Why Remote Management is Hard and How to Master it with Kevan Lee

Posted on March 5, 2019

What we cover on Episode 30

Buffer is a social media management platform. It has grown to over 80 employees and zero offices.

As remote work increases, the number of companies like Buffer continues to grow. On this episode of the GrowthTLDR podcast, we talk to Kevan Lee, VP of Marketing at Buffer about this experiences working as a remote manager.

We talk about the importance of building personal connections with your team. How regular feedback is crucial in making you a better leader. And, how does transparency change as the company grows?

Happy Growing!


1. You need to invest in building personal connections with your team

 

When you’re a remote manager or a team member on a distributed team, it can be a challenge to build personal connects with your colleagues.

Sure, you can still talk on Zoom, Slack and other communication tools, but it’s a lot harder to build a personal connection with someone vs. when you work together in the same office.

Both the company and manager need to make an effort to create those personal connections between employees.

One of the things Kevan has found is his one-to-one meetings take on a different meaning as a remote manager; there an opportunity to create that personal connection.

“One of the things it took me a while to understand is the importance of your one-to-one meetings in creating personal connections with your team.”

When you’re remote, those one-to-one meetings could be one of the only times your team gets to spend time with you face to face, albeit, that face is in a video chat box :).

“In my weekly one-to-one, I let the other person tell me whatever they’re thinking about because I might be the only person they talk to on video for that whole week. That might be the only hour they sometimes have.”

As a manager of a remote team, you also have to spend time learning how your different team members communicate most effectively. Some are fine with email and slack; others may need you to spend more time on video calls.

“So there is a certain level of emotional intelligence that you need to have to understand the differences between the teammates that you have and how they communicate.”

Remote workers can often feel disconnected at times. It’s crucial managers look for ways they can call out their team for doing great work, that can help reinforce that sense of belonging for people and remind them their work is having an impact.

“We emphasize encouragement and words of affirmation, recognition, and we usually do that in Slack. We use a tool called discourse to communicate announcements; we use it to share an appreciation for one another as often as we can. It helps to create a positive feeling among the team.”

It can often be the little things that make a big difference in building those connections with your distributed team. For example, Kevan holds two identical meetings at different times to ensure his team can attend in person without having to do it late night or early morning.

“I’ve created two identical calls at different times of the day, so we have at west coast hours, that works for Asia-pacific, and another at east coast hours, that works for Europe. It’s the same content, but it allows everyone to participate in one of the calls. “

 

2. Getting regular feedback from your team is the quickest path to being a great leader.

 

One of the most important things to do when you start managing is to ask for regular feedback from your team. It’s impossible to know how all of the people on your team feel about your management style.

There are many forms of feedback. One of the most common in companies is formal feedback as part of a regular review.

“At Buffer, we do this a couple of different ways. We gather feedback as part of our 360 reviews. We use CultureAmp as our review software, and we do reviews quarterly, and once or twice a year those reviews are 360s. So, as part of the review, you do both your self-review and get feedback from your team who answer specific questions.”

That’s not the only feedback you want as a manager. You also want your team to provide input on your ideas/plans, and to sometimes questions those ideas/plans if they disagree. But, it can be very uncomfortable for someone to ask their manager, so how do you foster an environment where people feel comfortable doing that?

One of the things a manager can do is make it clear they don’t always have the right answer and are often expressing their best opinion based on the current information they have.

“One of the things I’ve tried to do is be publicly wrong about things, or express opinions in a way that allows people space and permissions to push back on that or to say no or to show that I’m fallible. If you show you’re comfortable being wrong, I think people start to take you at your word and are comfortable about calling you out on it a bit more often.”

3. You have to be conscious about how the merits of transparency scales

 

Having transparency as part of the company culture is something that helps employees feel connected to both the company and each other. However, as the company grows, that approach to transparency may need to change.

For example, making every piece of information available for all employees can be overwhelming as the company grows and the amount of information grows.

When Buffer was much smaller, they had a policy of transparent email.

“Transparent email is something that we’ve always done. What that looks like for us is that every email you send, you copy a list that everyone at the company is looped into. So in theory, you can receive every single email that anyone at the company sends every day.”

That’s great for employees to learn about the business when the company was 20 people, but when it has grown to over 80, is that level of transparency feasible anymore?

As Buffer as grown, their approach to ensuring employees have access to information has moved from push to pull.

“You can either push everything to people and hope they sink or swim in the sea of information, or you can make the information available so that people can pull it as they desire. And I think we’re more on that pull spectrum now. I think pushing it is maybe how we started, and it was great, but we’ve adapted to be a bit more pull, and I think that’s helped.”

The podcast provides a more in-depth look at these topics, so if you enjoyed reading the above, please do give it a listen.

Happy Growing!

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