How Great Leaders Manage Remote Teams Without Too Much Effort
Don’t panic: leading remote teams isn’t as difficult as you might think — there are just some things you need to keep in mind. Today I’m going to tell you how great leaders manage remote teams without too much effort.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that more and more businesses are embracing teams of remote workers.
However, the caveat of a successful team of remote workers is knowing how to lead a remote team effectively. Coordinating call times to accommodate remote workers across different time zones, staying in contact with everyone, and managing a remote team can be challenging, but it’s far from impossible.
There’s tons of evidence that shows working remotely significantly increases productivity.
While paranoid managers envision employees slacking off at home in sweats, eating Doritos, and binge-watching their favorite Netflix series, the data shows a very different picture. The deal is, a professional relationship takes as much dedication and fine-tuning as a romantic relationship for it to work. This goes double for the ever-growing reality of managing remote teams.
Not all remote teams are created equal and so much of the effectiveness, and productivity of remote teams rests within the hands of leadership.
When remote leaders have mastered the skills needed to effectively motivate and manage their teams, it has a tremendous trickle down effect on the health, positivity, and productivity of everyone working within the organization.
Managing a remote team can have massive advantages. But to really benefit from any of these advantages, you need to manage your remote team effectively.
In other words, there are challenges to lead remote teams, but it’s certainly not impossible to do. If you are struggling to create a highly productive remote team, the following tips can do wonders. So pour yourself a piping hot cup of home-brewed coffee and let’s do the slipper shuffle towards my best pieces of advice to managing a successful remote team.
Tip #1: Hold The Line
In a normal workplace environment, lack of communication can already be a challenge. But when employees are working remote — and potentially now focused on new or different tasks and goals, communication is paramount.
In normal working life, lots of decisions are made in hallway conversations or over lunch.
When this kind of casual information sharing isn’t happening, you must replace it somehow. This starts by doing a good job of over-communicating. It’s just too easy for someone on the team to get out of sync — on the status of a task, or recent update. This happens anyway, right? Just imagine the cracks through which things can fall when your full team is working remotely.
Depending on the type of work you do, a daily or even a couple of daily meetings might be required to ensure team cohesiveness.
It’s important to keep the team connected for more regular catch ups and ensuring that everyone feels valued and can contribute. Now is not the time to let your team sit around idly. Involve them in your strategy planning and challenges and give them specific research or creative tasks.
Communication is key to effectively leading remote and distributed teams.
Setting up the standard for communication and requiring it be followed will be critical. It’s important not only to master your own skills of effectively communicating with your team but to establish the tools, channels, and best practices for your team members to communicate with one another. Equally important is the ability to identify causes of communication breakdown and steps to address them.
Moving the majority of your team communication to software like Slack is a far more efficient way to communicate than emails and the dreaded reply-to-all.
Text, email, and instant messages are the very worst way to have any conversation that has an emotional context to it or may trigger yourself or the other person. The best practice for conversations that have an emotional context is video conference followed by phone. Since so much of communication is non-verbal, having video ensures the other person can truly understand your intent and content better than without it.
Much of our language is nonverbal.
When leaders are forced to limit the nonverbal cues available to their direct reports, they increase the chance for miscommunication, defensiveness and conflict. Leaders need to communicate with their teams through multiple mediums to keep expectations clear, to reinforce priorities, and to help understand and address barriers to maximizing their team’s work while they are away from the office.
As a leader, it’s your duty to make sure that everything runs smoothly and for this effective communication is required.
Leading remotely means you will have to deal with different time zones, varying internet availability, language and cultural differences, to name a few issues. To overcome some of these hurdles, ensure that you clarify how and when team members are to communicate. Work to create a common technology stack, set behavioral expectations, and clarify where conversations will be had.
Tip #2: Set Clear Expectations
The first thing you’re going to need as a leader of a remote team is to make sure the team develops shared expectations. There are new rules to remote work, and everyone is finding out what works for them, what their communications preferences are, and how they’ll balance work and life.
There’s no water cooler for chit chat and no one is checking their cubicle to see what time they clocked in and out.
The temptation for distributed teams is that people will take advantage and slack off. That’s why it’s crucial to lay down some goals and expectations for each employee and ensure that those expectations are being met. Try to toe the line though between micro-managing and merely communicating those desires and expectations.
