bosses and employees alike. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella puts it, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”
As businesses reopen, though, remote work isn’t going away for many workers. A recent Gartner survey of 317 CFOs revealed that 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work post-COVID-19. Nearly a quarter of those plan to move 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.
Organizations that are reopening plan to adopt several return-to-work strategies, including flexible schedules, rotating employees, and permanently remote workers (see: 4 Ways Organizations Are Preparing for the New Normal). This makes sense from a safety perspective. Until a coronavirus vaccine is developed, organizations want to avoid cramming employees into offices and jeopardizing employees’ health.
At the same time, the massive work-from-home experiment has proved unequivocally successful. Remote work has allowed organizations to continue business operations and save millions of jobs in the US. Some companies, especially in Big Tech, have even thrived during the pandemic compared to companies in other industries. If anything, COVID helped cast aside the stigma of remote work.
Remote work is here to stay
Now that leaders are planning their short and long-term business recovery strategies, it’s likely that distributed teams will become the norm, at least for the short term while vaccines are developed. Tapping into remote employees’ potentials will be key to driving innovation and positive business outcomes, and it’s up to managers to make it happen.
If your organization wants to maximize the potential of its remote workforce, hiring new managers or training existing ones for remote management might be on the table. Here are several qualities they should exhibit to excel at their jobs:
1. Trust in employees
When COVID-19 sent millions of workers home, many managers didn’t know how to adapt to the culture change. As a result, they managed their remote employees the same way they would in the office. For example, some managers don’t trust their employees to work productively from home and constantly pester to keep an eye on them. What’s worse, some managers have even resorted to surveillance tools to monitor employee output. It goes without saying that micromanaging remote workers is a recipe for disaster, and good managers are well aware of this.
Good remote team managers trust their employees to work proactively without close supervision. Managers can assign tasks or allow remote employees to proactively seek out work, only stepping in if productivity declines. This not only lowers friction in remote teams, but also demonstrates to employees that their managers recognize their self-motivation.
2. Good communication
It’s easy for employees in distributed teams to slowly drift into their own silos. Without external forces, remote employees often default to working alone instead of collaborating, leading to mistakes such as repeat assignments and lower-quality work.
The best remote team managers break down remote employee silos by facilitating communication at every level. Frequent check-in meetings to discuss hurdles, team messaging groups that encourage team communication, and even virtual happy hour meetings are excellent ways to build strong relationships and simplify communication. Managers also proactively reach out to help remote employees overcome hurdles and push projects forward.
Tools like unified communications make this task a lot easier for remote managers. By combining team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single platform, managers and employees can easily reach colleagues using any form of communication they prefer. No need to switch between several, disparate apps just to engage in professional and personal conversations.
3. A positive demeanor
Remote work turns traditional work habits upside down—it’s not surprising that many employees won’t adapt so perfectly. Also, it’s well-known that negative managers cause higher stress and anxiety, resulting in remote employees leaving for better opportunities.
The best remote team managers use positive reinforcement to deliver feedback. For example, managers could give praise such as, “Those assets you created are very important for our salespeople to reach customers.” This encourages remote employees to repeat the amazing work they’re doing. Similarly, when employee work isn’t up to par, good remote team managers provide support and positivity to help their teams grow.
4. Focused on performance, not time-in-seat
An obstacle many new remote team managers face is shedding old habits that might’ve been effective in office environments but don’t translate well to distributed teams. In the office, it’s easy for managers to simply turn around and engage with employees only several feet away. Remote team managers, however, don’t have that luxury, and constantly checking on remote employees is a surefire way to increase friction.
Great managers evaluate today’s employees based on performance rather than attendance. Remote employees choose to work remotely so they have the freedom to work when they feel most productive. They might work odd hours or have days where they spend less time on the clock. If they’re producing excellent results, however, they deserve the praise they earned.
5. A leader by example
When it comes to remote work, leading by example is more important than ever. Employees in office environments absorb the culture and practices of their colleagues around them, but that’s much harder to accomplish in a remote environment. It’s up to managers to act as representatives of the organization’s culture.
For example, According to a study by Airtasker, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month on average than office employees, and a study by Buffer found they take less vacation, too. With poor self-management, remote employees can experience fatigue, isolation, and lower productivity.
In response, great managers demonstrate that taking time away from work is completely acceptable by practicing what they preach. They take frequent breaks, vacations, and establish boundaries between work and life. Similarly, managers who communicate often with their teams will likely have employees who follow suit, leading to better remote teamwork and innovation.
Managing tomorrow’s workforce
Organizations looking to expand their remote workforce should realize how critical managers are to creating productive and successful remote teams. COVID-19 forced the majority of knowledge workers to work from home, many for the first time ever. That surge is only going to continue as organizations plan to increase their remote work positions in the post-COVID era. As a result, it’s important to help managers hone these qualities now before implementing remote workforce expansion plans.
Honing these qualities won’t come overnight, either. Shedding older management habits will take time and guidance from organizations. However, organizations adapting to the remote-first future of work might want to start this process sooner rather than later. As we enter the post-COVID era of work and businesses consider more remote work options, now’s the time to prepare your managers.
Organizations can start by ensuring current and future remote team managers have the right tools for their teams. Managers need a way to facilitate communication and collaboration among remote employees. Unified communications solutions like the RingCentral app combine all of the essentials (team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone) into one place, allowing remote teams to collaborate from anywhere on the channel of their choice.
Originally published Jun 11, 2020, updated Aug 12, 2020