Being a manager in times of remote work

Some people love to work remote. Others seem to hate it. While no borders are absolute, there seems to be a line that runs between those that produce and those that support.

Producers are developers, designers, writers, analysts, testers… When forced to work from home, they know what to do. While they might prefer to communicate in the flesh, they are perfectly capable of ripping through their to-do list in isolation.

Supporters are the managers, scrum masters, product owners, coaches… Working from home makes most of them feel queasy. Their job is communication. Meetings, talking. They are the glue that binds the office together.

Working with people gets tough when there are no people to work with.

In the best case, they feel like it’s hard to do their job when nobody is at the office. In the worst case, they start questioning the value they bring to the team.

So they try to emulate the office online.

All-hands Skype meetings. A barrage of status questions through Slack. An extra online standup after lunch to “align better”.

Their job is to communicate and they will try to communicate more. Productivity grinds to a halt.

Most of the benefits of a distributed workforce are reported by producers. They can buckle down and focus without the noise and distractions of the open office. Interruptions take a nosedive. The get to organise their own schedule, maximizing their productivity. When you leave creative people alone, creativity follows.

Producers generally benefit from async collaboration. Supporters often enjoy synchronous communication. These two are at odds in both the office and the cloud. They are just more visible without an office.

If you are a supporter and you find yourself faced with a team that’s no longer on-site, you need to switch to the asynchronous mindset. Your job is still to create an environment of clear communication. You are still the glue that binds the teams together. But no longer in real-time.

Gather information and write about the current progress and issues on the internal blog. Encourage people to self-organize. Make sure your team has the tools for communication and that all of these tools are up-to-date. Make yourself available for questions and feedback.

Resist the urge to get everyone in a hangout at the same time. It’s not productive in an office and it’s horrible in a distributed team. Limit big meetings.

If you master the art of fostering a clear async environment, your teams will take care of productivity.