Remote work: 6 ways struggling managers can reset

You think you have a remote management problem? Perhaps you need a more agile leadership model: These six processes work well whether you're remote or not
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Here’s a dirty little secret about remote work: Managing teams remotely is not much different than managing on-site.

The reason it may seem different is that the negative impact of poor management is more apparent when teams are working remotely. So, when my clients ask me to help them solve their remote management problems, I give them the same advice and guidance I always have – and it still works.

[ How do your team meetings stack up? Read also:  Zoom tips: 6 ways to make meetings better. ]

A practical leadership solution: SLLC

The following simple model, which I call the Simple Leadership Lifecycle (SLLC), identifies six core leadership processes and corresponding suggestions to improve your management and your team’s results. You can apply it annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily, or even meeting by meeting to ensure you achieve your desired outcomes.

This leadership lifecycle is designed to be iterative, much like agile development.

This lifecycle is designed to be iterative, much like agile development. By working through it repeatedly, you will progress in rapid, incremental steps, which minimizes your risks and maximizes your outcomes. Think of it as a leadership scrum model.

These six simple processes work well regardless of physical proximity and can end your remote management problems for good.

1. Clarify your strategic intent

It’s not enough to be right – you also need to be helpful.

People will not follow just because you may be right. They will follow your lead if, and only if, they feel it will help them and the organization.

Clarify your strategic intent, even for a one-on-one conversation. Maybe you want to strengthen a relationship or get agreement on an immediate decision, or maybe it’s more important to improve team alignment than to finalize a project delivery date.

[ Are you over-communicating and not engaging? Read our related story: Remote leadership: 9 ways your style may backfire. ]

Also, clarify what’s most important to you and for you to do. This takes time and analysis every day, sometimes multiple times throughout the day. You may get requests from bosses, peers, subordinates, spouses, kids, friends, clients, and vendors every day – if you simply throw all those requests into a to-do list, you will be overwhelmed in no time and will constantly struggle to achieve strategic results.

2. Prioritize

It’s not enough to do things right – you also need to do the right things.

You will be more effective if you manage your focus and energy. There is always too much to do. Choose what’s most important based on your strategic intent.

What are the three most important things you need to achieve or address today? Dedicate quality time to those as early in the day as possible. One approach is to keep a short list of important goals with no more than 20 items on it. Rank the items every day, so you know which are your top three. Then spend 30 to 120 minutes of focused effort to move them forward.

After you’ve invested effort in the most important things, you can spend the rest of your day on other things. But do what matters most first.

3. Delegate

It’s not enough to get stuff done – you also need to grow your people.

Sure, you can probably do it faster yourself. But teaching others helps them grow and increases your team’s ability to deliver better results.

Sure, you can probably do it faster yourself. But teaching others helps them grow and increases your team’s ability to deliver better results.

Before starting any task, ask yourself: Who else can do this? Can you ask a direct report to do it, or can you teach them so they can do it next time? If a direct report isn’t realistic, how about a peer, a colleague in another department, a service provider, or independent contractor? 

Of course, just because something could be done by someone else doesn’t mean it should be. Don’t automatically delegate every “to-do” that comes your way. Filter out tasks that will become less and less important to do over time. Something that appears important today may be much less so next week.

4. Create accountability

It’s not enough to delegate work – you also need to ensure that it gets done.

Too many managers delegate much less than they should because their teams don’t deliver the results they expect. Here are three steps to increase your team’s accountability:

  • Be clear on what you expect and when you expect it. And don’t simply assume you are clear: Test for shared understanding before the work begins and check in regularly. The less experience your team member brings to the task, the more often you should check in.
  • Establish compelling consequences to maximize motivation. Positive consequences might include new skills, enhanced respect from colleagues, attendance at high-profile meetings and events, etc.
  • Set ongoing checkpoints based on empirical evidence. Don’t ask how things are going and accept “fine” as an answer – ask for details.

Don't ask how things are going and accept "fine" as an answer – ask for details.

5. Manage performance

It’s not enough to provide feedback – you also need to ensure that behavior changes.

Many IT managers struggle with conversations about improving team member performance. But these don’t need to be difficult.

When poor performance continues for too long, you may find yourself spending too much time correcting problems and taking on work you should not be doing. This happens when you haven’t established a strong foundation upon which to measure and correct performance. By implementing the four fixes above, you can transform performance management into a simple, comfortable, and continuous improvement process.

6. Communicate

It’s not enough to be clear – you also need to be understood.

Effective communication requires you to confirm mutual understanding. How much effort do you waste each day due to ineffective communication? Poor communication leads to duplicated efforts, wasted time and energy, missed deadlines, and more.

Stop thinking of communication as the messages you send to people. Instead, think about engaging with people.

Always confirm a shared understanding following any communication. Don’t simply ask if you were clear or if the other person understood you. Instead, ask questions like “What actions do you think you’ll take as a result of this conversation?” or “What do you think about this issue?”

Repeat, whether remote or not

If you are finding remote management more difficult than in-house, I challenge you to consider these six processes. Strengthening your core management skills may help alleviate some of the challenges you face.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Bob helps IT managers and teams get more done while improving user relationships and reducing organizational conflict. He provides online training as well as group and 1:1 coaching programs that get problems solved fast.