How to Be a Great Remote Manager

Managing people is hard enough. But managing people remotely is a whole new beast.

Published: Sep 27, 2022

Karim recently got promoted to manager, which he had been working toward and felt mostly prepared for. But one aspect was making him nervous: his entire team was remote, and he wouldn’t have a chance to meet them in person for at least six months. 

According to research from Ladders, Inc, the percentage of high-paying jobs that are fully remote has tripled since 2020, from 5% to 15%. Because both employers and employees benefit from having remote teams, that number is likely to keep growing. 

New and experienced managers alike will need to lead people they rarely, or never, see in person. But that requires an entirely new set of management skills — a tall order when managing people in person is difficult enough. A great remote leader lets go of control and displays trust in their team, strikes a balance between giving space and staying connected, and finds ways to maintain the human element through their words and actions. 

Here’s how to become one. 

A great remote leader lets go of control and displays trust in their team, strikes a balance between giving space and staying connected, and finds ways to maintain the human element through their words and actions.

Understand the work style of each team member. 

Part of the benefit of remote work is that people can work in their own ways. Some will check in every time they have a question, others will collect their questions and send them all at once. Extroverts will desire spontaneous conversations (work-related or not), while introverts may enjoy the quiet of their home environment. Some people will get online at 7 am, while others burn the midnight oil.  

Because of these and other differences, managing every person in the same way is impossible. “Get on video with each individual and discuss their situation, says Rasha Accad, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “Consider their experience with remote work, their home office setup, their schedule, and their personality.” Once you know your team well, you can recognize when people are thriving or when something is amiss.

Set clear expectations and goals.  

Nothing is more frustrating for employees than unclear role expectations — and working remote with a lack of clarity is a recipe for disaster. As with in-person management, the days of top-down dictation are over. Meet as a group with the team to establish collective rules of engagement, and collaborate with each individual to clarify their role and set their personal goals. 

But organizations are complex things and sometimes goal confusion will happen. “Acknowledge that the situation is ambiguous and that you’re there to support them through this challenging time,” Accad says. “Empower the team to proceed and make mistakes, then help them understand why the mistakes happened and learn from them.”  

Prioritize mental health and work-life balance.

Remote leaders may miss the signs of burnout or a difficult period in someone’s life because you don’t see daily facial expressions, body language, and changes in demeanor. There’s a real risk that you won’t notice if something is wrong until someone speaks up. “To remove the stigma around discussing their mental health, let employees know it’s safe to tell you what’s going on, that you won’t judge them, and that their job won’t be in jeopardy,” Accad says. When they do come to you, deliver on your promise by hearing them out without interruptions and coming up with an action plan together.  

Be reachable.

Effective real-time communication is vital to successful remote work. Think of it like popping over to someone’s desk or chatting on the way to a meeting, if you were in the office. Career experts say to encourage your team to reach out frequently with a quick text or voice note and respond as promptly as possible. Many questions don’t warrant a scheduled video call. Accessibility maintains connection and stops you from being a bottle neck, allowing work to get done faster. 

The ultimate career guide, from Korn Ferry CEO and New York Times best-selling author, Gary Burnison
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