As we’re all facing times of uncertainty these days, becoming a newly remote manager can be a challenge. It’s a hard enough prospect to effectively manage your team when they are in front of you but if you're a company who has had to go remote in the recent weeks due to the Coronavirus public health crisis, you’re likely facing a lot of questions about how to lead your team even when you’re not together. But being a great remote leader is absolutely possible and we’ll break down some of the key advice to help you better navigate managing your remote team.
Do remote teams work?
Absolutely they do. Remote work existed before this crisis and it will exist long after. Think of this time as a trial period of testing out new ways of connecting with your team members and uncovering the best ways to motivate and support their work. Did you know that remote teams are often 35-40% more productive than in-house teams? Giving staff autonomy over their own work increases the sense of ownership and accountability on projects. And even when work goes remote, productivity doesn't have to suffer. In fact, remote teams often have decreased turnover numbers and increased engagement in situations where workers can set their own routine and work to their own pace. Not everyone is effective on a 9-5 schedule and when you open yourself up to the possibilities of remote work, you allow for different working styles to have room to grow.
Tips for making your remote team successful
So what are the best ways to lead a remote team and what should you be trying to do right now? Let's break down some of the highlights of what makes remote work effective.
1) Communication: This is number one for a reason. Even if you do everything else right, if you aren't communicating your remote team won't be as effective as it could be. If you think you're touching base too much, don't worry. Remote teams thrive on communication. It's great when you have the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting but often that's not possible. Don't wait or delay on topics that need to be addressed with more urgency. Get on the phone, or Zoom, or Slack, or Skype, or any of the other video tools out there and connect with your people. We're only as strong as our leadership and without open communication, no one moves forward.
2) Collaboration: In a similar vein, if you aren't communicating, you aren't collaborating. Often a lack of collaboration is directly tied to a lack of project management or poor organization. Even in a remote format, employees need to know who they should be working with and what targets or deadlines they need to meet. Even if people aren't connected in person, they need to know who they can turn to or rely on when they need support. Collaboration isn't just about sharing the lode and getting a job done. It's also about connecting with peers, brainstorming together, and developing new insights that can drive projects forward. That can't be done, or at least not as effectively, in isolation.
3) Team building: You might think team building is unnecessary in a remote format. After all, you can't really go to the bar together or have dinner, right? How do you team build in a remote format? But the fact is, remote work is isolating. Often employees go through their day without connecting with others or sometimes even speaking out loud. This can take a mental toll day after day and can lead to feeling disengaged or like they're being left out. Once disengagement happens, a company opens itself up to the threat of presenteeism or being at work without fully engaging in the task being done. Keeping workers connected keeps them engaged that that helps keep a remote team on track.
4) Set clear expectations: Everyone likes knowing what they need to do and what they can avoid. In a remote framework being clear about expectations and deliverables is essential. Remote teams can't rely on alternative forms of communication like body language during a touch point or casual conversation with their peers. Team members are often left to their own devices so they need clear and articulated targets of what they need to achieve whenever a certain time period. And make sure to check-in. No one is a rock star alone. If your remote team is failing, it's probably because of a management issue. So make sure your team is on the same page and go after the target together.
5) Establish personal connections: This might be a challenge for managers who like to keep themselves apart. But as we've said, remote work can be lonely, particularly for those who are unused to it. So take the time to step away from the business conversation and check-in with your team on a personal level. Are they doing ok? Do they have everything they need to do their jobs well? Are they facing any problems? Sometimes people just need to talk about the worries on their mind and while many managers haven't necessarily operated in that capacity before, they should now. Covid-19 isn't a small fear and employees may want to talk about how it's impacting their jobs or even their families. Leaders need to embrace their inner empathy and be there to support their workers. We're all facing the unknown and that can be a scary place as an employee dependent on a paycheck. Be cognizant of the very real impacts of this crisis on people's families and take the time to let employees know they aren't facing this threat alone.
Remote work is an importunity
Remote workers have often been called the wave of the future and now we're seeing the largest work from home project ever imagined playing out in real life. Instead of fearing this new development, embrace it and it's opportunities. Yes, we're all about to face difficulties in making our video conferencing work or in tackling time zone challenges but at the end of the day, remember your team is made up of real human beings who are looking to their managers for support and guidance. Remote leadership is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination but it is possible. Understand what you are asking of your people and be mindful of how their personal lives may be impacted by our new reality. Now is the time to step up and show your team that their company supports them. And in doing so, you may even develop a deeper sense of trust and unity in your department.