Author Marcey Rader: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Remote Team
Get out of your pajamas! Fight the stereotype! :) Really, I would want people to start having a transition from work to home. We tend to work more at home, and our days run into our nights, and the lines are blurry. Even if you are only stepping away for a few hours to hang with the family before you have to go back to work, transition.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcey Rader.
Marcey Rader is a productivity speaker, author, and coach. She is the founder of Work Well. Play More! Her latest book is Work Well. Play More! Productive, Clutter-Free, Healthy Living — One Step at a Time. You can learn more about her at www.marceyrader.com and www.workwellplaymore.com
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
I spent the first part of my adult life in different roles in the clinical research industry. After experiencing severe corporate burnout and health issues seven years ago, I started Work Well. Play More! I help individuals climb the ladder or build their business without sacrificing their health. I speak, write, and coach individuals and teams on personal productivity and health behaviors. Topics include focus, time boundaries, task management, email habits, eating for energy, movement opportunities, and stress reduction. I’ve worked remotely since 2002 with all remote teams and coach businesses on how to navigate working from home post-COVID.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
One of my first keynotes was for $500 to the North Carolina Business Travel Association. My first book, Hack the Mobile Lifestyle, was for sale at the expo. A senior leader for the Extended Stay America hotel chain purchased 13 copies. Six months later, I received a call asking if I wanted to be their spokesperson. This led to a two-year contract and multiple opportunities in the travel industry. I updated that book to Beyond Travel: A Road Warrior’s Survival Guide, which I am really proud of. I don’t even tell people about the first book!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I gave a half-day workshop to 100 executives of Emaar Properties in Dubai. I explained the concept of decision fatigue and the benefits of automated decisions, even down to your wardrobe. Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs were my examples. One of the men in the audience pointed out that wearing their white dishdasha was decision automation. It was a big ‘duh’ moment for me. I could have used them as examples because 3/4 of my audience was wearing the white robe!
My lesson was to look at my audience and really think of how my words will affect them. It was early in my career, and now I tailor my workshops and keynotes to the groups I am speaking to differently.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
Post-COVID, we have to give a lot of grace. People working remotely aren’t doing so in an ideal environment. Their spouse may be home, have to be a part-time teacher to their kids, or don’t have a proper set-up. Ask people about their boundaries and what they can handle. They may be afraid to tell you that they are distracted all day with the kids and working only after they go to bed. They may be afraid to tell you that they are struggling emotionally or mentally. They may think that they shouldn’t complain or discuss any negative things going on at home because they have a job. It’s survivor’s guilt. Have a resource available to them to speak with if you don’t have someone on staff.
Remind people that they need to take time off. Even if we can’t go far, we need vacation and days off. Several of my clients have felt guilty for taking vacation days because they are working from home. Your brain needs time to rest! Your family needs some hang time!
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?
I’ve been working remotely since 2002 and managed remote teams since 2010. I currently manage a global team in the Philippines, Kenya, and Guatemala, as well as have a team of contractors in the US.
Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you give a story or example for each?
Overcommunication. The tendency may be to check in frequently when working from home, but this can often feel like micromanaging. When we are in an office, we expect to be interrupted by people walking by, doors shutting, phones ringing, and instant message. When we are remote, we are not expecting these things. Any interruption — text, chat, telephone, email — tends to be seen more as a distraction.
A friend of mine said that her instant message, text, and email blew up the first two weeks after her entire company moved to work from home. All of the typical water cooler talks had now moved to tech channels. She would have been having one conversation in the hallway. There were now three people trying to have different conversations with her at the same time. It was overload.
Lack of Trust. Your staff has more than just work going on. Their kids may be out of school, have parents to worry about, concerns about job security, and at some point, may get sick. They are not robots. Please give them the space they need to get the job done. It may not be your regular office hours, but this is not an ordinary time. If you can’t trust someone to work from home than there is a much bigger issue.
Often staff will feel like they are being watched or micro-managed and will fear not reacting immediately to a message. Direct reports will worry that their manager will think they aren’t working. Don’t encourage this behavior. It increases telepressure and reactivity. Accuracy is more important than responsiveness for most roles.
When I first started working from home in 2002, I never left the house during work hours because I was afraid if my manager called and I didn’t answer, she would think I wasn’t working. I never thought about people in the office going out for lunch or stepping away from their desks for work social events. It resulted in low-level anxiety that I had to always be ready for a message.
Ineffective storage. This may seem obvious to some, but I’m still shocked at how many teams store documents on their local hard drives rather than in the cloud, even when the company has cloud storage. If teams haven’t started adopting the use of Microsoft Teams, Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive, they need to start now. The IT department won’t be down the hall to fix your computer, and anyone could get sick at any time.
It’s not too late to start the process and follow your SOP on shared document storage (most people have procedures for this, they just don’t follow them!). Using a cloud storage service, preferably one that allows multiple people in a document at once and can be used in real-time can be a savior. No one is waiting while a document is being checked out, and you always have the latest version.
Several years ago, I was in a bike accident and suffered a Grade III concussion. I wasn’t allowed to look at a screen for two weeks. I stored most of my documents on my hard drive, and my team was at a loss and had to recreate things while I was out. A CEO I’ve coached recently suffered a head injury as well, and her team would have been at a loss if they did not use their shared drives effectively. She couldn’t have just dropped off her computer to someone else. She needed to follow the protocol for cloud storage.
