Remote work is not going away. The hybrid workforce is here to stay. Some people are choosing to work from home indefinitely. Many are working some combination of from-home and in-office. “Remote management” is now a resume must for any leader or supervisor.
But if you continue to struggle to manage remotely, you’re not alone. During the pandemic, a lot of leaders fell back on bad old habits. Overwhelmed by the pace of change and the influx of responsibility, it makes sense so many managers found themselves in “let’s touch base when we need to” arrangements with direct reports.
The surge of undermanagement has resulted in employee burnout and a vicious cycle of overcommitment on teams and in organizations. To keep turnover from spiraling out of control, it is crucial that managers recommit to the basics of strong, highly-engaged management.
First, audit of your current remote communication practices—as an individual and as a team.
Second, you must establish a protocol for maintaining high-structure, high-substance one-on-one conversations with any routine collaborators.
Think back to early 2020, when everyone was scrambling to adjust to fully remote work while simultaneously maintaining alignment. Team Zoom meetings became daily occurrences for a lot of people. Those Zoom meetings were in addition to weekly companywide check-ins. And then on top of those meetings, you probably had a bunch of other meetings, too.
Because Zoom was eating up so much productive capacity, team meetings quickly became stand-ins for more robustly structured and substantive one-on-ones. The rapidity of change meant touching base and texting became the way many leaders communicated with people directly. The disorganization and informality of these remote communications looks like a lot of people working, while not actually getting much work done. Over time, unfinished projects and missed deadlines stretched working hours further into personal ones. Understaffing and overcommitment have combined to make each virtual meeting a productivity roadblock.
Take a step back and critically consider how the shift to remote work (and back) has influenced the way you and your teams communicate with one another. Make adjustments where needed to cut out any excess or duplicative conversations. Be a little cutthroat—you can always reinstate a routine meeting you later find out was an important one.
Beyond that, here are some more steps to take toward improved remote communication hygiene:
Once you’ve managed to reduce your communication time, you’re going to increase it. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s an important part of the process which will payoff in the long run.
The only way increasing communication will benefit you and your team is if it is high-structure, high-substance, and one-on-one. Otherwise, yes, you will be back at square one.
High-structure means regularly scheduled, and conducted according to a clear, well-organized agenda. High-substance means rich in immediately relevant content, specific to the person and the situation, with a clear execution focus.
Talk about what’s going right, wrong, and average. What needs to be done? What are the next steps? And the next steps after that? Spell out expectations in clear and vivid terms, every step of the way.
These are some more tips for making the most of remote one-on-ones:
Our research shows that conducting face-to-face conversations—whenever possible—is much better than conducting your management conversations solely by text, phone, and email. But email does have a built-in advantage: you create a paper trail. Save those emails and you’ll have record of your ongoing dialogues with each person. Structure your emails so employees can use them as checklists, or as the bases for crafting work plans, schedules, to-do lists, and other tools to help guide them in their work. For your part, you can use that paper trail as part of your ongoing tracking and documentation of each employee’s performance.
We have a host of free resources you can use to learn more about undermanagement and the fundamentals of becoming a better remote manager:
And if you need more support, we’re happy to help. Contact us to learn more about solutions for you or your team.