Managing Remote Teams

Posted By: Brian White AASPA Blog ,

Communication during this crisis has become even more critical than normal.

The K-12 public education system is very much an in-person and on-site industry. COVID-19 has changed this for most of us.  I am by no means an expert in managing remote teams, but I now find myself in the situation of learning how to be effective at this.  As I travel this path I thought that I would share my lessons in hopes that it may help some of you with these challenges.  I also hope that you will also take the time to share as we learn to lead in this new environment. The K-12 public education system is very much an in-person and on-site industry. COVID-19 has changed this for most of us.  I am by no means an expert in managing remote teams, but I now find myself in the situation of learning how to be effective at this.  As I travel this path I thought that I would share my lessons in hopes that it may help some of you with these challenges.  I also hope that you will also take the time to share as we learn to lead in this new environment.

It has become important to establish some semblance of a routine. Days were structured around knowing what time to show up to work and about what time you would leave. I would highly encourage you to maintain that same type of routine.  If you are not going in to work, get up at the same time. Start your day as any other. If you normally check email and voicemail then continue this. If you normally check-in with your staff then do that too.

Consistency and clarity become ever more important. Establish a routine with your teams on how to communicate, when to communicate, and how regularly to communicate. In general think about all the ways you normally communicate and determine how you can accomplish remotely.  

A tip I have picked up with email is to establish a set of guidelines for expectations. Make sure you include clear expectations about deadlines, expected timeline for regular updates, and who is responsible for updates and completion.

  • If you expect a response for an email then put “Response Required” in the subject.
  • If you need something prioritized, put “Urgent” in the email. 
  • If you need both, then put “Urgent - Response Required.”  

You likely have regularly scheduled meetings. Keep those, and hold them virtually. There are several options out there right now to assist you with holding virtual meetings.  We are a Google district and have found Google Hangouts very useful for virtual meetings.  It is very easy to include a Google Hangouts link within calendar invites. We also have found Zoom to be very effective with virtual meetings as well.  They have recently expanded their offerings for free accounts.  A couple free alternatives that I was using before COVID-19 include uberconference.com and freeconferencecall.com.  

A few other things to consider:

  • Establish individual check-ins with your direct reports. Agree on how often to check-in and schedule this in your calendars.  Ask questions about what they are working, what they have done, and where they need your support or help.
  • Make it easy for your team to collaborate. We have established a Google Team Drive to create documents and worksheets for collaboration. This allows us to work on projects, share feedback, and view together during our virtual meetings.  
  • Maximize the effectiveness of collaboration. Everything is new and uncharted at this time. Recommend that questions are presented with an initial proposal for a solution. It will help conversations get started quicker around how to best move forward.

Lastly, don’t forget about that person on the other side of the remote relationship. Just as when you were at work together, they still need to understand that you care about them as an employee and as a person. Don’t forget to ask them how they are doing. In a virtual world it is very easy to make everything transactional or task oriented. By working together, even remotely, we will get through this crisis stronger on the other side.