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The Four Essential Elements To Managing Virtually

This article was based on episode 174 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get the full episode guide when you become a member at themodernmanager.com/join. Purchase any full episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop.


Remote management often feels like an entirely different world compared to in-person management. It requires us to bring a different mindset, skills, and processes to managing our team. While challenging, virtual management can be hugely successful, if you do it right. The secret ingredients are doubling down on trust and culture. Trust is everything when working together, but it plays an especially critical role when working at a distance. Remote managers can build trust through familiarity, reliability, and communication, while also investing in culture. Here is what you can do to level up your remote team.


#1: BUILD TRUST THROUGH FAMILIARITY


Humans love familiarity. Our brains are hardwired with cognitive bias to gravitate towards things that feel familiar. And things that are familiar to us we naturally tend to like and trust. So we need to get to know our teammates on a deeper level. Usually this happens casually at work, through ‘water cooler’ breaks, posting photos of our family in our workspace, or grabbing a drink with a coworker at the end of a long day.


But we can’t do these things so organically in a virtual setting. One way managers can facilitate familiarity is through group chats. Create one channel to share all things personal, or different channels such as “weekend fun” or “kids and pets”. It’s incredible how gaining insight into other people’s lives can build a real sense of comfort with each other.


It’s important for managers to encourage chat contributions, so I recommend that managers set reminders in their calendar to post a couple times a week. Then be sure to comment on other people’s posts. Try to make it conversational as if you were speaking directly to the person after they showed you that image or shared their news in person. Rather than being addicted to social media, we can become addicted to connecting as a team!


#2: BUILD TRUST THROUGH RELIABILITY


Collaboration in person is also radically different from virtual work; it’s easier to “go with the flow” and evolve along the way when we are in the same physical space. Working virtually means there’s less spontaneous collaboration and more unknown; we don’t know if others saw our email or if they’re working on their projects. We can’t pop into a colleague’s office to check in. Instead, we send an email, text or chat message and sit impatiently waiting to hear back.


To strengthen reliability and commitments to behaviors and deadlines, make sure to set clear expectations for your team and then follow through. Working virtually means there needs to be even more clarity of goals, milestones, and plans. And don’t forget to hold people accountable when deadlines are missed or expectations unmet.


#3: BUILD TRUST THROUGH COMMUNICATION


We’re bombarded with so much information coming in from all angles. No team wants to add the chaos of work communication to the mix. Make sure to build simplicity into work exchanges. Make clear guidelines for your team about when to use which communication tools and how soon and often they are expected to respond. For example, simple practices for email subject lines can help people quickly know what’s important.


While everyone is tired of Zoom meetings, these synchronous times are even more important for virtual teams. Unfortunately, the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is all too true. When speaking directly with someone, we often remember things we meant to share or ask about. Set more frequent but shorter check in times to help keep the organic conversation flowing even from afar.


#4: CONTINUALLY CULTIVATE CULTURE


You can’t soak up the water when you’re not swimming in the same pool. If you don’t invest in creating a virtual culture, a default culture will occur that you might not want. Take time to get on the same page about team expectations. For example, since work went virtual during COVID, most people relaxed their dress code and people worked at all hours while they balanced complicated home life. As COVID dissipates and a new era of normal sets in, what are the norms and expectations you want to actively embrace?


Team identity is also harder to build at a distance. Even something small like coffee mugs that showcase the team motto or mission create a connection to the team. Give recognition to teammates whose behavior reflects your organization’s ideal culture and values. Keep in mind the power of cultural diversity; what does each team member bring to the table? What do they each value? Culture is what we create together, but a manager has the power to guide it in a specific direction.


We can create incredible work environments through remote work, but it doesn’t happen by accident. We need to intentionally structure and set expectations for our team. Familiarity, reliability, communication, and culture are essential. Knowing our employees on a deeper level, trusting them to get their work done, valuing and celebrating together, and having clear, transparent communication builds rock-solid connections amongst our coworkers. For many of us, virtual management is here to stay. If we do it right, our team won’t even miss the watercooler.


Get the full episode guide when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join. Or, purchase any individual episode guide at themodernmanager.com/shop to help you implement the learnings and continue to enhance your rockstar manager skills.


This article was based on episode 174 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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