Effective practices for managing remote employees continue to evolve. Do your leaders have the skills they need to successfully manage teams remotely?
It’s always been important for leaders to hone their management skills to keep up with organizational priorities, leadership best practices, and workforce trends. For example, over the past decade employee technical skills have become essential for nearly all job categories. Recently, employers have been eliminating the college degree requirement for many of their jobs. At the same time, Generation Z employees are replacing Baby Boomers in the workforce. Each of these developments changes who is in the workforce, what skills those employees have, and the skills their leaders need to have to manage them best.
Yet none of those trends has had nearly the impact on management skills as the widespread move to remote and hybrid work. Effective practices for connecting with remote employees, developing teams with widely distributed members, and managing performance remotely continue to evolve. Does your company have a remote management skills gap? Do your leaders have the skills they need to successfully manage teams remotely?
Managing Remote Teams Best Practices
Remote work started as a short-term necessity. Two years later, remote and hybrid work at scale has become a reality for many businesses – and a job expectation for many professionals. Remote and hybrid work is here to stay. According to one Ladders survey, 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022.
For employees, remote work provides a range of benefits. Eliminating commutes reduces transportation costs – as well as costs for meals, professional attire, and supplies. Flexible work schedules and work locations are “pros” when employees can work from anywhere with an internet connection. Spending more time with family and being more productive away from the distractions of in-person work are also touted as benefits of a remote or hybrid work environment.
Employers see benefits, too. CLO Magazine shared these anticipated benefits of continued remote work, from McLean & Company’s 2022 HR Trends report: flexibility in hours that employees are available to work, an expanded hiring pool, improved employee retention, lower facility costs, and increased employee engagement and productivity.
Where do these dramatic changes to the work environment leave managers? Increasingly, they are charged with managing a set of individuals across disparate schedules and competing priorities – all through emails, phone, and virtual meetings. Remote and hybrid work does not lend itself to creating informal connections and relationships with others at work. How work gets done has fundamentally changed and it’s up to managers to develop individuals and teams in this new environment.
Harvard Business Review identified these area as needing the most attention:
- Communication. Master both the technology of virtual meetings and the practice of communication – sharing information and listening – with direct reports and teams.
- Coordination. Be intentional and direct about how individuals can work together as a team on projects and deliverables. Check in to be sure that everyone has what they need to succeed, and that each person is doing their part.
- Connection. While connecting will come naturally to some, it’s up to managers to create a space for all to connect with others within and beyond the team. Model connecting socially with others in the digital working world – and support and reward employees who do the same.
- Creativity. Create group activities that spark creativity. Discover and share approaches for individuals to be creative on their own, as well.
- Culture. Actively share and model the company’s core values and norms. Connect the dots between the company culture and the interactions on the team, so seasoned employees, new hires, and interns all get to “feel” the company culture in action.
Essential Remote Leadership Skills
To determine if your leaders who manage teams remotely are effective, you need to measure their success. According to Envoy’s At Work: the 2022 Workplace Trends Report, 75% of workplace leaders say their success is measured by employee satisfaction. While that’s one important point of feedback, it’s not the only one.
We recommend a more comprehensive skills and competency-based approach to building and assessing management skills.
First, start by identifying the essential remote leadership skills for your organization. One Forbes article identifies these three leadership skills as necessary for managing remote employees:
- Empathy. “If you lead as a champion of ideas and intertwine empathy in how you manage a team, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in the same room or working virtually,” says Forbes.
- Communication. Ramp up the number of touchpoints across your team and your company. “Being an engaged listener is also critical.”
- Feedback. “If your employees don’t hear feedback, they can make two assumptions: They’re doing well or failing miserably.” And not knowing is stressful.
You’ll add your own list of manager skills. Consider a mix of technical competencies, such as working with Zoom or Microsoft® Teams, leadership skills that include setting clear expectations or providing clear feedback, and professional skills tied to the function of the team.
Then, conduct skills assessments with your managers. The results will give you and your managers insight into what they’re doing well now and where they need to develop. Later skills assessments will let you know how they’re progressing over time.
How to Build Hybrid Team Management Skills
When establishing any new skill set there is a range of options for building proficiency. What’s important right now is that your learning and development tools are up-to-date to successfully manage teams remotely.
In many cases, best practices for sustained remote and hybrid management are still being defined, as companies are just now making longer-term plans to sustain the models after the pandemic. So, build in some flexibility and room for experimentation. Monitor results, so you know which models and which skills are most effective.
Most organizations will want to offer a blend of development opportunities, including:
- New manager training. Don’t stop with training the management skills. Find ways to connect new managers into your network of more seasoned managers, so they have a ready community of others facing the same remote work challenges and opportunities.
- Online and in-person classes. Training for managers at all experience levels can allow leaders to learn about the latest best practices and hone the skills they most want or need to advance.
- Mentorships. With built-in connections and a nudge for all parties to keep up with what works, mentorships are a non-threatening way for mentors and mentees to build their skills.
- Communities of practice. Especially for seasoned managers who are curious and eager to sharpen their skills, communities of practice can offer an interactive, connected, creative approach to learning and developing management best practices.
- External hires. Just as you hire new employees as some employees leave, there are benefits to bringing in new managers from outside your company. Fresh perspectives and management skill sets may ignite more creativity and connection across the organization.
The shift to remote and hybrid working has created new ways to work and a subsequent gap in manager skills. By redefining what skills are effective, assessing the skills and competencies of your managers today, and providing opportunities for managers to learn and grow, you’ll not only support your managers, but you’ll improve the work experience of your remote employees and teams.
Are you ready to assess and build the skills of your managers? Download our Competency Management Toolkit to see how a competency-first approach to management can strengthen leaders and teams. Or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ competency management system or WebMentor LMS™ could help.
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