Virtual management is dehumanizing, adding a layer of distance between manager and team. While all managers are navigating this new normal, for some, the ability to connect with and empathize with their team comes more easily than for others. Great managers consider how their words and actions will impact those around them and then tailor their activities to drive the best outcomes for all parties.
Here are some common pitfalls in virtual management and how to avoid them:
Sitting on feedback until a faraway scheduled moment, like an annual review.
Good feedback is actionable, and it can often be hard to implement feedback when the moment is too far past. Just because you don’t walk back from the meeting with someone doesn’t mean you need to be too formal with feedback. Catching people off guard isn’t great either; you don’t want to put them on the defensive. The best course of action is to quickly reach out and say you want to spend 15 minutes on X, the thing that just happened before too much time passes. A short meeting is less intimidating, and scheduling time immediately doesn’t give the impression that you’ve been stewing for weeks over some huge problem you perceived.
Spying on your employees.
Productivity is not the end goal of management; the end goal is better output from happier employees. That might mean they get stuff done faster or within a nine-to-five: or maybe just the opposite; they like the freedom to noodle on a problem until midnight, then not sign on until 3 pm the next day. If you feel the need to spy, it’s because you don’t have the right metrics in place to drive success.
Motivating via money.
It’s a cheap shot but attractive in the pandemic when you can hardly take the whole team out for a boozy dinner. Studies show people are not motivated by cash bonuses, and I’d go so far as to say that relying on them is a sign of laziness in a manager. Digging deeper into what would delight your team or increase engagement is hard work but ultimately shows the team you care, which is the most motivating of all traits in a manager.
Great managers share what’s on their minds, even if their direct report isn’t involved. It helps direct reports learn about their managers’ thinking process and opens a window into the decision processes going on at higher levels in the company. And it humanizes managers, revealing the person they are when faced with uncertainty. A manager shouldn’t only be eliciting information from their direct reports but also learning from them.
Managing by walking around.
The idea that successful leaders are in the field most of the time was all well and good in an office, but the virtual practice of dropping in on people unannounced is unsettling. The solution in a virtual office is keeping a pulse on what’s going on, maintaining open lines of communication, and distributing opportunities to check in around the team. These are not solutions to surprise people because the manager’s unannounced presence often changes the tenor of a situation. Not to mention that because watercooler chat is decimated in a virtual team, there’s less opportunity to overhear organic thinking and collaboration. A remote manager needs to elicit the (previously) unsaid with great questions, teasing out differing opinions and points of view, to form a more complete picture.
Being great at virtual management requires more trust, more planning, and more empathy. Managers are working with fewer intangible inputs in a time of stress, uncertainty, and burnout. Being able to connect with the team and motivate them intrinsically will separate the good from the great in this new evolution of management.