I never fantasized about being a virtual manager growing up.
Actually, I never fantasized about working from home either, but here I am, writing this from my home office in Kansas City.
No, it isn’t the beautiful corner office I always dreamed of, and I’m not wearing an incredibly stylish pantsuit that is the perfect mixture of trend and sophistication. But that's neither here nor there.
What I do have though is an amazing virtual team who is fully engaged with me every day. And that is worth way more to me than any childhood fantasy.
And it isn’t just my team, it is pretty much all of the teams at Careerminds.
I didn’t realize that we had a “secret sauce” until I started talking to other virtual managers who would complain about how difficult it was to engage people in a remote work setting.
At first I didn’t believe them because my experience has been the exact opposite. But after hearing the same complaint over and over again, I decided to analyze our teams, specifically our managers, to really figure out what we are doing well.
Here is a short, and by no means comprehensive, list of how Careerminds manages in a virtual work environment:
1. Hire People Who Will Succeed in a Remote Environment
This seems like a no brainer, but you would be surprised how many managers don’t think about this.
This point always circles back to the quote I love by Steve Jobs:
"It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do. I hire people brighter than me and get out of their way."
If you hire people who are really excited and motivated by what they do, then they will naturally be engaged, even in a virtual environment.
A good test of this is if the person has worked virtually before. And even if they haven’t you can ask probing questions during the hiring process to find out if they are sufficient, self-starters, and highly motivated employees.
2. Practice Radical Candor
We can’t say this enough on our blog! Look up radical candor, and start applying it. Today.
It's a management philosophy all about providing people with feedback directly, while still caring about them personally.
In a virtual environment, your team members can’t read your facial expressions. If you say something is “okay” over Slack, they might think that means their work is good enough, while you’re trying to tell them it could still be better.
Thoughtful and direct feedback will be one of the most impactful things you do a virtual manager.
3. Be Human
This goes along with that “caring personally” part of Radical Candor.
You’re not in a typical office environment where you can organically develop friendly working relationships. You can’t ask questions about the pictures on people’s desks or comment on how much you like someone’s nail colors.
So you have to put actual effort into having a personal relationship. Questions you would ask someone naturally you almost need to force yourself to do virtually.
An easy way to do this is to be open to a certain extent about parts of your life. I’m not saying that you need to gossip about your friend drama to everyone on your team!
But you could share how you went to a cool new restaurant with your friends last weekend, which could then lead to a conversation about everyone on the call’s favorite types of food.
See? If you put a little effort in, it can become pretty easy to start those personal relationships.
And, once you know that someone cares a lot about something, ask them about it regularly.
Someone on my team is obsessed with plants, so whenever I see something on social media about plants, or go to a flower garden, I always mention it to her. It’s a fun way to share something together while separated by hundreds of miles.
4. Video, Video, Video
A lot of people, including our blog editor (I’m giving the virtual side eyes right now), hates video calling.
And as a manager you need to respect that and make people feel comfortable.
But you always have to work on keeping people engaged and apart of the team, and video is a great way to do that.
People get most of their communication from nonverbal cues, so always talking without video can hinder impactful conversations. And seeing people’s faces really helps you connect with them on a deeper level.
Plus if you’re like me, when you video chat with someone, your full attention is on them. You don’t get distracted by emails, Slack, and texts, like you normally do when you’re on a phone call.
If people are really uncomfortable, you can do video in a way to help ease worries. For example, let people know ahead of time when you’ll be video chatting with them. And start out doing it one-on-one as opposed to large groups. It’s always helpful to start out small as well when someone is uncomfortable - as opposed to video chatting three times a day.
5. Snail Mail Is Your Friend
Showing appreciation to someone virtually is great. But you know what’s even better?
Sending them a token of your appreciation through the mail.
I know it sounds crazy. Email was suppose to replace snail mail. Like, who even sends snail mail anymore?
And I send a lot of it. Because holding something in your hand is so much more personal and engaging than sending something online.
Send people on your team books about your industry that you think they would like to read, or a funny gift for their birthdays or the holidays that shows how much you care.
I use Amazon Prime all the time for this and it really makes an impact.
Bonus: if your employee lives in a place that has Postmates, you can order them breakfast or lunch to show your appreciation. If they don’t have that, a simple $5 to their Venmo account to pay for their morning coffee does the trick too.
6. Try to Meet Up in Person, and Make the Best of It
I’ve always had a work hard, play hard mentality. So with my work relationships, I tend to have the same philosophy when we meet in person.
Speaking of meeting in person… try to do it as often as you can. I like to meet with people at least once a year.
But if they live somewhat close to you, make the effort.
This year I had an intern who lived 45 minutes away from me and we met up every other month to work together in person and then go get dinner and drinks.
We would get so much done working together, but then we also had so much fun getting to hangout. It really increased the bond in our relationship!
7. Don’t Micro-Manage, Set Expectations
No one likes a micro-manager, especially in a virtual environment.
It equates to having your phone ring off the hook with calls, emails, and chat notifications about the status of different projects. It can be so stressful that you end up not getting any work done.
Don’t do this!
Simply set expectations about work output, and then make adjustments from there. Judge performance on that. Not on status updates given to you every other hour via Slack.
If you’re good about setting expectations, it becomes really easy to see if people are doing their jobs. For example, if I ask someone to write three blogs a week, but they aren’t doing it, then I can inquire further.
But if I just said: make sure you’re writing blogs! It sets your employee up for failure and forces you into micromanaging.
8. Set an Example With Good Habits
This point is the one I’m most guilty of breaking. But I’m trying to be better!
Employees mirror their managers behaviors.
So, if the manager never leaves their desk, the employees won’t feel comfortable doing so. If you never leave work before 6:30 PM, your employees won’t feel comfortable quitting work earlier. If you never set boundaries about workload, neither will your team. If you never take a vacation, your team won’t feel comfortable taking one.
I could keep doing this forever.
But that is why you shouldn’t only encourage team members for having healthy habits, but demonstrate them yourself.
I’ve been trying to get up from my desk during the day to go on a short walk and also not checking my email all the time because those are healthy habits that I deserve to have as well as the people on my team.
While we aren’t perfect here at Careerminds, we love our culture and our company, so we try really hard to be great virtual managers. We hope these tips help you at your organization!
Do you have a tip that wasn’t included above? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.