As states are lifting their shelter-in-place restrictions and the world is navigating a gradual reopening, it seems that some businesses and/or professionals may not be rushing back to their offices in the near future. While most accounting firm professionals have been working remotely for several weeks at this point, we are now entering the phase of thinking what the new normal looks like, and for many professionals, that may be continued virtual work environments full-time or part-time. As such, it’s no longer a question of “what do we do to survive?” but “how can we thrive as a successful remote manager?”
One of the biggest challenges in this new normal is being successful as a remote manager in the human element of our work: keeping team morale up, ensuring productivity despite many new external forces and stressors, and supporting everyone as we navigate the unknown. For managers who may have already felt like a significant portion of their time was spent coaching, listening, and developing their teams, it can feel even more overwhelming when trying to do all of that remotely.
Everyone has heard by now to have frequent check-ins, to take advantage of the technology that is available to you, and to have clear, mutually-agreed-upon expectations of all team members. Those are all important tips, and we should continue to heed that advice. What else can one do to be a successful remote manager for their team members?
- Be as transparent as possible — It is not the time to hold information too close to the chest. While you may not be at liberty to discuss everything with your teams, tell them as much as you can as honestly as you can, even when that means your answer is, “I don’t know, but I will share more information with you as soon as I have it.” In order to avoid gossip and the decrease in productivity that comes with too much uncertainty, it is the time to be honest, share facts, and reiterate that it is a fast-evolving situation. Even when we move beyond this global pandemic, transparency will be important. It can be more challenging to build trust when you don’t have face-to-face interactions, and by being transparent, you can inspire confidence and trust in your teams.
- Take the time to share your appreciation for your team’s efforts — When you don’t have the opportunity to see what project or detail your team member is really putting the extra effort into, you might not know where your thanks and acknowledgment is going to matter most. Of course, you can’t say thank you for every little thing, but when someone goes above and beyond or makes an improvement in any area (no matter how small!), a note to say “well done” or a call just to acknowledge an effort can really go a long way, especially on a hard day
- Establish boundaries and foster independence — Many managers find great joy in developing their team members and seeing them flourish. The time invested in these endeavors is rewarding. The challenge with that time in development and coaching is that it can creep into the time you need to focus on your other responsibilities. It can be hard or almost feel wrong to tell your team members that you do not have time to talk with them or jump on a video call right now, but two great things happen when you occasionally make yourself unavailable: (1) you get the time you need to dive into the other tasks you need to accomplish, and more importantly (2) your team members will often come to answer themselves or make a decision independently. Of course, this can lead to another great learning opportunity, and you will want to make yourself available when you can truly focus on the individual and give them good advice and constructive feedback. This is much better than the rushed answer or direction you might have given without setting that boundary and giving them some space to spread their own wings.
You may not have envisioned yourself as a manager of a remote workforce, or maybe not as quickly as you became one, but great challenges provide outstanding opportunities to push ourselves to be successful and continue our own professional development. Hopefully, everyone who wants to go back to the office will get there as soon as safely possible, but we should all prepare ourselves for a working world with more virtual interactions than ever before.
About Courtney Kiss
Courtney Kiss is the Chief Marketing Officer for Johnson Lambert LLP, a CPA and consulting firm focused on providing audit, tax, and consulting services to insurance entities, nonprofit organizations, and employee benefit plans. She oversees the management of the firm’s brand and the strategic direction of the firm's marketing program. Courtney also plays a key role in business development and client service initiatives. Passionate about organizational culture, continuous innovation and evolution, and professional development, she has developed communication campaigns around these topics, and she speaks on these topics internally and externally.