Managing up as an individual contributor on a remote team

Jun 25, 2020
Author: Collin Stewart

Adapting to a remote-first work environment – this may be something you and your team are currently navigating. In fact, as the effects of Covid-19 continue to re-shape how society operates, it is likely you and your team are trying to figure out how to best handle the “new normal” or working remotely.  

And it’s hard.

Some team members – and entire teams, for that matter – are comfortable working remotely. Others, however, are not. And for those learning to find their comfort zone with remote work, there’s a lot to learn, for both managers and individual contributors. 

Remote work takes an increased commitment to open communication, support, and accountability for all involved.

“Everybody has been pushed into a different zone – managers are looking for ice breakers, and employees are on their own island. Some are doing well, and some are struggling. Of course, we do have some experience with distributed teams – even before Covid, are distributed. Sales teams, for instance, are spread out, but working for one cause,” says Renee Safrata, CEO of Vivo team, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

That reality has opened up the opportunity for individual contributors to support their team, show managers what they need to do, as well as push the team forward. It’s not about the boss being the only person accountable – the opportunity for ownership is really spread out and distributed.

Managing up effectively 

If distributed or remote teams have opened up the opportunity for everyone to contribute in new and meaningful ways – in particular assisting managers in how to support their teams – then communication between team members is critical.

That said, communicating with managers, especially when it comes to what works and what doesn’t on the team, can be difficult for some. 

The key to enabling that critical dialogue, says Safrata, is moving beyond reporting and getting to genuine connection.

“If we encourage and mentor people to come forward with their mistakes and wins, we can all move the needle forward. That’s the way a team works – when individuals thrive, the team thrives,” says Safrata.

For instance, some people thrive in remote work. They can think more clearly. They need to tell their managers that this works for them. As an individual contributor we need to be more open to sharing our wins and losses.

Staying quiet…and getting lazy

(Editor’s note: we had Christi Wall on the podcast a while back to discuss how you take your critical internal sales knowledge and turn it into an effective training program. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the whole in-depth interview here)

The flip side of this committed style of communication in a remote-first landscape is the threat of team members staying quiet or getting lazy during meetings. Of course, these threats can exist in any work environment, but on camera meetings have heightened this reality.

With no one in the same room, it’s easier to stay quiet and blend into the background. Moreover, apps such as Zoom or Google Hangouts allow  a user to turn their camera off. Not having yourself visible during a meeting implies you’re not as present as you could be; not as dedicated to delivering on the collective goal of the team.

“Lazy, to me, is when we turn off the camera. We can see when we are all paying attention. For example, if someone gets a text during a meeting and responds, you can call them out,” says Safrata.

That sounds difficult, but it’s a really important element. And, if week after week, cameras continue to drop, that’s a problem. You have to have norms for the meeting.

So…what are the meeting norms Safrata is referring to? They’re four simple points:

  • Don’t stay silent – participate in every meeting actively
  • Cameras on – make sure your team can see you participating
  • Throw to different people in the meeting – make sure everyone chimes in by asking different people in the meeting to answer a question or provide their thoughts on particular topic or question
  • Defining the length of the workday. Without the ceremonies of commuting to and from an office, it’s easy to schedule meetings after hours or work late into the evening. Be careful.

A little emotional intelligence

Finally, and potentially most nuanced, is the importance of emotional intelligence, in a remote-first work environment.

 According to Safrata, the five pillars of emotional intelligence are: 

  • Self awareness
  • Self management 
  • Empathy
  • Social skills
  • Leader assertiveness

How does this apply to remote work? Let’s use a meeting, for example. 

Let’s say you are getting frustrated in a meeting. The first step to managing that effectively is noticing it. If you realize you are frustrated, you can address it.

Then, you have to deal with those emotions. Of course, many don’t, because they don’t know how. And this can cause rifts on teams – but dealing with frustration in an effective way is critical.

That leads to empathy – you need to have empathy for yourself, and for others. Understanding that others are struggling is truly important.  

Next up is professional social skills encompass the ability to discuss topics, even if they are hard. 

Finally, leader assertiveness, or the ability to mention that you are angry to a manager or a co-worker.

“Remember, everyone shares the same goal. On a sales team, everyone is gunning for growth. So, it is always helpful to understand the context of the team – who is struggling? Who needs help?” says Safrata.

If you know of someone having a hard time, mention to a manager that someone is struggling. And ask how you can help.

For more on Safrata’s thoughts on team chemistry, communication, and support in a remote-first landscape – including her thoughts on accountability and the importance of feedback – check out the rest of her interview on The Predictable Revenue Podcast.