How to be an effective remote manager

by Apr 21, 2023

It’s estimated that 70% of an individual’s engagement is driven by their manager, according to Gallup. Not wellbeing programs. Not big work projects. Not colleagues. Managers. The “millennial” generation in particular says that “manager quality” is a top factor when job hunting. It’s no wonder leadership is a top work determinant of wellbeingPeople leaders have a responsibility to support a positive employee experience, but are they set up for success? 

When it comes to remote management, it’s not as easy to connect and motivate. It’s difficult to read tone over an email, versus chatting in person. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard Business Review reported: 

  • 40% of leaders felt unprepared to take on remote teams 
  • 41% struggled to keep team engagement up 
  • Only 40% of employees working from home felt supported by their boss 

This is a substantial number either feeling ill-equipped to manage remotely or unsupported within a remote team. Work-from-anywhere is the reality for many organizations, and this disconnect creates issues for both employees and their managers.

A remote manager’s obstacles 

Remote managers without adequate support leads to ineffective management. This ripple effect can expand all the way up to the top. If a middle manager feels unsupported, and their manager feels ill-equipped to support them, and their manager … you get the point. People leaders are employees with managers too, and they need proper tools and guidance to be able to offer those tools and guidance to their own teams. 

Another obstacle to effective leadership is hiring or promoting solely based on job qualifications or tenure. Harvard Business Review references this older trend and how COVID-19 has (thankfully) shifted priorities to consider soft skills and coaching expertise, alongside job qualifications: 

Managers used to be selected and promoted largely based on their ability to manage and evaluate the performance of employees who could carry out a particular set of tasks. Within the last five years, HR executives started to hire and develop managers who were poised to be great coaches and teachers. But the assumption that coaching should be the primary function of management has been tested since the pandemic began.  

Related: The power of skip-level meetings

Personality assessments

There’s a reason why personality assessments like Gallup’s StrengthFinder are on the rise among organizations. Organizations (including Sonic Boom!) integrate these types of assessments into their regular workflows and use the findings to inform hiring decisions, enhance employee-to-employee communications, understand differing work styles, and address interpersonal conflicts. While companies must be careful to not use them for negative purposes, many do find value in understanding how teams can better work together and how to deliver helpful feedback to different employees. 

Additionally, the hybrid/remote work model has thrusted everyone, including managers, into a new style of working. This creates an additional speed bump when it comes to connecting across city and state lines, and it’s a tall order to expect everyone to adapt accordingly without the right support in place.  

Tips for remote managers 

If you oversee a team of employees, self-awareness is greatly beneficial. Humility, asking for support, and seeking advice all model the behavior you expect from your own team. It’s not a weakness to need backup; it’s a strength to recognize your own bandwidth. Here are some quick suggestions to improve everyone’s workday.

Actively engage with 1:1s 

Quality time between manager and employee cannot be overstated. However, don’t fall into a trap of simply scheduling, conducting, and moving on. Engage with your employees during the time, ask thoughtful questions, and use the minutes as an opportunity to get to know your employee first and manage them second.

Be vulnerable

A main takeaway from COVID-19 is that we’re all people both at work and at home. Leaders who embrace that human experience through vulnerable conversations help their teams connect authentically and allow employees to relate to their manager. This creates a safe space for everyone to show up with any problem (or solution!) and know they’ll be seen and heard. 

Participate in trainings 

Sonic Boom recently conducted a training for people leaders. It was educational and also collaborative, allowing managers to learn from one another. One discussion point was important leadership qualities: 

  • Vision: A leader should have a clear vision of what they want to achieve and communicate it effectively to their team. 
  • Communication: A leader should be an excellent communicator, listening to their team members, and providing constructive feedback. 
  • Integrity: A good leader should be honest, transparent, and reliable. They should be trustworthy and do what they say they will. 
  • Empathy: A leader should be empathetic towards their team members and understand their perspectives and needs. 
  • Resilience: A good leader should be able to adapt and bounce back from challenges and setbacks. 
  • Flexibility: They should be flexible and able to adjust strategies and plans according to changing circumstances or situations. 
  • Initiative: A good leader should take the initiative and be proactive in finding solutions and solving problems. 
  • Confidence: A leader should have confidence in their abilities and decisions while remaining humble and open to feedback. 

Great leaders know they don’t know it all, and hosting regular trainings opens the door for them to expand that knowledgebase.

Take wellbeing a step further 

Employee wellbeing solutions help boost connection and employee engagement at work, but what if managers aren’t participating? People leaders can lead by example and utilize the program the organization has invested in. This communicates a common goal (boosting wellness), humility (managers need wellness support too), entertainment at work (challenge your boss to a steps challenge!), and the importance of making time for connection. 

Emphasize and establish trust 

Delegating tasks and dispersing work responsibilities can help alleviate feelings of burnout and stress. Sharing the knowledge — no knowledge hiding — and project load also establishes trust, minimizes micromanagement, and decreases feelings of alienation. Especially in a remote environment, clearly communicating expectations and arming employees with all the information to execute on important projects conveys confidence in a team and a manager’s own judgement.

Use the same systems 

Many might fall into the trap of allowing leaders to communicate feedback through other mediums — email, chat, meetings, etc. Rather than tasking project people with transferring that feedback into the overall management system, create a pre-project plan, understand the expected flow, and contribute to it according to the guidelines set by the project manager. This eliminates the possibility of ambiguity and missed updates, especially when there are multiple communication avenues and people involved. (Bonus: If the project doesn’t require managers to sign off, empower the team to go forth without them!)

Talk less, listen more 

Have you ever sat in a virtual meeting where it’s just the one person talking? It doesn’t feel collaborative or productive. Feelings of isolation also impact everyone differently, and some respond by over-communicating in meetings simply because it’s a moment to connect. Instead, focus on consciously listening and asking pointed questions about the things being said. Not only does this make employees feel heard, but it also opens the door to two-way learning opportunities.  

Tailor your feedback style 

One thing that personality tests reveal is how a person best receives constructive feedback — and how they don’t. Talk to your team members during those 1:1s about their preferred communication style. For example, one person might appreciate an email with clear bulleted feedback, while another may prefer an “in-person” recap of a project. Not only will this enhance improvements where needed, but it will also show that you value their input and their experience at work. 

Sonic Boom Wellness prides itself on boosting employee engagement and enhancing social connectivity across every organization, especially geographically dispersed ones. If you’re seeking a wellness program that can build bridges across remote locations, connect with us.