There has been a lot of general advice circulating about how to manage remote teams during Covid-19. While many of these articles provide helpful tips, they ignore one simple fact: New managers are struggling right now more than seasoned managers.
Whereas seasoned managers may already intimately know the working styles of their teams, new managers have been thrust into remote work without properly getting their feet wet. Not only might they not know their team members interpersonally very well, they don’t have years of management experience to rely on. Here are five strategies to thrive as a new manager during Covid-19:
One new manager tendency is to manage all employees the same way. Rather than applying a “one size fits all” approach, take time to get to know each team member and ask how they work best. Mike Laderman, a newly promoted Engineering Manager at HubSpot, says “The people I manage have very different working styles. As a new manager during Covid-19, I’ve had to learn quickly how to effectively manage each person in the way that works best for them and the company.” The best way to do this is to lead with empathy, questions and trust. Ask your team members how they work best in a remote setting. Then, ask them what they need from you to be successful at their jobs.
For individuals who have recently shifted from an individual contributor role to a management role, it can be confusing to flip off the “do” switch. Laderman says, “My default mode is solve it. So for me it was difficult to switch away from ‘doing.’ I’ve quickly realized that management is a lot like coaching. I’ve had success simply by asking open-ended questions to guide my team to discover their own solutions instead of focusing on task execution myself.” As a new manager, a great question to ask your team is: do you want me to hear you, help you, or solve it?
Since we’re missing organic in-person office interactions, remote communication can feel more formal and time consuming. It’s tempting for new managers to schedule many (Zoom) meetings so that they feel more in control. Make sure you’re not scheduling needless meetings when information could just as easily be conveyed via instant message or email. But, do make sure you’re scheduling regular weekly 1:1 sessions with each team member. According to Laderman, “These regular check-ins are invaluable for supporting my team members’ career growth, project work, and psychological safety around family and health during these uncertain times.”
New managers won’t have in-office work history to use as a point of comparison. So, if you’re experiencing problems with an employee, it will be difficult to tell if the problems are Covid-19 related versus typical. Make sure you ask questions about the person’s normal working style, and ensure you’re doing baseline emotional check-ins. If your employee has extenuating circumstances at home right now (i.e. they’re homeschooling 3 kids), you’re going to need to know that and support them accordingly.
New managers tend to be conflict averse. But giving feedback doesn’t have to be negative, and it doesn’t have to feel conflictual. Commit to giving regular, casual feedback more frequently. Give both positive and negative feedback often. If you’re remote, this could either be via instant message or phone.