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Virtual People Management – Tips from Hanover’s Remote Supervisors

By Natasha Kolar, Talent Development Manager

It should be no surprise to anyone who has ventured into the workplace that an employee’s relationship with his immediate supervisor is one of the top predictors of whether he will be satisfied with his job. So how can a remote manager, with geography and time zones separating her from direct reports, ensure that they are engaged and happy at work?

With the number of remote staff and managers constantly expanding at Hanover, the Learning and Development team decided to do a quick pulse check and see what qualities and practices our best remote supervisors have in common. Based on survey responses from 18 managers and direct reports, we learned that a few key practices can help drive strong working relationships and employee satisfaction:

  1. “Do all you can to make up for the fact that it is not feasible to knock on your office door and get a response.” Outside of structured check-ins, make yourself available for informal communications via instant messenger, phone, and/or videoconferencing. Reply to emails within a few hours  – even if just to let your direct report know you received it and when you will respond to their inquiry.
  2. “Hold a recurring time on the calendar to meet with direct reports. Keep check-ins on the books even if there is no major issue  to discuss.” Good managers establish a rhythm to their interactions with their employees. At Hanover, this means a recurring Outlook meeting planner for check-ins and a commitment not to reschedule just because you’re busy. We are always busy. It’s important to make this relationship a protected priority.
  3. “Have the integrity to do what you say you’re going to do.” Follow through on action items in the timeline specified. This could involve providing a helpful resource, setting up a training opportunity, delegating a stretch assignment, or elevating a concern to your manager or HR. Trust is especially hard to restore from a distance, so it’s best not to let things slide.
  4. “Come to all formal check-ins prepared to talk about career pathing and strategies for helping direct reports achieve their professional goals.” Don’t wait for performance review time to nudge forward an employees’ development goals. Ensure that they are participating in relevant training opportunities and receiving stretch assignments. Invite them to shadow you and/or vice versa. Help them stay motivated by regularly sharing the impact their work has on clients.
  5. “Make an effort to visit the office, especially for performance reviews.” Make the trip to HQ from time to time as your team’s budget and your personal life allow. Make the most of your 1:1 time with direct reports when in the office, prioritizing relationship development via informal interactions as well as important conversations.

People management from a distance is not for everyone. It can be harder to develop trust, effectively communicate, and observe employees’ work. Nevertheless, some of Hanover’s best supervisors are teleworkers. They consistently overcome the limitations of virtual people management and develop strong relationships that result in job satisfaction and career development for their direct reports. In fact, based on the results of Hanover’s survey, 91 percent of employees reporting to a remote supervisor “have not experienced any challenges unique to having a remote personal manager.” This is an exciting finding, and we are proud to spotlight Hanover’s remote managers strategies for success.

chad

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