Somehow I (Remotely) Manage

By Tyler Jefford • September 16th 2020 • 5 min read

Stealing the management book name from Michael Scott, of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, formerly of Michael Scott's Paper Company, I wanted to share my thoughts and insights into how I have been managing a team remotely who once was in the office.

I am in no way breaking new ground in this post, but I thought it might be useful to get share some things I do with my team during this time where we are all remotely working that can also help you lead a team.

Being Present

I can’t stress this enough, but as the manager, you need to be present. You need to show up and be in the conversation. Don’t just jump into a video call and sit like a fly on the wall. Interact, ask questions, ask for more opinions of those who aren’t speaking to get involved. Be the facilitator, but don’t steamroll the collaboration.

Your team is going to look to you for answers, for direction and for guidance when things are difficult. Since our view of body language has shifted to your upper torso and face, make sure you are showing your interest, that you are listening and that you are engaged. Ask questions and audibly confirm what you are hearing to show you are involved.

Every Voice Matters

We’ve all been in those meetings where two people dominate the conversation. They might be the most knowledgeable about the area of work, but that doesn’t mean that no one else has thoughts or experience to bring to the table. Make room for everyone. If you notice some of your team staying quiet in the meeting, call out by name and ask if they had any thoughts on the topic.

This is especially important for teammates who are underrepresented on your team or in the company. I have witnessed a female engineer being talked over and the conversation moved on. This is unacceptable, stop the conversation and bring the floor back to her.

"Monica, you were saying something about X, can you share more?"

This is a gentle nudge to the rest of the team to stop and listen to others in the room. It’s a way to amplify the voices of folks who are less likely to fight their way into a conversation.

Pay attention to this happening in your teams. It’s probably happening.

Extra Time In Meetings

This is especially important in 1-1s, but equally for any other meeting that we have as a team. Try to give a few minutes of extra time at the end of the meeting to allow for anyone to chime in about their thoughts. Again, without being able to read body language, you might not realize that someone on your team might be thinking of how to bring up a topic.

Don’t dismiss the team from a meeting abruptly. That just feels weird. It might be difficult if you are running over time, but have a clear action to continue the conversation on slack, or to set up a follow up meeting later that day.

Over communicate

I love having a running meeting doc with my team. Adding a header for the day of the meeting, and having topics in bullet points to go over. Adding sub points when we discuss specifics. This is a living documentation of the information being said.

When making announcements to the team or changes to how the team operates, or updates on goals for a project, its good to do so verbally. Follow up in a written form - through slack and/or email - then bring it up again the next day in the daily stand. Give room for questions and conversation. If there is time during your 1-1s, ask about the changes, reiterate some of the ways it might affect that team member.

Notes

I recently wrote about Staying Organized and this is one of those things that can help you manage your team remotely, too. Take a lot of notes so you can refer back to them later. As I mentioned above, I am a big fan of running docs. Add the touch points of things you talked about in that doc, or better yet, add a plan of topics before the meeting. You will want to reference these later.

If you are attending a meeting where there are things happening outside of your team and it might impact their work, take notes and share with them. Or if your team breaks off in small groups to swarm on how to solve a problem, having notes about what the decision was can save a lot of time for the whole team. Have you ever had to follow up on a 30+ post slack thread only to reach the end and have no conclusion. Add a TLDR with the path forward.

Small Things

This falls under the active listening category. Listen for things that your team is saying, what are they not saying? Listen to how they interact, is there conflict, or is someone shutting out others?

If you have a person who seems to be having a bad day and is being defensive in a meeting, ask to talk with them 1-1. Don’t let that slip through the cracks. It might be nothing, but it could be a fracture in the team and without intervention it could lead to a toxic partnership.

Listen for fun things, too. Like a person’s birthday, or their pet’s name. Maybe they are going on a road trip (hopefully socially distancing), or they share their adventures in making something new in the kitchen.

It can be tough when we aren’t sharing physical space to notice things about each other that make us human. Listen for these things and write them down.

One of the first things I did when I met my new team was to ask about their experience, what they liked to do, and what made them grumpy.

This is no way meant to be a guide to how to manage people remotely, there are numerous books out there to help with that. There are also so many blog posts out there to illustrate how folks manage people remotely and in person, but this is my small list of things I do and you can also do on your team to better support and foster growth for teammates.