How to manage remote teams (without becoming a Zoom pest)

Briefing: Former Waitrose boss Mark Price says managers will need to think about how they’re communicating with their staff.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 31 Mar 2020

There is strong evidence to suggest that people are more productive when they work from home, but greater isolation also comes with its challenges, especially when it is prolonged. 

Like many bosses around the country, Mark Price - former Waitrose MD and government minister, now founder of workplace engagement tool Engaging Works - is getting to grips with the prospect of having to lead a now disparate company throughout the coronavirus pandemic. 

Having trialled working from home with his tech, sales and marketing teams, all 45 of his staff are now remote working indefinitely until government advice changes. Luckily Price has plenty of experience to call upon. 

“The difficulty from a manager’s point of view is ensuring that people still feel as though they’re part of an organisation. So much of the information you get at work is through osmosis, passed from the people sitting at the desk next to you. All of that disappears. Now it’s all about how a manager chooses to keep in touch - when working remotely you have to make a point to do it more. 

“When I was running Waitrose my board would be together for the start of the week, but then all over the country for the rest. I had eight to 10 people reporting to me and had to ensure that I kept in touch with all of them. 

“I had a written list of all of their names and would tick every week if I’d had a 20-minute conversation with them as a regular habit. Just doing that is incredibly hard but you have to make sure you take the time to talk to all the people who work for you. 

“The frequency and personalisation of communication is really key. You need to phone them up and have a proper conversation. Emails can be misinterpreted easily. If you’re just relying on email there is a fair chance that people could get the wrong end of the stick.

“The reality is that there’ll still be a lot of managers who simply don’t trust their people to work effectively remotely and there’s the temptation to micromanage and send them five emails a day asking them if they’ve called Burt yet, but that is not going to work either. 

“When you don’t see people on a daily basis, you have to think much more deeply about how you’re communicating and whether you’re making your colleagues feel trusted and empowered.”

Image credit: Courtesy of Engaging Works

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