The 5 Remote Management Mistakes We Made

Managing other people is not easy. Even under ideal conditions, management is more of an art than a science, in which we delicately balance compassion and friendship against productivity and healthy boundaries. And as you may have noticed—these are not ideal conditions.

The coronavirus pandemic (and attendant global-ish lockdown) has tilted “normal” office culture on its axis. Anyone who managed others before this crisis is now, freshly minted, a remote manager. And remote management brings with it a whole raft of distinctive challenges and pitfalls that, while perhaps not unique to our current circumstances, are certainly exacerbated by the physical separation between leaders and their reports.

Long before the pandemic descended, Nomadic Learning was an entirely remote-first company. All managers were (and still are) remote managers. That means that, over the years, we have made just about every remote management mistake possible, and we have learned from those experiences.

We’ve collected some hall-of-famers here to help other managers now finding themselves in the same position. Learn from our mistakes, lest ye be doomed to repeat them.

1. Monitoring and Micromanaging: How are you supposed to know if your employees are getting their work done?! It feels more comfortable to check in. A lot. Just to be sure. And hey, maybe a little keystroke logging wouldn’t be a bad idea. Nope, trust us. It’s a bad idea. (It’ll also make you seem like a Lex Luthor-style movie villain.)

Instead: Start from a place of trust and transparency. Communicate to your employees that you have faith in their ability to get the job done without tons of oversight. Would you have hired them if they needed a babysitter to hit deadlines? Probably not.

2. Imitating Office Life: Most office dynamics don’t really translate to remote work. It’s a mistake to fixate on things like set working hours or dress codes or performative deference to the big boss. These strictures—hard to shake in the formal setting of a white-shoe law firm or a Wall Street trading floor—don’t mesh with our current situation.

Instead: Roll with the new normal. Embrace flexible policies that accommodate the new challenges your team might be facing at home. Loosen up corporate culture to reflect the ever-shifting reality of remote work. Honestly, it’s probably healthier for everyone in the long-term.

3. Breaking Our Own Rules: In the office or out, we lead by example. The team notices if the manager regularly misses deadlines, skips the weekly catch-up call, or persists in sending emails when everyone else is using Slack or Teams. It signals that the rules in place are just suggestions, or worse, that they apply to everyone but the team lead.

Instead: This one is simple. Before setting any expectation for the team, make sure that you yourself can (and will) meet it. That means doing things when you say you will, adopting the collaboration tools your team is using, and visibly championing the strategies and approaches that work best for the group.

4. Communicating Too Much or Too Little: Nobody nails the cadence of remote communication on the first try, and mostly it tends to go one of two ways. We schedule way too many calls in an effort to check in and chat like we would in an office. Or, we forget to communicate at all, failing to share important info and leaving employees hanging.

Instead Talk to your team and see how they’re feeling about your communication style. Adjust check-ins and remote meetings accordingly. Use tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams to your advantage, by working out loud in a single transparent channel open to the whole group.

5. Forgetting Your Own Needs: Managers are not immune to the fear and uncertainty we’re all experiencing. Some of us will fixate and become paralyzed by the enormity of the situation. Other will push too hard and work all hours. Either way, we end up stressed and overwhelmed. It’s a recipe for burnout.

Instead: As you bring empathy and flexibility to your management style, make sure you’re being gentle with yourself too. Work normal hours, get enough sleep and exercise. Eat well. Find time for your family and your personal needs. You can’t take care of your team if you don’t take care of yourself.

When it comes to working remotely, many of us are learning as we go. In the Nomadic Academy, our growing community of global professionals is powering through the Remote Work Bootcamp—sharing insights, solving problems, and keeping hope alive every day. To learn how you and your team can be a part of this and other Nomadic Academy Programs, check out our plans here.