We’re all remote managers

And we’re not ready for the new way of working

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

For the last 12 years of my career I had a manager that was in a different location to me. For most of it — that meant someone in California while I was in London. I also had teams spread across the globe including California, Australia, China, Singapore, Bulgaria… It’s a long list. When you become a manager hopefully some kind soul takes you aside and explains this is an entirely new job to individual contributor to set you up to learn how to fill in the gaps.

Here’s the thing. Remote management is a totally different job to managing a team of people who sit with you every day. Yes, Google found that distributed teams could perform as well as colocated teams in Project Aristotle — but there are some characteristics at Google which mean people are developing those skills. For example — the degree of cooperation between teams at Google is high because it’s hard to deliver anything meaningful without working in someone else’s codebase or across disciplines. Googlers get good at this because it’s their day to day existence. For most people — this is not the case. We operate in a little autonomous pocket and dont’ develop these skills.

Now the first excitement of all being remote has probably worn off teams around the world are starting to realise that things aren’t as rosy as they first seemed. Working at home set us free and now our homes have become a cage. To managers this is especially problematic because we’ll start to feel the fabric of our teams slowly start to unravel. It’s time to stop and think about why this is the case and what you can do about it. This means it’s time to learn some new skills to be effective in this new world.

Fundamentally, remote management is down to trust. How do you build and maintain trust with your reports and provide an environment in which they can maintain trust in each other?

To do this we need to understand why things are different? Let’s start with the things we have in person that we take for granted.

All of this is gone. Or rather all of this is different now. If you don’t take conscious steps to address what you’ve previously taken for granted then team members are going to lose touch with each other. This leads to loss of empathy and your team becomes a collection of individuals.

In addition to what you’ve lost you also gain some new challenges.

Working remotely can be a glorious thing. It’s not the same as in person. If we don’t seek to learn the skills to do it effectively then we’re building a house of cards. Treat this as an opportunity to learn and you will improve as a manager. Ignore the warning signs and it could all just fall apart on you.

Ex-Google, ex-Netscape, ex-Skyscanner. Interested in solving complex problems without complexity and self sustaining self improving organisations.

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