Team leader is, in essence, a juggler. No matter what size the team is, it is up to him to keep everything in check.
When it comes to working with remote teams, the core idea is that you have to allow flexible hours yet maintain consistency. That is to say, a concrete plan is a must, but you should be open to adjusting strategies at the same time. It is best to make friends with OKR system, as it will help with the burden of staying organized. Remote workers should be metrics-driven, as numbers give a much clearer assessment of how far with the progress they are.
The reality of a distributed working environment is that you cannot physically see all of your workers every day.
Mastering the skill of virtual performance management involves a commitment to setting and communicating clear expectations that you can measure in any setting. And following through the metrics specifically tied to output and work product. It’s also about incentivizing constructive contributions and celebrating achievements.
When everyone is physically present, it tends to be easier to evaluate the level of effort people are putting in and the output your team is generating.
The reason most remote employees can work remotely is that they’re doing the type of work that may be harder to count or measure productivity against. That is no reason to neglect accountability. Leaders must create or improve upon their systems for holding their teams accountable when everyone is working remotely.
It’s important to be intentional in preparing and orienting your remote workforce culture. This begins with establishing clear expectations.
Focus on what is being accomplished more than you focus on how long it took them to complete it. When leading a remote team, focus on the metrics that matter. Rather than worrying about what is being done, concentrate on the bigger goal that is being accomplished. Just like your own personal to-do list, it’s easy to check off a lot of small things, but it should not be all about quantity.
As a leader, you’re the captain of the ship. You have to make sure your team is always on the right path, and is doing the right things at the right time.
Remote work can turn into an exercise in futility unless you set a clear schedule of activities. Teams that remain well organized maintain a higher level of productivity than teams whose week-to-week planning leaves them wondering. You want your entire team on the same page, whether they are working in San Francisco or attending a business seminar in London.
Tip #3: Nurture The Culture
Over time you will notice that certain team members will flag at various times. Now, everyone will have a down day from time to time but if your culture is off your team will quickly become inefficient and unproductive.
Don’t neglect to have open one-on-one conversations with your team members and give support where you can.
Genuine empathy goes a long way in making team members feel valued. Mix it up with occasional team building sessions where people can share their challenges without feeling criticized or scrutinized.
Culture shifts begin with the personal transformation of leaders, managers, and supervisors.
There are an influx of guides on creating a remote team culture, but the critical steps are for distributed leaders to identify the underpinnings that drive your own organization’s mission, establish a match between your values and actions, and define the rituals and practices needed to create an environment that’s healthy for all your employees.
We all might work in the age of social distancing for an unknown period, but creating and sustaining a healthy team culture is as vital as ever.
The way you handle your people, conflicts, issues, and the other essential things, is all a part of organizational culture. I like to say that our organization or team culture is your internal brand. You need to talk about culture with your team. Make your team culture a part of your regular conversations. You can make that happen by discussing why you do what you do, the way you do it.
For example, celebrating even small wins adds a lot of positivity, and boosts morale.
You should celebrate personal milestones like birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations to help your team gel. When you’re managing remote teams, you want your team members to have good relationships, and in a remote environment, that takes effort and creativity. This can help you build cohesiveness among your team members.
It’s easy for remote workers to feel disconnected from the work culture, as they have less access to the company culture.
If you are responsible for hiring the remote team that you lead, seek out individuals who are self-motivated and share the same vision and values as your company. When getting to know your remote team, take the time to learn about their life goals, and in meetings, take a moment to connect their interests to the goals of my company. This higher level of connection helps engagement and performance remain much higher.
A company’s culture is exemplified in even small, daily interactions. It’s developed from the top down. In other words, YOU set the tone for the rest of the organization.
Many companies have spent the past couple of years building a set of values that describe how much they care about their employees, and how it’s important for them to create great lives and experiences for their employees. Make sure to reinforce these values with employees.
Tip #4: Trust Is a Must
As you no longer have easy access to your employees, you may feel nervous or out of your depth during decision-making. This can lead you to carefully micromanaging every aspect about your virtual team remotely.
Empathize with your remote workers and try to step into their shoes.
