If you find being a good manager to be challenging at times, the introduction of remote and hybrid work models brings extra hurdles to the mix. If you want to learn how to be a good manager, the skills required to lead a team are similar, the format of the workplace has changed – and this requires more awareness and new forms of communication.
“Managing hybrid teams creates different challenges for managers than managing in-person teams. Aside from the tactical issues centered around team communication, managers need to be more proactive in getting to understand their employees,” says Michele Mavi, executive coach, leadership expert, director of coaching at the 4As (American Association of Advertising Agencies), and co-founder of Monumental Me, a personal and professional development company.
Managing a remote or hybrid team
“It’s critical to create even greater psychological safety and build social capital with each individual team member. In particular, paying attention to the level of mental wellness of team members is critical. The cues that are more easily seen in person are so easy to miss or for an employee to disguise when working from home.”
You’ll also want to make sure your team is unified and that every team member has a profound sense of belonging despite the fact that some team members might be working remotely while others are in the office. “It requires more concentrated thought and effort when managing hybrid teams,” adds Mavi.
According to her, there are more turnover risks in a remote or hybrid setting, so being a good manager is critical: “A hybrid environment is one where people may be less likely to feel connected to their employer and colleagues,” she says.“This leads to a lack of belonging, which makes it easier for employees to keep their options open. Additionally, as more organizations adopt a formal full-time hybrid work policy, employees may also choose to expand their commutable geographical parameters which opens them up to more opportunities.”
Tips to be a good manager in remote and hybrid settings
Thankfully, you can mitigate the risk of losing your people by being engaged with them remotely. Here’s how to do so, according to experts.
1. Personalize your approach
“When managing people in person, you can get visual cues that otherwise you cannot. You might not even be aware that you are picking up these cues. They are called paralanguage and are associated with body language, signs, voice pitch, intonation, and silence,” says Taty Fittipaldi, MBA, global leadership talent development strategist and certified professional executive coach.
The downsides of solely relying on digital messaging platforms to communicate include the lack of those cues. Plus, it can be harder to personalize your management approach based on your reports’ personalities, preferences and motivators. So double down on doing so despite any remote barriers. You’ll have to get creative but it’s worth the effort.
“The best tip I can offer is to really invest time in getting to know your team members and what truly motivates them,” says Mavi. “Then, create an environment where they are able to be empowered and supported as needed. Employees are happiest when they are utilizing their strengths and when their intrinsic motivators are being met.”
“When managing remotely, it is important to have mapped each of your employees’ styles, preferences, and motivators, so that you can cater to their leadership needs and communication style,” adds Fittipaldi.
2. Keep a pulse on your team
Two common mistakes managers make with remote and hybrid teams include taking good performance for granted, or letting questionable performance languish, according to Kate Walker, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, an HR expert who has worked with big companies in advertising, marketing, sports and entertainment, and now has her own executive coaching firm.
“Just because performance is going well doesn’t mean you have a pulse on the whole picture. People need your time, attention, and care. This means frequently checking in with them; both formally and informally. Monitoring the pulse of your team is an intentional effort.
“Conversely, don’t let questionable performance languish. You must begin a stronger communication plan with the individual and shore up support. Get more Zooms on the calendar and initiate more touchpoints of support and guidance through different communication channels.”
3. Communication is everything
At the end of the day, remote team communication truly is everything. “It comes down to communication, communication, communication. As a manager, you need to discover your team’s preferences and needs when it comes to communication and performance touchpoints. While you want to communicate with your team frequently, some team members will need even more 1-1 communication nurturing,” says Walker.
“A strong communication approach, tailored to each individual, is the goal. These behaviors show that you are aware, observant, and have an intentional communication plan.”
Fittipaldi recommends mastering your awareness of body language cues on video calls, selecting a good tech stack to communicate and manage tasks, and mapping out each team member’s style, preferences and motivators. “These three things will boost your communication performance and help you achieve much more when working remotely,” she says.
She also suggests staying away from making assumptions in conversations, as misunderstandings can easily happen in remote settings. “Sometimes a phrase delivered in-person sounds very different when on paper or in a chatbox. Don’t assume. Ask clarifying questions whenever you feel you judged a behavior or sentence.”
You might need to explain things or ask for explanations a bit more, but it will pay off in the long run.
4. Cultivate psychological safety
“Research shows that psychological safety is the most important factor in creating high performing teams so focusing on ensuring high levels of psychological safety is also critical,” according to Mavi.
This means creating a team environment that is as free of judgment as possible. “Pay attention to the employees who never share ideas or speak up at meetings. Talk to them about it and find out why. They are most likely concerned about being judged.”
Look out for signs that your team doesn’t feel safe, and address the issue head-on. “A team that can engage in a passionate debate that isn’t personal has good psychological safety. When there’s no debate, there’s usually a reason,” says Mavi.
5. Organize culture-building activities
Walker says that you can curate culture with intentional team-building efforts, even while working fully remotely or in hybrid workplaces. Curate culture. “Find time to have fun with the team. Levity is important during a stressful time. Plan a virtual coffee chat, happy hour, or perhaps even give the team a non-virtual afternoon or two off to exhale,” she says.
6. Don’t ignore signs of disengagement
Finally, it’s paramount to be on the lookout for signs of disengagement so you can nip declining engagement in the bud.
“It can be very easy for managers to unintentionally ignore warning signs of disengagement in their team members. Likewise, thinking that no news is good news is a huge pitfall,” says Mavi.
“You can’t assume that your team members will openly come to you if there is a problem, and, unfortunately, out of sight can lead to out of mind.” This is even more true in a hybrid team, where you need to work against proximity bias and make sure you stay connected to the employees working from home as much as the ones in the office.
“Don’t assume your team’s happiness level ‘is great,’” warns Walker. Again, it’s about being in tune with them without the usual moments you rely on in an office: walking around, chatting with people, listening, observing, and so on.
“In this new world, these manager behaviors are still important, but come by way of more video meetings, texting and so on. Watch body language. Ask questions that show your curiosity and show support both personally and professionally.”