How to Manage a Remote Team Without Going Postal
I am a Managing Editor at AmoMama, and a mom. My freelance work is usually crypto-related stuff.
For most managers, it is possible to have weekly meetings to bang out issues and team-building exercises to create harmony, but as a remote manager, this is not possible, and the lack thereof can be über-frustrating at times.
Being Managing Editor of a remote editorial team, I have around 26 people from seven different countries writing for various magazines every day. They are from different cultures, climates, and more importantly, time zones, making meaningful communication a real challenge.
And saying good morning in seven different dialects is not what I mean; it’s trying to implement editorial changes or policy adjustments and making sure the entire team is on board and on the same page, even though they respond to messages over a 24-hour period.
Chatting informally around a water-cooler, or at an after-hours unwind session where everyone can relax and make human connections over a barbecue, can do wonders for team spirit and open dialogue for discussing most issues. Not so with my group of merry men (and women!).
The only members of our writing staff who have actually met each other are the ones who referred someone to work with us. We rely on such referrals as the applicant usually applies after job shadowing the team member and finding out exactly what the job entails.
Anyone who has ever gotten into an unintentional online debate will understand how much can be lost through miscommunication and tone. Now imagine trying to manage staff online and the stumbling blocks that arise when trying to put across a professional opinion about their work.
Instead of annual appraisal interviews conducted face-to-face where everyone can recognize tone and misunderstandings are uncommon, I do monthly evaluations where staff get to read and overthink my comments, often at a time when I’m asleep. How fun does that sound?
Not a week goes past that I don’t wake up to an essay from amazing places I would love to visit like the Philippines, Nepal, Nigeria, Ukraine, or Mexico. And every day, I am forced to remind staff to check messages in our group chat for changes or updates to style and policy. It’s a never-ending cycle.
Since it is not possible to ensure that everyone is doing what they say they are, therein lies another problem for a Manager answerable for a team they’ve never met – expecting everyone to be responsible and professional about their work.
The answer for me lies in humanizing remote workers instead of expecting automatons who do everything on command, and the biggest factor I find is creating trust between all the parties concerned so that I am kept in the loop with anything that might affect productivity.
Many remote workers have more than one job, just like non-remote workers, let’s be honest. The only difference is that remote workers have the freedom to occasionally disappear from their full-time job to do freelance work, which means they can have trouble sticking to deadlines.
That is why managing such an eclectic team requires open dialogue and listening to each team member’s story. As their team leader, I make it a point to know about my writers’ families, their ongoing studies, who they care about, and what makes them tick.
One of the biggest gaps I noticed when becoming a remote worker was the lack of team spirit among everyone. I started such voluntary exercises as Secret Santa and Meet The Team to introduce people working on the same project and create a more informal and friendly working ‘environment.’
Knowing our writers gives me an insight into who they are and where their priorities lie, so I can have compassion instead of being annoyed when they are late or miss a deadline. Because life happens, and our writers are only human.
I also have the privilege of using my insider information to know where writers would be better suited so we can move them around to work shifts and pages that best align with their time zones, personal lives, families, and studies.
Understanding each other through online communication alone takes a lot of getting used to, and just like any other online relationship, it takes work to keep all the parties happy. And keeping the team content and productive is the basis of my job, besides the obvious Editorial stuff.
So while the situation might be frustrating in a lot of ways, I believe I have made some inroads into working with individuals in other parts of the world without going absolutely postal at communication, delays, and seeming irresponsibility.
And if I can do it from any café, coffee shop, and my home office aka bed in South Africa, so can you! Good luck!
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