Recognize the value of their independence, and how much support they really need. Once you begin trusting your employees, you’ll find it easier to relax and focus on other tasks. Additionally, displaying trust in your team also validates their work and motivates them to do better.
One common method of managing teams, especially when it comes to remote teams, is by building trust.
Employees need to trust that their managers are looking out for their best interest. On the other hand, managers need to trust that their employees are engaged and motivated at work.
Trust is a two-way street. You have to trust your team so your team will trust you. Yup, you have to trust them before they trust you.
The team always follows the leader. If you are transparent and honest, your team is more likely to bring you their concerns before they become critical. Creating a transparent culture even when you are working remotely is crucial. Be honest about both the success and the failures, share your learning with the team and let them know how you plan to move forward to meet certain expectations.
Give your team latitude to embrace acceptable risk in trying new things.
Leaders are going to have to get creative on everything, from creating an engaged work team to meeting clients’ needs in a very uncertain time. Managing remote teams will include taking some risks. Whether it is taking a videoconference outside, creating new documentation procedures or sending care packages, let your leaders innovate on the best ways to connect their teams and get work done.
Micromanaging can be absolutely crippling to an employee’s productivity, creativity, and their sense of autonomy.
When employees work remotely, it can be tempting to check in on them often to the point of micromanaging, but it will only hinder you and your team. The best thing you can do as a leader is to suspend your disbelief and put utmost trust and confidence in your employees that they will do the right thing — which they will if employers provide a supportive structure.
Distractions may decrease productivity temporarily, but they also provide downtime to help team members recharge and remain highly motivated.
This may seem counterintuitive, but something great leaders should accept is that distractions happen when working remotely. At the end of the day, focus on the output, not the input. Decide what your expectations are, and avoid worrying about elements that are out of your control.
Tip #5: Go With The Flow
More and more people are choosing to work remotely because of the flexible work arrangements that give them the option to better balance their work life and personal life. When employees are able to effectively manage their personal lives, they won’t become as distracted by nagging personal tasks when they’re working.
Accommodating flexible working hours and time zones will help increase productivity, lead to healthier lifestyles, and a happier remote team.
Encourage your remote team members to keep normal hours that you all agree to. You can talk to them about balancing work and life, but in a remote working environment when work and life are all happening under the same roof, you might want to encourage work/life integration.
In the modern digital economy, change is accelerated. Leaders need to master the art of managing this constant change.
It’s important to take the time to understand what effective change management processes look like, the barriers to change, ways to overcome those barriers, and how to create replicable change management processes that will work in your organization.
Managing remote teams or just working from home almost always has a punk vibe to it.
Yes, many of the skills required by an ordinary team manager also apply when managing remote teams. And yes, working from home has its sweet moments. The harsh truth is, not everybody is cut out to managing things remotely. You need to adapt and go with the flow.
With businesses sheltering in place amid high levels of uncertainty, people may understandably become more risk-averse.
But it’s during such times that innovation and risk-taking become even more important for employee engagement and organizational success. Even when the organization has constraints on new investments, leaders can emphasize the need and provide opportunities for incremental innovation or process improvements.
Whatever happens, remember that every member of a team has a different home environment.
The point is that a leader needs to understand the unique circumstances of each employee. Having one-on-one meetings with each team member to make sure they are not facing any issues is a great approach to help them succeed. By having regular meetings with your team members, you can identify and correct any issues before they have a chance to impact the team.
Tip #6: Mentor More
Now this is very important: don’t set your team up to fail. As a leader you need to understand your peoples’ skills and weaknesses. Assigning them with tasks they are not experienced in, hate doing or are well-equipped for won’t boost their morale and will produce mediocre results.
The best managers mentor and coach more than manage.
They also understand the not-so-subtle nuances and differences between the disciplines of leadership and management. And just because we are in the midst of volatility, complexity and ambiguity, that doesn’t mean we halt any and all efforts in developing our teams — and ourselves. Sometimes that requires outside help, new initiatives, and making the time. So, get on it.
Remote workers may feel isolated at times so look for ways to provide direct coaching.
Even though your team will be interacting through a chat app, as a leader it’s important to check in on each person 1:1 and face to face. This makes employees feel valued, listened to and supported. Decide what cadence of check-ins works with your employees and never cancel a 1:1. The key here is over-communicate rather than under-communicate.
