I’ve had two key turning points in my tenure as a manager:
1). When I transitioned out of politics.
2). When I transitioned to managing as part of an entirely remote team.
Some background on me: I started my career in politics, on the campaign side. I managed people in geographically diverse areas and, most often, in “win or get fired” environments with “exceed goals or get fired” mentalities. You pushed people beyond their limits and you asked for 150% day in and day out.
Obviously, I knew that this was not the right way to manage a team. It’s not sustainable and it doesn’t help people grow as professionals. When I transitioned into more structured work environments, I drastically changed my expectations and how I approached goals and feedback with colleagues. This has been a learning process – not only in how I manage people but also in how I manage myself.
And at the beginning of March when the entire Scouted team moved to remote work, I faced learning an entirely new facet of management: not only were my employees remote but I was now also remote and learning to work from home in real-time.
The transition to working and managing remotely hasn’t come naturally to me. But, with time and patience, I’ve adjusted to this new reality. Here are my top seven takeaways from my transition to remote management:
1 | Don’t rely on Slack for critical feedback. Have the more involved conversations over the phone (or video conference).
There have been a few occasions where I went to Slack (usually late at night) to offer critical feedback on workflows and important projects and, you guessed it – this was not the appropriate medium for this level of conversation.
In relying on email, Slack, text, or other written communication tools, we risk losing the opportunity to truly connect on a human level, we risk coming across as angry or frustrated (versus understanding and concerned), and we risk losing trust with our employees.
Instead, conversations about mistakes or hiccups with projects, potential performance improvement plans, or lengthier, involved topics should be left to the phone or Zoom. Don’t make a big deal of it. Just pick up the phone. Often it will even take less time to get in sync via talking than it does to get on the same page in writing. While this might seem obvious, it can be easy to forget when you’re in the moment.
2 | Manage expectations.
One of my first managers always said to me, “manage expectations.” In that context, it was being honest about how close our teams would come to hitting voter contact goals (elections are often won or lost on the ground). But it served as a greater lesson that I’ve carried with me in my professional career.
It’s okay to not complete a project on time or forget to schedule a social media post. It’s not okay to not escalate that something won’t be done or not offer a solution for a mistake that was made.
When you’re in an office setting, it’s easy for an employee to walk over to their manager’s desk and let them know that a deck will be late or that Hootsuite wasn’t updated. But in a remote setting, this once simple task can feel much more daunting.
As a manager, hold your team accountable by setting clear expectations for deadlines and escalation procedures, and also hold yourself accountable to meeting these same standards.
3 | And, at times, adjust expectations.
Not everyone can be “on” every hour of the day, so don’t expect that level of productivity or output from your employees. Especially now, where we’re individually managing life amid a pandemic, it’s important to offer people space and understanding. Many families are managing a two-career household with no childcare. People are dealing with sick family members. Individuals are deciding to relocate. Let your team know that they have the space and support to take care of their loved ones and themselves.
4 | Get creative to keep your team motivated.
I’m someone who thrives on lofty stretch goals, like a big venture raise or hitting high water marks in our metrics. But, that doesn’t mean that this same goal setting will motivate the people I manage. Just because something works for you doesn’t mean that it will work for someone else. It’s critical that, as a manager, you take a highly personalized and individualistic approach to motivating your team.
And, especially in a scrappy environment (such as a campaign or startup) where the highs and lows can feel quite dramatic, it can be difficult to find new ways to keep the team going.
Scouted’s CEO (my boss!) has worked tirelessly to incorporate fun and quirky team activities to help break up the mundane grind of work week. We’ve benefitted from remote team build activities, like trivia, weekly happy hours, celebrating birthdays and marriages and anniversaries, team spirit week, and more. You don’t need a crazy budget, either – a little can go a long way with helping your employees feel appreciated.
5 | Keep to (9-to-5) office hours.
Even if your team is accustomed to the occasional late text or Slack, now, more than ever, it’s important to be mindful that we’re working from our homes (not by choice) and that it’s incredibly difficult to separate work from personal time.
Set clear expectations of when you will and will not be online – and have your employees do the same – and, unless there’s a major deadline, adhere to this schedule.
6 | Don’t forget about growth & performance conversations.
As of late, it can be easy to fall in the trap of thinking in the near-term and losing sight of what 3, 6, or 12 months down the road might look like for your team. But it’s important to remember that your team is still expecting growth and development in their skill sets and in their careers.
At Scouted, managers are expected to host monthly development meetings with their direct reports. During these meetings, we discuss what’s working and what’s not working, areas of improvement, as well as planning ahead for what an employee would like to take on as a “stretch” project. It’s an opportunity to step away from the day-to-day work and think about the big picture of what a person’s growth trajectory might look like at the company.
7 | And lastly, let people make mistakes.
Don’t be afraid to let your team members take on a larger project just because we’re all remote. Sure, the handoff process might be tedious and the project might take longer than expected, but we need to let people experiment, make mistakes, and learn from these experiences. Taking on more responsibility while remote might mean that someone has more space to fail, but it’s your responsibility to be ok with some level of messiness.