Overcoming the Manager Distancing Problem: How Managers Can Better Support Remote Employees

Amid the pandemic—and the sudden switch to working virtually—Harvard Business Review asserts that “Manager distancing is frustrating employees and stalling work.” The pandemic is forcing teams to connect virtually, but it takes serious intentionality to master remote communication. If your team is working from home due to COVID-19, here are a few ways you can support your remote team as a manager.

Set clear boundaries. Realize that remote work and real-time chat tools have changed response expectations. For starters, setting clear boundaries and defined schedules can be very beneficial. While inaccessibility is one issue, too much access is another. Being always available and responsive to colleagues can quickly lead to burnout. Make it easier on yourself and your team by establishing clear boundaries and set schedules. Here are a few examples: “I’m available by phone between 9 am and noon and 1 pm to 5 pm.” Or this: “I will always reply to non-critical emails within 48 hours.” Or “I will respond to chat Q&A for one hour after each meeting.” Remind people that just because you responded at 7 am one day, doesn’t mean you will everyday. Having everyone on your team establish, communicate and maintain their own schedule is one of the most thoughtful ways to support one another.

Reach out daily. The substance of these conversations will differ based on the nature of your work, but one of the best ways to support your team is simply by making contact. This can be as simple as asking, “Is there anything you need from me?” Or sending a kudos message: “You did an awesome job on this week’s newsletter.” These affirmations are always important, but they’re even more important during stressful times. Think of this as accomplishing what you might have by walking around the office, and having informal conversations.

Set routines and be reliable. One of the most difficult aspects of the pandemic, and working from home, is a lack of order and consistency. You can better support your team by integrating consistency into an uncertain landscape. This may be a 15-minute standup at the same time every morning, or a consistent weekly update sharing the highs and lows of the week. Integrating routines can help provide structure when everything else seems less consistent.

Focus on providing feedback. When folks work remotely, they often miss out on feedback—both positive and constructive. When employees begin feeling isolated from the team or company, the lack of feedback takes a toll on morale. It’s more important than ever to identify and point out a job well done, typically best done during a group meeting. Likewise, it’s also important to offer constructive feedback before things snowball, better done one-to-one. Emotional intelligence research shows that it’s helpful when leaders affirm their teams using phrases like, “This is tough, but I know we can handle it.”

If you’ve transitioned to remote work, your role as a manager has inevitably changed, and it’s likely more challenging now than ever before. If you want to better support your team, add some intentionality to your approach by setting schedules, holding routine meetings, and providing both positive and constructive feedback. Your team will appreciate your efforts and you’ll likely increase employee engagement and morale. You’ve got this.

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