How remote work is creating a new role for managers

Given the pandemic-driven shift to remote work, managers have had to be a lot of things in the last year—a source of information, a model of organizational culture, a counselor, even an IT assistant—as employees look to their supervisors to navigate the quickly changing world of work. As more organizations build remote or hybrid work into their long-term strategies, the very role of the manager is being redefined.

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When the pandemic started, many managers were focused on just one thing as they sought to supervise a newly distributed workforce: productivity. “Managers were concerned with making sure their teams and employees were getting the same amount of work done at home as they were while working in the office,” says Damian Scalerandi, vice president of operations at nearshore outsourcing technology company BairesDev.

Some organizations implemented new time-tracking tools and tasked managers with ensuring worker output stayed steady—but this approach, and the management style it necessitates, is incompatible with long-term remote work, Scalerandi says.

See also: 3 tips for managing long-term remote work in 2021

Instead, managers should be focusing on building trust with their employees above all else. That means abandoning micromanagement and shifting the entire function of the manager position to more of a facilitator position: everything from introducing new tools and communication channels to support remote work to ensuring they have license to tend to their home lives when they need to and even helping them troubleshoot WiFi issues.

Damian Scalerandi

“It’s critical that remote managers are less of a boss and more of a leader,” Scalerandi says. “During this time, employees will be looking to their managers for guidance, and it’s important for employees to know their managers are there to support them in the work environment as well as provide support for personal matters as well.”

These are lessons that leaders at BairesDev learned long before the pandemic, as the organization was founded as a remote company 12 years ago. When Scalerandi joined in 2011, the environment for remote work was rather different, as video calls weren’t commonplace and much depended on internal communication; with teams across the U.S., Europe and Latin America, he quickly saw the value of trust.

“I learned I had to trust my employees early on and that trust fostered open team collaboration and, ultimately, resulted in successful team dynamics and projects,” he says.

Key to fostering trust is patience on the part of managers. If remote managers wait five or 10 minutes for a call or email back from an employee, “it’s easy to assume that that person is not doing what they’re ‘supposed to be doing,’ ” Scalerandi says. Practicing patience and eschewing frustration—and keeping in mind that breaks from work are not only healthy but necessary—can help managers move away from micromanaging and make employees feel trusted.

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Concrete communication plans are also essential. It’s easy for remote managers to overcommunicate—but that again can make employees feel micromanaged, he says. At BairesDev, remote managers have short, daily message exchanges with their team members on three points: what they worked on the day before, their agenda for that day and what support managers can provide to help them meet those goals. The organization also recommends managers check in individually with each team member for about 30 minutes each week, conversations that often go beyond work to help foster a sense of connection.

Related: What remote-first companies need to think about in 2021

Finding the right tech solutions to support team communication and collaboration should also be in the purview of managers. BairesDev utilizes project-tracking software, and managers use it to assign tasks and check in on their status—which, he says, minimizes unnecessary and burdensome communication.

“With remote work looking like it’s here to stay, there will always be new technologies to implement and new platforms to explore,” he says, “but trusting your employees is the ultimate path to long-term success.”

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