While working from home gives a certain degree of freedom, it can also breed negativity and loneliness.
Employee recognition is one of the more important tools at leader’s disposal. The researches show that employees who feel valued are significantly more likely to report having high levels of energy, being strongly involved in their work and feeling happily engrossed in what they do.
Appreciation is the foundation for the receptivity to feedback, learning and development.
The appreciation that people crave occurs when leaders suspend their judgments, ignore their natural critical spirits, and decide to look for the very best in others. It’s about focusing on the potential in others rather than on their shortcomings. It’s about giving voice to those things that make others special.
By the way, remote teams require much greater intentionality.
In person, it’s easy to share little things in passing as you see each other around the office. It’s easy to avoid these conversations remotely, but great leaders should address them head-on. Be deliberate about continuing to have these small conversations to share your observations before something becomes a big problem.
Tip #7: Keep Them Engaged
Setting and communicating the vision for your team in alignment with your company’s vision is essential for your remote workers to understand the ultimate goals. The goals and roadmap you set for your team will define the work that they do.
When you’re managing remote teams, you should try to be a team-oriented leader.
It actually means listening to every individual within your remote team. Even when you get an employee onboard, your team culture should speak to them. You can welcome them on a video conference call and introduce them to the whole team. This way, they’ll know immediately that they are part of a larger team and have support and colleagues.
Out of sight, out of mind is the old saying. And unfortunately, it’s truer than anyone would like to admit.
The easy remedy is making the effort to stay in touch with your remote workers — whether that’s organizing team video conferencing, or just taking the time to call each member individually. Make it habit to reach out a few times per week. A brief call can go a long way in keeping motivation up and making them feel part of the team.
Remote individuals often suffer from overworking. The blurring of lines between work and life commonly make it hard to “unplug.”
All of which takes a toll on well-being. Not to mention there’s loneliness associated with remote work and it’s harder to “see” burnout or identify loneliness with a remote team member. You’ve got to check in often, and really demonstrate your commitment to the team. If they need some extra time for a deadline, be flexible.
Many of you have heard of — or even experienced — these types of events: virtual happy hours and pizza parties.
And while they may seem a bit forced and inauthentic, research shows that this actually works. My recommendation is to not over do it, but rather carve out time during already scheduled meetings for non-work-related conversations and activities. Then, on occasion, plan that happy hour or pizza party!
Remote employees will feel more engaged if they know you care about them not only as employees but as people.
While you want to be professional with your team, keep in mind that your workers are still human. They have loved ones, celebrations and bad days like everyone else. As a leader, you need to recognize their strengths, weaknesses and interests to better connect with them.
Remote workers want to be a part of decision making in companies that they work for. They want to have a word and be heard.
Therefore, employers should empower remote employees to make their own decisions, communicate and implement new ideas. Your employees want to be happy at work, feel appreciated, and develop their skills. But to reach high levels of employee motivation and engagement, you’ll need to invest in your employees and support their professional growth.
Although many managers are leading remote teams for the first time, they can succeed if they keep the fundamentals of excellent management in mind — and if they have the support from you, their leader. A positive mindset, a listening ear and greater flexibility can make all the difference in a time of crisis.
While leading remote teams may seem daunting at first, it doesn’t have to be.
Once you get used to managing remote teams, you’ll find that they can be just as — if not more — effective than in-office teams. Use the tips we covered here to easily guide your remote team towards success!
Each of the tips above fall into the category of simple but not easy.
They each require time, attention, and consistency. But trust me, your team will thank you. The organization will benefit. And you’ll be more equipped with the battle gear necessary for navigating the murky waters of change.
Remote working is here to stay.
It’s not just a different way to work, it’s a different way of life. With great tech, open communication, inclusivity and appreciation, your remote teams can be as engaged as your on-site workers.
Being a remote leader is everything but easy. It’s heck of a ride, packed with leadership challenges, demanding a lot of trust and patience. Nonetheless, it’s a rewarding experience.
I am sure you got amazing tips from this article about managing remote teams. So what are you waiting for? Make an effort to bring in the change you want to see. If you are managing your team remotely, share your thoughts about it in the comments below.