Managers and team supervisors have a central part to play in making Smart Working successful. Sometimes managers worry about having to manage in new ways, but in reality most of the core management competences are the same – just exercised in a more varied context.

The following are the key behaviours and skills that come into focus when managing in situations where not everyone is in front of you at the same time.

There’s a higher premium on people skills, and exercising people skills remotely

There is a range of skills which as a manager you are probably using to get the most from your team. This includes making yourself understood, listening skills, motivational skills, delegation techniques, coaching, persuading, negotiating, detecting problems in performance, disciplining and many more.

When people (including ourselves as managers) are working in different times and places, we have to learn how to exercise those skills in different ways so that they are just as effective – or maybe even more so.

This includes communications techniques, but can also mean different approaches to the ways we work together and share information. It also often means being more systematic about things that may have been done more off-the-cuff before to ensure that no one is unaware of or excluded from something important.

To evaluate your people skills and how they might change, work through the exercise Taking Forward Smart People Skills.

Improved communication skills

Smart people skills depend on improving communication skills and exercising them in new ways.

The worry that most people have is of losing the added value of face-to-face meetings in terms of body language, eye contact, expressions, whispered asides and so forth. They also worry about not capturing the informal and sometimes tangential knowledge-sharing that often goes with working together in the same place.

However, most people will still see each other on a very regular basis – so it is not as though those kinds of communication will come to an end.

There are techniques for capturing the benefits of everyday interaction using new techniques. Check out the resource on Rethinking Meetings and Collaboration and the exercise linked to that.

Two key principles are:

  • Use all channels: Keep the communication going through the various channels of voice, web conferencing, instant messaging, virtual face-to-face meetings, physical face-to-face meetings, business social media and email, as appropriate.
  • Assess the added value: Have a clear view where physical face-to-face interaction adds significant value, where virtual face-to-face adds enough value or different kinds of value, where different kinds of communication are appropriate and effective for different situations.

Delegating – you don’t have to do everything yourself!

Managers don’t have to be brilliant at everything! It may be that after working through the list of Smart People Skills you find some that are particularly challenging. For example, there may be someone in the team who is excellent at building team spirit through social interaction. Rather than forcing awkward ‘how are you today’ calls, perhaps this other person should be allowed the initiative in communicating socially and around special events like birthdays, charitable activities etc.

Delegating parts of your role to other people is also important as a manager. At times when you are not available, there will be a need for someone to exercise some of the decision-making and work scheduling or monitoring tasks.

Managing by results

One of the key changes – though perhaps it should not be – is managing on a results-focused basis. When people are all together in the same place, there is a natural tendency to slide into managing by presence.

Sometimes, this habit of managing by presence can stretch out to include people who may be working elsewhere. Worse still, their availability can come to be expected at all times, creating pressure and work-life conflict.

Is it necessary to check if a remote worker is working at a particular time, as long as the work is done by the agreed deadline and is of good quality? It’s about trusting that people will do what has been agrees, and empowering them to get on with it.

With a focus on presence, too much emphasis is being put an input – people’s time at work – rather than the output.

Check out the resource on Managing by Results for advice on how to put this into practice.

Detecting issues facing people you don’t see so often

A well-organised approach to managing by results should help to detect if someone has performance problems that need to be addressed.

But people do also face other problems to do with their wellbeing or stress around both work and life-events. This is where keeping up the remote communication is so important, and encouraging team members to do so also, to ensure that issues are picked up.

The resource Dealing with Problems and Issues explores this further.