With the recent disturbing news about the coronavirus, many companies sent their employees to work from home. So quite a few of my fellow managers started to move through the terra incognita of managing remote teams. I recall my hesitation when my company started the agile transformation and switched to remote teams, so I understand today’s challenges to management very well. In this article, I want to share the most important lessons that I learned during my own 20-years long journey of remote team management. I hope it would help you to overcome the problems and lead your business and your teams through the crisis.
Lesson One. Do not underestimate your people.
For some managers, it is hard to believe that people will work without being closely supervised. So, they try to establish harsh rules for people that they sent to work remotely. In the worst case, they want to videotape people sitting at their desks and their screen activity. It does not help at all to keep people productive but destroys all benefits that the company may have from sending people to work from home. I would call such behavior merely stupid, as such “managers” waste precious company and employee resources to destroy loyalty and make people depict activity instead of solving the business problems and creating the business value. Typically, managerial behavior like this is a good sign of a micromanaging problem. It may be the right time to reconsider inefficient and ineffective practices rather than trying to push them into the new situation.
Instead of making sure that your people are working, make sure that your people produce the expected result. First of all, define what does it mean to “have the job done.” As a manager, you represent the company, and it is your responsibility to make sure that employees understand what the company expects. Then, define the result expected from each employee. Avoid listing of artifacts to be created or actions to be done (e.g., contact the customer, write a program, read the book). Instead, define the business value that should be reached (e.g., we should know what customer expects, the user must be able to perform that operation, you should know how to do that job).
The standard advice is to keep goals SMART and establish short deadlines, between a week and a month.
Always visualize the plan and its progress. Because our goal is to help people self-manage their work, it is a good idea to use a pull-through approach instead of push-through. Therefore Kanban boards would work better for you than Gantt charts.
Such approach would reflect the reason why the company needs these employees. Nobody needs an employee to merely present at the desk. Everybody needs an employee to do something useful for the company. Make your management style to reflect that simple principle.
Lesson Two. Do not overestimate your people.
While adult people are responsible enough and do not require to be micromanaged, it does not mean that all of the are ready to be fully self-managed. Self-management and self-discipline are the skills to be developed, and they are critically important for successful remote work.
As a manager, you can facilitate the development of these skills by establishing a plan and help to decompose the significant amount of work into smaller pieces.
A short meeting at the beginning of the day, where yesterday’s results and today’s plan are presented works, are excellent to keep the team on the rails, and also helps to monitor any troubles and impediments that may prevent the goal from being reached. The meeting should be short, no more than 1-2 minutes for a person, or around 15 minutes for a team of 9. If an employee needs any help or plans or an impediment needs to be discussed, a separate meeting should be scheduled.
The fact that results need to be presented daily promotes employees’ self-disciplining. The daily planning also helps to keep the task simple enough for self-management.
Lesson Three. Facilitate Effective Communication.
Anyone, who is experienced in education, sales, or requirements management, knows that face-to-face is the most effective way to communicate, followed by videoconferencing, phone conferencing, instant messengers, forums, blogs, and, the least effective, emails. One of the main disadvantages of the remote or distributed team is that face-to-face conversations are complicated. A thoughtful manager should make sure remote team members have efficient means to communicate, know how to use them, and uses them in their day-by-day operations.
Here is a minimum checklist for the manager who wants to make sure that the team has adequate means to communicate:
1) The team must have and know how to use:
a) Tele-conferencing and audio-conferencing software. Many organizations use Zoom and Skype for that purpose with great success.
b) Group and personal chat software. Once Skype was the best option, but nowadays, there are many alternatives, such as Flip, Slack, Signal, and many others.
2) There are established rules and tools for requesting, scheduling, and running meetings.
Using these tools, the manager may effectively overcome impediments for effective communications with the remote team and between team members. It also can break the isolation feeling that some employees may have when we send them to work at home.
These challenging times may be an excellent opportunity for you to try agile frameworks. For example, SCRUM may help a lot with proper organization of the appropriate balance of self-managed employees who work in clearly established borders, and who use all available means to produce the best possible business value.
If you struggle to manage the team under new conditions, please do not hesitate to contact our company (http://www.gehtsoftusa.com). Our certified SCRUM masters and adult education specialists would love to help you improve your project and team management process and apply the best of the Agile world to the success of your business in today’s challenging business environment.