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8 tips for supervising your first remote team

8 Tips Supervise First Remote Team

You  just secured a solid remote job and now are being elevated. You thought you would be happier. You’ve been promoted. You found your remote job fulfilling. And now, you’ve been assigned the remote job task of supervising your first distributed team. You are nervous because you did not think it would be this difficult. But here you are. The purpose of this article is to provide you with 8 tips to help you supervise your first virtual team.

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It may not have been explained to you by your boss, that your subordinates (former coworkers and friends) work haphazard schedules with some work from home colleagues working fixed schedules, others reporting more flexible schedules. Some may adhere to specific days to work at their home, while others  report to the office on days that are often incompatible with those of their peers.

Added to this. You discover not all remote working team mates appreciate hourly checkins with their supervisor, random pop up screens depicting the avatar of their boss, or requests to follow up in the chat box. Many just prefer to be left alone.

Then there are others who reveal in the minute to minute micro management. They expect you to identify goals, develop milestones, alert them to pending deadlines and to offer condolscenses when a project is behind schedule.

What gives? 

Seasoned professionals express difficulties managing virtual and in-person teams under certain conditions

There is good news. If you have been chosen to manage a strictly remote team, where 100% of your team members are fully remote. You may have less of a problem on your hands than if you were charged with the management of mixed location teams. Concerning the latter, even the most seasoned, credentialed and successfull leaders have expressed difficulties when managing  virtual and in-person teams simultaneously.

In a study from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) with  700 executives participating, double the number of respondents expressed difficulty when manging diverse location teams than when supervising remote teams only.

But I guess you are probably saying to yourself, “so what. How does this help me?”

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Well, we won’t get into that. What we will do, though is to provide you with tips to help you smooth the rough edges when supervising your very first working from home team. You may be tempted to change your work ethic, work style, communication tactics, and overall personality. Don’t. Please don’t change into someone that you think you should be. Don’t emulate the become someone you think you

8 Tips for managing your first distributed team

Be you.  That’s right. Be yourself. You may be tempted to change your work ethic, work style, communication tactics, and overall personality. Don’t. Please don’t change into someone that you think you should be. Authenticity goes a long way. Geniuneness is respected. Conversely, fakery , poofry, arrogance are  definitely turn offs. Published research in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that students and first time entrants into the workforce are less believable when they fib, tell a white lie, or embellish the truth than workers with a few years under their belts.  

Even though the first rule is to be yourself, the second rule may seem contradictory. But, please consider this.

Be passionate. Show some positive emotion. Why? You may be perceived as more likeable and accessible. A tapered down, though emotive supervisor may signal that “he/she/they is one of us.” Psycholoical studies on effective  leadership charcteristics have shown that managers’ strategic deployment of emotions can actually boost the morale and positive feelings of their staff!

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The result of a study published by British Psychological Society and appearing in  Science Daily suggests too, that when you don’t feel positive or passionate on a particular day, its ok to fake it!. Psychologists argue that on ocassion, managers may need to “feign their emotions at work, especially when interacting with staff.”

They liken it to performing upon a stage or before a crowded audience. It may be a requirement for the job to “put on a public emotional show, even if [you] don’t feel like it.”

Be hands off until its necessary to be more hands on. Times have changed.  The old  top down, the buc stops here,  ironclad, stiff-necked management styles of lore are fineto. Western Governor’s University suggest that lassisez-faire management style is in. Top down management of subordinates is out. Supervisors who adopt this style of supervision use a hands off approach. They don’t offer much guidance and they definitely don’t micromanage or helicopter manager their subordinates. 

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This type of management style may be a seamless approach for the first-time supervisor. Why? Because managers encourage team members are encouraged to do their own thing (as it relates to job tasks, responsibilities and duties). Managers don’t fly in to overtly oversee job, project or program status unless goals have not been met or targets are missed, budgets overrun, or deliverables remain undelivered passed the agreed upon deadline.

Refrain from the urge to re-invent the wheel. You may have been told when accepting your new role that you where selected to bring new blood, a different perspective or give new life to the team. Don’t take the bait? If you are new to this role, new to the company and a newbie in team management be careful. Take it slow. You may have great ideas about the changes to established processes and procedures you’d like to make. However, please tread lightly as you may meet some tough headwinds and even tougher resistence. 

Its not that your team members are resistant to you as an individual or fighting against your role or even making a statement to top management. The human brain is hardwired to resist change according to psychologists. So, don’t take it personally. Why fight city hall or swim upstream?

There will be a time for you to be the change agent you’d like to be, but for the first few months, take it slow. Now, there is a cavet to this point.

Say yes. If your boss explicitly explains new policies, procedures, processes, and systems for which you are tasked with supervising or coordinating as team lead in your new role, please by all means take the reins! And, don’t look back.

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Never say no to your supervisor (unless its something illegal, immoral, or unethical).  Say instead, let me find a way to do it and get back to you. 

Be visible. You stood out from the pack, which got you noticed for this team lead position. So, it stands to reason that you understand the importance of visibility. But now, you’ve got to develop tactics and techniques to maintain your visibility to your supervisor and also to your team members. Why?

Harvard Business Review (HBR) states the critical nature of low and middle management roles. Managers and supervisors must strive for visibility within their team group.

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Team leaders have to be so approachable that when a potential problem arises you are the first person that comes to mind. Further,  team members have been informed by you on numerous ocassions that matter by which, when, how, where, and in what format to contact you.

Anticipate and manage to prevent problems. Don’t wait to be told before strategizing. While you, as new remote team lead,  adopt a laisse-faire supervisory style of management, this does mean you are totally hands off and clueless about the world around you. Its the exact opposite. It means that know so much about what is happening, either by tracking or systems monitoring, that you take pre-emptive stikes to:

  • step in when productivity dips,
  • help to collaboratively design work project plans, goals, milestones, benchmarks and time tables
  • make team assignments and make amendments to shift changes as situations arise
  • offer suggestions, tips and coaching to resolve distractions, change fatigue, and work conflicts
  • provide helpful time management and scheduling templates
  • identify training opportunities
  • seek additional resources, staffing, equipment and supplies when necessary

Exude confidence. Harvard Business Review (HBR) posits confidence, expressed verbally and nonverbally (body language, facial expressions) is tremendously effective for obtaining positive attention and building influence within groups.

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What are some of the ways in which you can exhibit a manner of confidence in a flexible work, tele-commuting work setting? Being decisive. Refraining from wishy-washy decisions. And, being a worry-wart. You will make mistakes. We all do because we are human.  It is understandable that you want to go slow as you learn the ropes in your new remote team lead position. Its even admirable to do so. However, don’t take too long to make decisions and don’t wait until you need even more information to lay down the law. It is understandable that you want to go slow as you learn the ropes in your new remote team lead position. Its even admirable to do so.  

Manage up. Yes, you are the remote team lead. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need resources, supports and guidance. Manage your boss. Don’t hesitate to seek advice and feedback. The last thing a manager wants to hear is some bad news about his remote team or team lead from another department or division head. They want to hear it from you first. You’ve gotta give your manager a heads up with routine status reports so that they will not be caught unawares. And, so that they can help you navigate through turbulent waters.

With that said, likewise. It never hurts to listen.

Actively listen to what is said and what isn’t. It’s important to keep your boss informed. Similarily, its of paramount importane to actively listen to team members. Listen to what they say, what is implied and what is omitted. You will be surprised that active listening thwarts threats, mitigates risks and helps to build trust among coehsive team members. Among medical and hospital managers, for instance, National Institutes of Health found the act of active listening reduced medical errors and unintentional patient harm.



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