Motivating, Connecting and Effectively Managing in a Remote Environment
By Mariana Loose
July 22, 2021 | 5 minutes
Marketing Management and Leadership Management of Individual Personnel Content Type Article Additional Options Content Level: Essential
It is not difficult to get nostalgic about the pre-pandemic days when a conference room had to be booked in advance. We came to meetings with pens, notebooks (or laptops), ready to collaborate and keep each other informed of projects. In our post-pandemic world, the physical conference room has been sidelined by Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Hands are now raised by using an emoji. We sometimes even hear children, blenders, sirens and lawnmowers blaring in the background.
Although many law firm marketing departments are spread across a wide geographic footprint, we have managed to find new (and old) ways of working collaboratively. However, managing a team remotely is not always easy. The keys are to create a culture of collaboration, inclusivity and empathy.
Here are some tips for managers.
Make Time for Connecting and Small Talk
If you cannot physically grab lunch with your team, take the time to connect and get to know them. Recognizing important moments in your team’s personal lives such as birthdays, Mother’s/Father’s Days and other celebrations — even a quick text acknowledging these important days can be meaningful.
Ensure your small talk is inclusive of people working in offices and remote. Consider asking everyone in a working group share a photo of their office set-up so that the whole team can get to know them better. For some, that might be a traditional office with lots of books, and for others it might be their dining room table with a cat sitting next to their computer. These little insights into how each person works helps forge connections.
Choose Video Over Phone
One of the best things that has come out of the shift to remote work has been how quickly the legal industry has adapted to video calls and screen sharing. Had the move been voluntary, I suspect it would have taken a lot longer to get up to speed. Video calls are particularly helpful because you can see the other attendees and make eye contact. You can also read a lot from body language and that comes across almost as well on video as it does in person.
Connect on Many Levels
Avoid communicating with your team only via one medium because it is simply easy or convenient. Instead, chat frequently on the phone, set up one-on-one video meetings and even short personal emails to let your team know they are valued. Last summer, I took this a step further by scheduling one-on-one calls with my team that did not require taking notes. We agreed to go for a walk while we talked and found that the conversation flowed more freely when our bodies were moving and our eyes were not fixed to a screen.
Make Yourself Accessible
Support your managers who may be struggling with remote management. Patiently walk them through it and, most importantly, model the right behavior. On management team calls, set aside the time to discuss skills, strategies and best practices. For some, the idea of managing employees they cannot physically see is intimidating. Remind them they are a capable manager, have hired qualified people and almost anything they want to do in person can be done virtually by using technology.
To help further develop remote management skills, I also encourage my managers to consider hiring candidates for their teams in an office that is not their own. I have found this dynamic helps them with developing their remote management skills while also increasing coverage options. This gives your team a stronger presence in more offices — a two-for-one bonus in my book.
Managing a team remotely is not always easy. The keys are to create a culture of collaboration, inclusivity and empathy.
Provide Constructive Feedback
In a time when people can feel even more disconnected because they are not able to speak with you in person, it is imperative to follow best practices for giving feedback. Depersonalize feedback, especially negative. Stick to the facts, learn what can be done to correct the problem and provide a solution. For example, John is not lazy and unmotivated because he has missed two important deadlines in the last week that caused a delay with delivering a project. Instead, John needs to understand the consequences to the firm and the team with objective, direct feedback. Whether it is because he is lazy, unmotivated, distracted or simply does not care, makes no difference. Giving your team feedback in a constructive and timely manner helps ensure employees feel valued and connected.
Ignore Awkward Silence
There is no need to worry about filling awkward silence. When in a meeting or video call, simply give your team enough time to process and react to what is being said. Audio delays can often make us feel we must fill in the silence when there is not any. Instead, just pause and let your team jump in.
Overcommunicate, over-solicit feedback, overshare information. Your team will appreciate it.
Be intentional about what medium you use to communicate (after a long day of video meetings you might be able to connect better over the phone). Also, be mindful of geographical time differences, and schedule outreach and meetings accordingly.
Think of small recognitions or rewards for great work such as gift cards for coffee, the movies or a bite to eat. Although I have not done this nearly enough, anytime I have received a hand-written, paper note from a manager or a teammate, it always made a big impression. Even a short note when someone on your team has gone above and beyond, or simply expressing gratitude for having helped you through a difficult project, can be acknowledged simply with a hand-written note. Though this recognition is appreciated whether in person or not, it can especially go a long way if employees are seeking greater connection in a remote environment.