Since relocating from San Francisco to Salt Lake City at the end of 2018, I’ve been managing a team that is either partially or fully remote — an experience that has come with a variety of challenges. Now that most of America’s office workers are experiencing work from home and remote management, many of you may be encountering these challenges for the first time. Don’t worry — you’re not alone. Here are some tips that I have found useful during my time as a remote manager.

Have the Right Tools

A former manager of mine always used to say that before you start working, you need to prepare your workspace. Remote management is no different: having the right tools at your disposal can make a huge difference. At Metric Theory, we use Slack and Zoom, but the actual product is less important than having the right capabilities. It’s crucial to have the following capabilities:

  • Immediate messaging capabilities to answer quick questions, flag urgent concerns, provide quick updates, etc.
  • Video conferencing to continue to hold face-to-face meetings
  • A good USB headset — shortly after I became a remote manager, I realized that my team members and I were losing five minutes of work time before each call as we dialed in via our phones. A USB headset allows you to start a meeting with one button click.

Never Ignore Your People

If a report reaches out to you while you’re cranking on a deck, it’s easy to ignore the alert for an hour or two until you finish up. But when working from home, this can set the precedent that your people are not your top priority. Imagine how you would feel if your manager ignored you for hours? It’s important to take the time to send a quick response, even if it’s just to say you’ll follow up that afternoon.

Even when you’re all in the same office, many managers make the mistake of focusing the majority of their management time and effort on employees who require more direct help or assistance at the expense of more senior employees who are typically more autonomous. The risk of doing this increases when you’re remote and don’t have daily face-to-face interactions with those employees.

Look for opportunities to reach out to your employees every day. Compliment them on a win, share a quick tip for responding to a tough email, or ask about something you discussed in your last meeting. If you’re really pressed for a reason to reach out, just share a funny meme or interesting article. Your strongest employees don’t need to be micromanaged, but make sure to demonstrate that you are still interested in their professional development and personal well-being.

Default to Video Meetings

There’s no substitute for a face-to-face meeting, but a video call is still much better than a standard phone call. I have a rule that if typing out an answer on slack or via email will require more than four or five separate messages, I do a video call instead. I find this to be a timesaver, since I’ll probably spend 10 minutes going back and forth on Slack vs. five minutes on the video call. It’s also easier to ask additional questions via video.

More importantly, video calls give you extra opportunities to help your reports with professional development and will usually result in better outcomes. For example, last week I received a question via Slack from one of my reports about how to address a specific question from his client. I could have sent him a sentence or two about how I would handle, but instead we hopped on a quick call, and I asked him how he would handle it. His response was different from what I would do, so I asked about his thought process, and he provided several critical pieces of information about this client that I did not know. After learning this, I changed my perspective and provided a few pieces of advice. By taking time to meet for a few minutes, I was able to learn about his thought process and other details about the situation, and based on this I could coach to the best possible solution. Had I simply sent my thoughts via Slack, I would have missed out on the coaching opportunity and, because I was unaware of critical information, would have given a worse answer.

Some other situations where I highly recommend using video calls:

  • Giving Feedback: Have you ever received a text from a friend or significant other that made you think they were mad at you, only to later find out you just misinterpreted the message? That’s what it’s like getting feedback via Slack.
  • Celebrations: If your report closes a deal, has a great customer interaction, or otherwise hits a major milestone, get on video to celebrate. Take a minute or two to congratulate them and explain how their work contributed to the win.
  • Coaching: Similar to the above, the best way to coach is to ask questions, understand how your reports are thinking, and guide them toward the best answers. This is almost impossible via messaging.
  • Tough Situations: Like celebrations, get on video to debrief after a lost deal or tough situation. Show your report that you empathize, offer them an opportunity to vent, and discuss how you’ll help them through next steps.

And this should go without saying, but ALWAYS use videos for your calls, and encourage your people to do so as well. The face-to-face aspect of video calls helps with non-verbal communication, and makes it easier for you both to stay in the moment and not get distracted by incoming Slacks or social media.

Don’t Change Your Meeting Schedule

When you’re far away from your reports, it can be tempting to cancel your regular meetings and cover necessary items via impromptu calls and Slack. Don’t do it. Your scheduled meetings with your reports are about much more than logistics — they give you an opportunity to provide coaching or discuss high-level topics that are important, if not urgent.

Since I became a remote manager, I’ve noticed that the tone of my weekly meetings with reports has shifted from working through a standard agenda to discussing high-level challenges, like how to help a client with a tough business model, or how best to test bidding algorithms. These conversations have resulted in big client wins and new learnings that have leveled up management throughout our agency. Additionally, at a time when everyone is social distancing, having scheduled meetings and opportunities to socialize during the week is important for everyone’s mental health. So even if you don’t have a full agenda, don’t be afraid to spend your meeting chatting about the latest Netflix series about beauty vloggers you’ve been watching.

Make Sure Remote Management is Working for Everyone

Lastly, because you’re not interacting with your reports in person on a daily basis, it can be much more difficult to understand how your reports are feeling. Frustration or excitement that might be obvious in person will be much less obvious via video chat. So, ask your people how they are feeling — what are they excited about, and what frustrates them? What is one thing they think you could do better as a manager, and one thing you’re doing really well? What is the area where they most need support? You’ll get valuable feedback, and they will appreciate that you are taking the time to understand their opinions and adjust your management style to best suit them.

If you sense that someone is struggling, either with work, their personal life, or just the general state of the world, consider reaching out to someone else they are close to in the organization to check in on them. Your reports may be reluctant to talk about their personal feelings with their manager, but they’ll probably open up to the coworkers they feel close to. This is important because job performance can be heavily influenced by having either a clear or cloudy mind — and not to mention, it’s important to look after each other. Your aim here is not to get someone to spy for you; it’s to make sure that your report has someone to talk to and is receiving the support and resources they need.

When we’re able to return to a more typical daily routine, many of us will go back to our offices, and our management tactics will shift back. However, as technology improves, real estate gets more expensive, and workforces become more distributed, most managers should expect that they will be asked to oversee remote employees in the future. Use the coming weeks as an opportunity to build your experience and skills for the jobs of the future.