Working Remotely – How to Rock It, for Managers!

Working Remotely – How to Rock It, for Managers!

How Managers can Lead Remote Teams - Bob & Nick Slater - Look Out Above!

“I swore to myself that if I ever got to walk around the room as manager, people would laugh when they saw me coming, and would applaud as I walked away.” Michael Scott

Last time we addressed ways to stand out while fitting in, and to differentiate yourself, in this virtual work environment. If you lead a team, or have direct reports – that is, if you are a manager – here are some virtual success tips just for you. We don’t want people to laugh when they see you coming or to applaud when you walk away!

  1. Respect “normal” office hours. Normal means different things at different companies. Would you schedule a 6:30 pm meeting if everyone were working at the office like before? Would doing so be part of the normal culture where you work? If so, have at it. If not, then don’t. The higher up one advances in an organization, the more likely one needs to be available 24/7. But for many the expectation is that when they leave work physically, they are done for the day – work ends when they go home. If this applies to your team, then – absent an emergency that represents a short-term departure from the norm – let them “go home” and leave them alone. Don’t use the virtual environment as an excuse to take from their personal time. Respect – and let them continue to enjoy – the clear separation between work and home.
  2. Choose your meeting medium thoughtfully. It seems to us that most virtual meetings are now defaulting to video, with little or no thought being exercised. And the expectation for video meetings is that everyone must turn on their camera and be seen (i.e. no photo placeholders please!). While the advantages of being able to read facial clues and body language is real, a video meeting is not always required. Six months ago (seems like much longer, to be sure), conference calls were the norm, not video calls. And business was executed just fine. There is such a thing as Zoom fatigue. Unless you are trying to ensure participation or measure reactions, or the meeting involves discussing complex ideas, an audio call will likely work just fine. Mix it up. And particularly give people a break from early morning video calls. No one wants to be on camera at 7:00 am!
  3. Force meeting participation if need be. If your question, “What do you all think? results only in silence (“crickets,” as they say), call on someone. To ensure everyone’s participation, consider going around the table and ask everyone their opinion. Once you do this a few times people will expect it at your meetings and start to up their game – they know they will be called on to speak and they will search for something valuable and original to say (no one wants to keep saying, “I agree with Suzi,” or with Jim, or with whoever spoke last). Consider utilizing the “Gallery View” option on Zoom (or comparable option for other video software) to ensure that, as meeting leader, you can see the “whole room,” just as you would in an in-person meeting. This will help you ensure that no participant is dozing off, but also that you will have an easier time recognizing a participant who wishes to speak.

Bob Slater Caricature Nick and I are both law school survivors which means, like law students everywhere, we were called upon at random to stand, recite the facts of the assigned case, and then be intellectually disemboweled by the professor. But, you know, it was great practice for business. Being put on the spot and asked to state your view and defend it is an essential business soft skill. Don’t think twice about asking that your team members do so – but you don’t have to make them stand!

Also, as the manager, recognize that people who are naturally extroverted will be more comfortable speaking in a virtual discussion than will those more introverted. Since you want everyone’s view, give those more reticent a chance to be heard. Which, again, may mean calling on them if they don’t volunteer. The person reticent to speak may have the most important thing to say, and that everyone needs to hear. Note to self: allowing others to be heard requires that you, too, shut up and let them talk!

  1. Default to understanding. If someone doesn’t immediately respond to your phone calls, emails, or chats, try not to be frustrated but, instead, default to understanding. As managers, we’re likely not as informed or aware in a virtual work environment as we were in an office environment of people’s whereabouts. Normally we would have more insight into what our people are working on and where they are. In an office environment, your team member could be in a meeting (and not multi-tasking but being fully present in that meeting, as they should), or in a hallway discussion, or on a call with a client, or isolating to work on a project, or doing any number of productive, worthwhile things. So too in a virtual environment. Presume good intent, and be flexible, unless you notice a pattern of lack of responsiveness. Recall that one way you will stand out with your manager in this virtual world is that you will monitor your email, text, and phone messages more frequently so that you respond quickly when your manager needs you. You could, of course, request the same from your team.

As a terrific leader, you adapt your leadership style to the times. Be the leader everyone wants to follow both at the office and, now, virtually. And remember another Michael Scott pearl of leadership wisdom: “The only time I set the bar low is for limbo.”


Look Out Above! The Young Professional’s Guide to Success has been featured in the Chicago Tribune, HR Digest, CBS News, and more. It is available for purchase on Amazon, or by contacting the authors directly for discounted bulk orders.

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