If you’re a manager whose team just started working remotely recently, at one point or another you’re bound to wonder to yourself: “My team could all just be bingeing Netflix right now, and I’d have no idea!”. This is natural: people understand the world through small triggers and tiny interactions, which disappear when you’re not together.
Of course, it’s going to feel strange at first to not be able to see your team putting in the work you expect from them. But, this is exactly why being able to trust your team, and be trusted by your team, is so key when managing remotely.
Unconsciously, a lot of managers are used to managing inputs: that is, they assess their team’s performance on how much time and effort they see is being put into producing the outputs (the results of the work). However, this style of management encourages forms of presenteeism, which really exhausts your staff without any added results to show for it.
What people should be managing (at all times really, but in particular when you’re not in position to measure the input), are the outputs. Put simply, if your team is still performing at the levels they were back in the office, then you can rest easy! In fact, pat yourself on the back; us mere mortals will be slowing down a bit as we get used to this new way of working.
Reaching the stage where you are comfortable will take time and effort. This is where you need to rebuild trust with the team, accepting that they’re putting in the requisite work to reach the desired outcome, and ensuring that they know you’ll support them in achieving this.
The disappearance of interpersonal interactions with the team can leave managers feeling as if something is wrong. If it starts to feel like this, however, before you jump to any conclusions look for evidence to back up that feeling, or else you’ll be chasing up employees for nothing, and risking the trust that you have in the team relationships.
How do you get this evidence? By being communicative with your team. Have regular group meetings. One way is to use the techniques developed by agile software developers, where at each regular review meeting each team member is asked to talk about
- What they’ve completed since the last meeting,
- What they’re going to do next,
- What help they might need in achieving that.
When you and your team are open like this, you can start to build an idea of what to expect from everyone and identify who’s struggling to adjust to remote working and needs some help.
Make sure to balance out the information you build up here with empathy – everyone’s going to adjust differently to working from home and the difference in individual workers’ openness can affect how much you trust them to work. Be conscious that some employees are going to stay out of your way, while others might over-communicate, which will imbalance how you perceive the work they’re putting in. This is a great time to check that perception against their outputs, to see if in fact, they are both producing equally great outputs.
Building trust while managing workers remotely, then, is a matter of building regular, structured communication, while remaining aware that different people work differently. If you can appreciate what’s coming out, instead of being hung up over what you know is going in, your team will be able to operate as efficiently as if they were still in office.