So, safe to say the world is a little weird right now. If you caught my last post on how to work from home, you may have noticed a tease at the end for some more content on this topic. Well, here it is! This week I sat down with my manager, Shalese Cordon to talk a little bit about how to successfully transition to managing a remote team, and how remote employees can build a good relationship with their managers. This post is the first of two, so keep your eyes open for the next one as well.

A little about us before we jump in. I joined TargetX in 2015 as a remote team member, and this was my first remote position after working in higher education for the extent of my career. After spending a year on our frontline support team, I transitioned into a training role, and now oversee all customer training at TargetX. Shalese is the Director of Implementation and Premier Services, which includes our project management, implementation and premier services teams along with training and documentation. She’s been a remote employee herself for about 2 months now after relocating away from the Philadelphia area, but has managed “remote from her” team members since she became a manager.

Alright, without further ado, here are some key takeaways for managers new to working with remote teams!

Figure out how you’re going to gauge success

In so many enrollment offices, the clear measure of success comes on May 1 (or thereabouts) when we see if we hit our numbers. In the months leading up to the big day, teams are reading files, meeting with students and parents, calling admitted students to talk through the details of a scholarship award, and so on. As a result, we don’t always set clear performance goals to dictate what success looks like in the short term. 

Now that those long-term goals may be at risk, it’s more important than ever that we discern how our staff should be acting in the day-to-day. It’s worth a conversation with your team to brainstorm those ideas, and how to track or measure performance. This often sparks dialogue that you can’t wrap up quickly, but it’s worth taking the time to really wrestle with role definition and making sure there’s clear purpose to the work being done. Which leads to the next point….

Set Clear Expectations

In conversation with Shalese, she was clear that this is hands-down the most important thing to do with your team. Whether that’s communicating more about those short-term goals, or talking about creating an environment that embodies a growth mindset (even from far away), state it as explicitly as you can! Sometimes a remote environment prompts people to behave in ways they might not in a traditional office setting, plus, as I said at the beginning, things are weird right now.

For example, it may be that in an office your typical workday is from 8-4:30pm, and your team is expected to be in the office at 8am. Now, the reality for people is that their partner is also working from home, has an important call at 8am that requires total silence, and there are also two children in the house that need attention! What was once routine gets completely tossed out the window. Here, talking directly to your employee and saying something like “I know things are a bit upside down right now. Does an 8am ‘online time’ work for you, or do we need to talk about ways around that?”

Lead with empathy and approach challenges with curiosity; we could all use a little extra kindness right now. 

Model Behaviors You Want To See

Last but certainly not least, set a good example for your teams. If you expect them to be online at a certain time, do your best to meet those standards. Same thing with calls or video meetings – if you would expect their full attention in person, and you’d give yours in return – model that behavior by not multitasking. This can be really difficult because our individual situations are so precarious, but as a general rule, this is the quickest way to show respect for the standards you’ve set as a manager.

As a subsection of this guideline, it’s extremely important that you establish clear boundaries around “work” and “home” for both yourself and your teams. Shalese and I both stated that in our roles in higher education, we did take work home with us on occasion, and it’s something that we had to unlearn as a part of the culture at TargetX. The healthiest thing for everyone is to state explicitly that your team is not expected to be available at all hours of the night and day – including yourself – and then actually stick to that. Don’t respond to emails immediately sent at 10pm, or if you have to write a response right then, schedule it to be sent during business hours the next day. Similarly, if you’re seeing a team member reaching out at weird hours, have a conversation with them about why. Maybe they’re not able to get their work done during “normal” times because of what’s going on at home, or maybe they’re trying to squeeze 14 hours worth of work into a day. Either way, that’s something you should be aware of as a manager.

Of course this just scratches the surface of all the ways you can successfully manage your team remotely. Harvard Business Review has some great suggestions for additional reading if you want to get in a bit deeper and Ask A Manager offers great feedback to a manager who’s working with an employee with time-sensitive deadlines but also has their toddlers at home. But for now, remember above all that your team being remote doesn’t make them any less valuable or productive, and the best thing to do is always talk to them.