Planning Magazine

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Management Skills for Remote Work

How to cultivate an inclusive work environment that attracts and retains high-quality employees, wherever they work.

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Make your expectations, priorities, and procedures clear for the entire team when working from home, especially for new hires. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

This story is based on Planning Supervisor's Playbook Series, Part 2, a three-part, interactive Passport course that provides lessons on communication in the virtual workplace, cultivating inclusion and engagement, and new approaches to performance evaluations.

No one wants to work for a bad manager. Likewise, no manager wants to be a bad manager.

The rapid development of new and agile leaders should be a priority for any organization that wants to remain relevant. More than ever, emerging leaders must quickly learn to deploy core leadership skills, develop a broad strategic perspective, and expand their professional and personal networks.

Enhance planning office management techniques

In the 2017 Planning Supervisor's Playbook, Matt Brandmeyer, AICP, and I laid out entry-level management skills to develop. This summer, we're launching the Planning Supervisor's Playbook Part 2. This intensive program is tailored to those established in the profession of planning and currently working in supervisory positions. During three interactive sessions, participants will learn how to create more inclusive environments that help attract and retain high-quality employees.

Through APA Learning Circles, we reached out to planners across the country to identify how we can help improve management practices in planning offices through recruitment, hiring, evaluation and performance reviews, and recognizing unconscious biases. Based on our discussions, here are five ways to improve your management techniques, whether your workplace is in-person, remote, or somewhere in between:

1. Ask more questions.

Communication is key — that fact is well known. But as supervisors, it's time for us to start asking more questions. Be direct and proactive with your prospective and existing team members: What are their goals? What are they looking for from their careers? What are their priorities? The answers can help you attract and retain employees. As supervisors, we need to keep learning and growing — which includes learning about our staff.

2. Develop written policies.

Make your expectations, priorities, and procedures clear for the entire team when working from home, especially for new hires. Working from home has introduced new challenges to training and getting started in a new role, so laying out clear expectations is essential.

Whatever you choose, put the procedures and policies in writing so everyone is on the same page. Sometimes managers try to be so flexible that we skip over taking the time to develop and document our new expectations. We might also think our staff is already fully aware of these elements, but failing to provide clear, written communication can introduce much confusion and lack of clarity.

3. Identify STAFF motivations.

What moves you, being rewarded or avoiding pain? This may seem like a strange question, but people can be motivated by either one. If you have an employee that isn't energized, and you're having trouble finding what sparks them, it may be time for a conversation about motivation.

What drives one person might not work for another. Some are attracted to the prospect of a reward: a sense of accomplishment, a financial incentive, or a contest. They may want to feel like they've made a difference. Others, however, might prefer to reduce a problem, like solving an issue with a process that could get worse if not addressed. These individuals like to volunteer as problem-solvers, especially when you explain the ramifications of failing to find a solution.

4. Create an engaging work culture, even IF you're remote.

A positive work culture goes beyond manager expectations and work policies. It depends on team engagement and ensuring that everyone still feels connected, valued, and that the work they are doing is important.

Take a step back, look at your staff, and ask yourself: Is there still a strong sense of team here? Do people feel connected, or do I need to develop a team dynamic that's as strong as when everyone was in the office together? Assign tasks to small groups so they have the opportunity to work together, even if it's on something that could be completed by an individual. Take time out for team-building activities or fun contests that don't have anything to do with work projects.

5. Get creative.

As supervisors, we must step up our creativity and innovation game — to motivate staff, find ways to reward and celebrate efforts, and retain and attract team members. Be open to new ideas, especially those you've never allowed or even considered! This could include hiring a fully remote planner in a different location, instituting signing bonuses, or providing perks like a monthly lunch in the office or extra personal days off from work.

Aimee Nassif, AICP, is the chief planning and development officer of Olathe, Kansas.