One to One meetings. Many of my managers miss the face time and don’t feel they get what they need from their one-to-one with their staff. I didn’t meet my manager in person for four years, and it was before video, yet I felt close to her. Because we were used to it, there wasn’t a learning curve.
Video can be great to see the nuance in a person’s expressions, however, know that it’s okay to just make a phone call. We’re getting video fatigue, and the phone still works! If you talk by phone, do it as a walking meeting. They aren’t just good for your butt, they’re good for your brain! After about 10–15 minutes, it can increase creativity and collaboration. You aren’t competing with a device sitting in front of them (or you!) to get distracted and lose focus. Since we move less when we work from home, there are health benefits as well. One platform I recommend for one to one meetings is All Elements 1:1. Their service makes your sessions consistently human and productive.
My Vistage Chair, Janet Boudreau, has been doing some of her sessions with her Chief Executives as walking meetings in parks. Being outdoors away from the office, whether at home or onsite, gets you to think outside the box and get a dose of nature to increase your happiness.
Create and respect boundaries. Due to circumstances at home, people may have to work odd hours. Remote workers often feel a low level of anxiety that if they don’t answer every email, text, or instant message, that their co-workers will think they aren’t working. They work long hours and never really shut it off. Ask your team members what their most productive hours will be and have everyone communicate when they are available. Remember, this wasn’t a choice for everyone, and they may not prefer to work from 6–10:00am and then again from 8–11pm, but they need to until kids are back to school.
This may not work for you or your role, and it’s not permanent, but it may be what you need to do for now. Avoid increasing telepressure by not sending messages late at night or on the weekends if that isn’t what you would do in the office environment. Schedule your messages using Delay Delivery in Outlook or Boomerang or Streak in Gmail.
One of my private coaching clients is a scientist with two kids under the age of five. They need a lot of attention at that age, and during the pandemic, they have struggled to find a sitter, and daycare isn’t open. She has to be as productive as she can during the windows she has available. It’s not ideal, but once she accepted things would not be normal at home, she communicated her boundaries and availability to the team and showed model behavior.
Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
Many people went remote fast without a plan in place. We’ve been doing this long enough that it’s perfectly okay and encouraged to take a step back and regroup. Anonymously survey your staff to find out what’s working and what isn’t. Hold a meeting with different stakeholders at various levels and take those results to heart to implement new policies. Pretend you are a new company and throw out the old ways. You’re building from the ground up with a new hybrid or fully remote structure in place. What would you change? Then….change it. It’s not too late.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?
I think it’s even more important to give feedback more often when working remotely. Use video at least occasionally for one-to-ones, so they get used to your tone and inflection. Make sure the camera is positioned so they can see your upper body. They will be able to read body language and not just facial expression. I use a Virtual Daily Check-In in Asana, my project management system. I ask staff to tell me: Daily Productivity Score, One concern they have, Top Priority for tomorrow, and their Big Win for the day. It allows me to keep a pulse on what’s going on and catch things that I may otherwise miss.
Can you specifically address how to give constructive feedback over email? How do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
Make it very clear, especially with new employees, on what your communication style is. If you are very direct like I am, it may come across as curt. Whenever I am dealing with someone new, I let them know how I write my messages and emails. We each have a section called our Owner’s Manual in our Employee Success Manual. We each write How to Work With Me, and then others can write How to Work With X. The rule is we can’t be upset about what someone else says about working with us. We have all found it very helpful!
Even when giving positive feedback, it can be seen as unfavorable if the tone is misinterpreted. I recently praised someone through an online message board, and for five days, she thought I had insulted her! I felt terrible and so did she. Sometimes the mood the person is in when they read it can affect how it is interpreted. So many things go in to it that, especially if it is constructive or negative, it needs to be done via video or phone.
Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
It’s great to do weekly meetings over the video, but don’t do them daily unless people really desire it. It can be seen as disruptive and micro-managing. Survey them to find out. I had a client who was doing book clubs, trivia events, and meetings several times a week thinking he was keeping a bond with his team. Actually, some people were getting tired of the meetings, and with their families at home, they wanted to spend that extra time with them. Ask your team what they need! Don’t assume.
What do you suggest can be done to create a healthy and empowering work culture with a team that is remote and not physically together?
One of my clients has a Fun Team. They really stepped up and created fun virtual events like trivia nights, a talent show, and scavenger hunts. The turnout is astounding. They’ve had over 100 people participate in online events! A lot of entertainment companies have made their services virtual, like trivia, that can be a fun way to keep the social aspect.
Another client used the steps in my book for a book club, and they went through the habit changes together. Don’t force fun or social interaction, because there were people before in the office who didn’t always participate, but have some options available for those people who need that stimuli.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Get out of your pajamas! Fight the stereotype! :) Really, I would want people to start having a transition from work to home. We tend to work more at home, and our days run into our nights, and the lines are blurry. Even if you are only stepping away for a few hours to hang with the family before you have to go back to work, transition. My friend Lilly Ferrick has Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off play on her iPhone at 5pm every day. I have Robert Randolph and the Family Band’s song Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That play at 6:00pm. That song gets me pumped and makes me want to dance and is my trigger to stop working. Find a trigger to transition with. Mr. Rogers was the king of transition. Changing his shoes and putting on that sweater told him he was in a different mode.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Talk doesn’t cook rice. It’s a Chinese Proverb. Talk gets you nowhere and it isn’t going to feed you. Start boiling that water!
Thank you for these great insights!