Thanks to better technology and companies’ changing needs, working remotely is now more common than ever. But as workplaces get friendlier to flexible working arrangements, managers aren’t always doing the same. That’s hardly their fault, since the incremental way remote work is being adopted in many organizations hasn’t usually led to much retraining, and managers are often left to suss out how to direct remote employees on their own. Here are a few tips for managing a remote team effectively.
In his book The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama writes, “Compassion is a more objective form of empathy. This idea of seeing things clearly through another person’s perspective can be invaluable when it comes to relating with others, particularly in tense work situations.”
At first glance, compassion might seem a far cry from a strategic management strategy. But especially if your team consists of remote employees, it can serve as a more practical framework for working together than you may think. Just ask LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who has said it’s his mission to “expand the world’s collective wisdom and compassion”–a goal that starts from inside his own company. However, Weiner believes that managing compassionately doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people but that it can be taught and built into a work culture.
That typically means training team members to interact compassionately with clients, customers, and one another. Encourage them to share experiences, rather than just the transactional information that moves a commercial relationship forward. In every interaction with colleagues and customers, ask your team to consider:
- What happened?
- What did I learn about the feelings of those I’ve interacted with?
- What can I do to help?
As a manager, ask those same questions of yourself, thinking of your remote team members the way you’ve asked them to consider their coworkers and clients. That way, you’ll foster a more compassionate dynamic throughout the organization, both internally and externally.
Encourage your team to leave updates on Slack or Asana, or to ping you on Skype whenever they have a questions. Doing so shouldn’t require an appointment or amount to a formal meeting. You need your team to know you’re available even if you aren’t physically present.
Then take it further. Here at VenturePact we realized that even maintaining open channels of communication wasn’t always enough for our remote teams. One reason was because most of our interactions were purely professional in nature. As managers, we had very little insight into our employees’ personal lives. And since our remote workers were based all over the world, when holidays or festivals came up, for instance, we wouldn’t always understand their cultural significance.
So we started holding personal check-ins rather than just discussing work on our usual calls. We made sure to talk about hobbies, interests, and family at least once a week. It was refreshing to discover a different side to all our employees, one that extended beyond their professional involvement with the organization. That added an important personal basis to the team’s working relationships, which has proved all the more crucial for collaborating remotely.
It’s not always enough for managers to build these bridges with their remote employees, though. They need to build them with each other, too–just like they would if they were in a regular office.
Start a WhatsApp group to connect all your employees, even if they’re spread out across the globe. We’ve found that our own doesn’t stop buzzing with jokes, updates related to sports, birthday greetings, and lighthearted conversations. It’s also a good forum to discuss company news, but perhaps more important is the space it creates for your team to communicate as people, not just as colleagues.
And if you do happen to be in the same city as one or more of your remote team members, make plans to meet up. Meetings with partners and potential clients is usually the main reason for business travel, but taking time even just to grab coffee or dinner with a remote worker on your team isn’t any less crucial.
These compassionate management techniques help build a strong culture and a great team in every work environment. But if your team is spread out geographically and works together remotely, they’re absolutely crucial.
Randy Rayess is the cofounder of VenturePact, a marketplace that connects companies to prescreened software development firms; he previously worked in private equity at Silver Lake Partners and in machine learning. Connect with him on Twitter @randyrayess or on LinkedIn. Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs.