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Leading and Setting up Education Sector Employees for Success in a Remote Environment

If you find yourself in a situation where one or more of your team members will be working remotely for the first time, you need to know how to effectively lead them from a distance and set them up for success. Remote jobs are not as popular in the education sector as in other sectors, so leading a remote team might be new for you, too.

Outstanding leadership also allows you to attract, hire, and retain the best talent. When you help your employees feel prepared, confident, and ready to get the job done in a remote environment, you create a win-win situation for your team members, for you, and for your educational organization, which in the long run, ultimately benefits students.

Below we provide several tips and suggestions that will help you lead your education sector employees and set them up for success while working from home.

Give Your Team the Scoop About Adjusting to Remote Work

Your team member(s) are likely excited to work remotely, but they may have unrealistic ideas about what working from home looks like and be unaware of the skills or habits necessary to succeed. You can be an effective leader by talking straight with new remote employees and letting them know that remote work is genuinely different; it’s not just a change of location. This is especially true in the education sector, where remote work has been historically scarce.

Communicate that it might feel strange without a set schedule for their day or the ability to chat with nearby colleagues. Most importantly, encourage your team to communicate their feelings to you and let them know that remote work has a steep learning curve for most people. When your remote team members know you are there to support them through their learning curve, they won’t feel as discouraged, and most will gradually settle into a productive system of completing their work in a way that supports your educational organization’s mission and values.

Share Common Pitfalls That Remote Employees Face

Team members who have little to no experience working remotely are likely unaware of the common pitfalls of remote work. The best way to help your remote employees get on the right track and create a remote workflow that works for them is to communicate how they can avoid the most common dangers of working remotely.

Some examples include:

  • Avoid overworking and checking your email all night and all weekend by setting a clear end to your day and week.
  • Keep connected to your colleagues to avoid loneliness.
  • Proactively set-up a structure for your day including work blocks, start and stop times, lunch, and small breaks. In the absence of externally provided structure, it is incumbent on you to structure your own day. This ensures that you are driving your day rather than letting your day drive you. 
  • Follow the recommended communication process, so you do not have constant interruptions. For example, set specific times to check and respond to emails.
  • Create a distraction-free environment that is conducive to focused work. This will help ensure that you are not constantly interrupted by external distractions.  
  • Remain empathetic and make an effort not to take chats personally, especially with those who haven’t yet mastered written communication. More simply, do not infer tone in an email, chat or text.

Teach Your Team to Embrace Over-Communication

When you are continually sending messages and emails back and forth, new remote workers might feel that too much communication is happening. Yet over-communication is the norm for managers and workers alike in a remote environment. You and your team members need to stay on the same page concerning tasks and projects and resolve small issues before they blow up.

Remote work inherently requires clear communication, but this is even more important in the education sector. Poor communication can impact teachers and students in negative ways and ultimately undermine your organizational goals. As a remote manager, you frequently need to clearly and proactively share your ideas and instructions with your team.

Another reason over-communication is so crucial with remote work is that you cannot rely on tone of voice or body language to read your team members or communicate organizational values. You need to explicitly repeat values and instructions to encourage your team and keep them on task. When you over-communicate with your team, they also over-communicate with one another and it helps create a positive remote work culture.

Engage in Quality Communication

We’ve mentioned the importance of teaching your team to embrace over-communication. Yet it’s just as crucial for you to communicate effectively with your team. One of the most considerable differences between managing a remote team member versus an in-person team member is how people communicate with each other, meaning that learning how to communicate well with your team is vital to being an effective leader.

Taking the time to develop best practices in communicating with your team will ensure quality and coherence in your messages. Each person has a different management style, and each one of your team members might respond differently to specific approaches; sometimes, best practices are more about consistency than which method is the “best” approach.

These questions can help you decide the best way to engage in quality communication with your remote team members:

  • Should you use Slack, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, or some other chat tool?
  • How quickly should you respond to messages from your team members?
  • What is the best way to communicate abstract ideas, such as the mission, values, or vision of a particular education-related project?
  • How should you communicate with a team member if you have to give them bad news, negative feedback, or a tough message?

There aren’t necessarily right answers to the above questions, but you should consider each of these aspects and let them inform your communication style. Communicating with your remote team does not have to be overwhelming. You can focus on your communication quality and frequency and infuse it with empathy to create a solid foundation with your team.

Continuously Practice Your Writing Skills

Increasing or maintaining quality communication with your remote team members also requires good writing skills. In their best-selling book, Remote, the co-founders of Basecamp, a popular project management software, state, “Being a good writer is an essential part of being a good remote worker.” This is most certainly true. Whether using Slack or another messaging platform, synchronous writing remains the primary communication mode for most remote managers. When you are writing and collaborating in real-time with your team members, you need strong writing skills.

Lead With Empathy

The vast majority of communication between you and your remote employees and among your remote employees occurs via the written word. This makes it easy to interpret requests in different ways or to assign tone or intention. Requests can seem insensitive, and questions can seem invasive, especially when you don’t have in-person cues like tone and facial expression to interpret the communication.

As a remote manager in the educational sector, you have to show empathy to your team members. Always assume positive intent and give the benefit of the doubt to your team. If you find yourself annoyed or bothered by how someone communicates with you, share the feedback in a constructive way that teaches the person how to approach you next time. You cannot assume a team member will change their behavior or know your preferences unless you share what you’re feeling and the outcome that you want.

Another way to lead with empathy and overcome the challenges of remote work is through video chat. Video calls and meetings allow you to read physical cues and provide the closest thing to face-to-face interaction. On occasion, instead of sending an email or making a phone call, ask to video chat with your employees.

Your employees will also struggle with making assumptions about how you or their colleagues might feel while reading an email or chat message. You can lead by example and encourage your team to seek clarity and understanding and determine if those on the other end are on the same page.

Build Trust and Rapport Across Your Team

When you work in a physical space with someone as their colleague or as a manager, trust and rapport naturally emerge from regular interaction. In a remote work environment, trust and rapport do not happen organically. As a remote manager, you need to make a conscious effort to connect with your team beyond job-related issues and tasks. You cannot host an event or happy hour to talk about things unrelated to work, but you can have a team video call for your team to chat. Similarly, consider setting up a dedicated chat group or channel where your team can share jokes, talk about hobbies, or discuss their weekend plans. Building a connection among team members will set them up for success.

Set Clear Remote Work Expectations

Setting your remote team up for success requires that they have an understanding of how you define success. You can set clear expectations, so your team knows where they are in terms of meeting goals and completing job-related tasks. 

Questions you can use to guide you in setting clear remote work expectations include:

  • What does success look like?
  • How can we measure success?
  • What is the difference between producing acceptable work and outstanding work?
  • What particular items and aspects matter to me that others might not be as particular about?
  • How does a specific project tie into the mission or values of our educational organization?

Schedule Individual Time With Each Remote Team Member

Create space in your schedule to spend time with each one of your team members individually. Whether you meet via phone or video chat, this allows you to share expectations and build a connection with each team member. Also, one-on-one meetings will enable you to coach new remote workers on any struggles they are having and help them move along the learning curve of working remotely.

As a manager who works remotely, skipping these conversations might be tempting, especially if your team performs well. It’s not only vital that you do not skip these meetings but when workers are remote, you should hold them more often. One-on-one sessions with your remote employees provide the perfect time to discuss things that could be better, how the person is adjusting to remote work, and the things you can do to support them as their manager.

Commit to a Process for Communications

We’ve saved arguably the most crucial aspect of leading and setting up remote education sector employees for success until last. Communication is undoubtedly vital, as evidenced by the discussion above, but how do you and your employees handle the infinite messages and emails that keep your devices ringing and pinging all day long?

The only way for you to effectively lead and for your team to succeed with remote work is to find a process or system for handling communications. Otherwise, you will all throw your devices in the microwave, in a lake, or off a balcony. The deluge of incoming communication could become too much to handle.

Each organization has a different process to solve this problem.

For example, a popular remote company, Zapier, separates internal emails from external emails. Additionally, they created a private internal blog to house all group emails, so comments are threaded instead of each member on the list getting a new email for each reply. Other remote companies, like GitLab, have deliberately chosen to communicate asynchronously, but only for non-pressing needs. Employees make a concerted effort not to pull someone away from their work with notifications for messages and emails.

Your communication process might not be as simple to separate in the education sector, depending on the mission and purpose of your organization. If you have direct contact with teachers or students, communication potentially cannot wait. In any case, you need to find the process that fits best within the constraints of both your immediate and broader tasks and goals.

Contact WorkMonger Today to Find Quality Remote Workers for Your Educational Organization

We work with all types of organizations in the broad education sector and remain passionate about ensuring that every child has access to education. You need quality employees who are trustworthy self-starters to hold remote non-teaching roles in your organization. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you find the best talent to fill your remote positions.

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