With teams scattered across the country, many managers are finding themselves working and leading teams remotely for the first time ever. While the challenges may be daunting, established teams are finding ways to stay productive and keep communication flowing.
But what about the challenges facing a manager who never stepped foot in the physical office? Imagine starting a new job in the middle of the Covid pandemic, leading a team of 9 people you never met before. That’s what happened to Sarah Youngbauer, who became Director of Corporate Marketing for Lattice Semiconductor in September of last year.
We were fascinated by Sarah’s story and eager to learn and share the unique challenges she faced while learning to manage a remote team.
What was it like to lead a team that you never met in person?
Starting a new job is always intimidating, particularly as a leader. On a typical first few days, you’d spend time 1:1 with your team members and likely do some group activities (lunches, coffee) with those in the same location to start building more of a rapport. These are invaluable for forming more of a personal connection and for starting to learn team members’ mannerisms. It’s much harder to do this virtually and, as a manager, you have to get creative.
How did you get to know your role and your team on a personal basis?
Have you established best communication practices – what are they?
How do you set direction and help your employees work effectively?
Does having a remote team add any significant challenges? What are the biggest challenges for you?
Pre-pandemic there was always a dynamic where those in formal offices, usually corporate headquarters, would be privy to hallway and side conversations that remote workers wouldn’t hear or have access to. In some ways, I think everyone going remote has helped open a broader flow of information. While there may still be these side conversations via zoom or chat, the fact that everyone is now scattered has increased my sensitivity to ensuring that I pass learnings from them along to my team to keep everyone aligned. Naturally, there are challenges to not being together. There’s far more reliance on collaborative technology and the lack of a physical presence makes “reading the room” more difficult. There’s also an increased level of trust required that your team is being honest about what’s working and what’s not working for them in these new conditions, that their workload is manageable and that they’re finding a balance in their work/personal lives. As we pull through this pandemic, I feel that these will all make teams much stronger and those that have learned from it will emerge much better, more empathetic communicators.
What have you started doing differently that's actually improved your overall connection to the team?
I’ve found myself talking to my team a lot more about non-work topics than I would’ve pre-pandemic. I want them to know that they have support to prioritize their personal lives and mental health, as needed. This includes small things like letting them know that I’ll be unavailable for an hour or two one day to take my dog to the vet, for a doctor’s appointment, or for a workout. I figure that if I show them I’m making these things a priority, they’ll feel more comfortable doing so. Another thing I’ve started doing is being very conscious about not dominating the conversation, particularly in 1:1s with my team. While it’s always a two-way conversation, I have increased my focus on actively listening so I can pick up on the verbal and non-verbal cues from the conversation. And I always find a way to work into the conversation that I’m here to support them if they need any help.
If you’re leading a remote team for the first time, what are you doing differently? In a future post, we’ll have even more tips and advice from managers and team leaders who are working remotely and hear how they’re keeping their teams motivated and productive.