Not all managers are leaders and vice versa, but when managers display positive leadership skills, their teams often report higher levels of productivity and employee engagement. The trick, then, becomes figuring out what you can change as a manager to improve your remote team’s ability to collaborate and work together. Let’s explore some common tactics you can leverage to strengthen your role as a leader even if you’re managing from a distance. From mentoring to team building, what can managers do to lead their remote teams more effectively?
Tactics for leading remote teams
If you have to manage remotely, try thinking about the following tips:
Be a mentor: We’re starting to see a shift in leadership style towards a more empathetic, coaching kind of leadership. Managers are stepping up to not only lead their teams through daily tasks but also take a more vested interest in employees’ skills and their development. Mentoring employees can be an effective way to strengthen teams, drive development, and create leaders for the future. It shows employees that they are valued and helps them learn new skills within the workplace. If you have too many team members to mentor, try connecting employees with other company leaders to give everyone a chance to participate.
Over-communicate when you can: One of the chief employee complaints going through the pandemic was about a lack of steady communication. When people are feeling scared or overwhelmed it’s helpful to have a good sense of what’s going on and what expectations are. Good leaders need to prioritize building up their communication skills to ensure their meeting the needs of their team. Whether that means passing on larger company updates or simply checking-in with your colleagues, try to keep a consistent cadence of updates happening on a weekly or monthly basis. For example, a Friday update of everything that’s happened during the week and what’s on the horizon next week can be a great place to start.
Beware of micromanagement: One of the dangers of having a distributed team is it’s so easy for leaders to fall into bad habits. Checking-in too often or giving too much oversight can derail productive teams. No one wants to feel like they aren’t trusted and that’s exactly the message micromanaging sends. To a manager, it might seem like they’re merely being proactive and helpful but to employees, the feeling of being watched and monitored can send them running for the door. Those in leadership roles need to find a way to balance being supportive without being overbearing. When in doubt, give employees more independence and see what they produce when left to their own devices. Once you have that baseline, you can make adjustments from there if needed.
Prioritize team building: Physical distance can quickly morph into emotional distance. Teams with effective leaders understand the importance of cooperation and collaboration that comes from positive team building. When that stops, it can become increasingly hard to get teams to work together and communicate on larger projects. The last thing you want is everyone doing their own thing without connecting with their peers. Instead, rally your team around a common goal like improving team dynamics to help turn a disconnected group of people into a cohesive unit comfortable with leaning on each other to achieve goals.
Make time for mental health: In a fact that probably surprises no one, mental health-related challenges, illnesses, and leaves are on the rise this year. If you’re managing a remote team, be aware of the mental health impact working alone can have. Employees may not want to openly talk about their concerns for fear of stigma or reprisal so take the initiative yourself. Check-in with employees and have frank conversations about the dangers stress poses to mental and physical health and any support available to employees to help. Maybe HR has a wellness program to recommend or maybe the employee needs some temporary accommodations to get back up to their regular levels of productivity. If you don’t make space to talk about the elephant in the room this year, you may not know when someone on your team needs help.
Increase recognition: In a similar vein, one way to boost your employees’ mood is through recognition and rewards. People might be worried about their jobs or think their remote work isn’t getting seen. If your team needs a little motivating, take a moment to appreciate their hard work publicly. Giving your team some praise can go a long way towards improving teamwork and well-being. You could recognize employee efforts in team or department meetings, give kudos on social media, or set up tangible incentives to get people re-engaged. Spending the extra effort to praise your team can make a real impact when people are apart.
Focus on outcomes: Some managers find they get lost in prioritizing the process rather than the final outcomes of a project. In the office, it was easier to set up company-wide processes that employees would follow. When everyone is self-managing at home, however, enforcing some processes might be detrimental, rather than helpful. For example, if employees need to adjust their normal working hours to accommodate children at home or other commitments, does it really matter as long as their workload gets accomplished by their deadline? Spend some time talking with your team through surveys or brainstorming sessions to get a sense of what company process do or don’t work in a remote world and how employees are compensating. Maybe there are strategies that can be shared about how team members are staying productive.
Look toward the future: Odds are, your employees have faced a lot of turmoil in the past few months. Good leaders don’t just focus on what their current to-do list is but also look ahead to what’s coming down the pipe in the future. Part of leading in a remote world is managing those future projects and expectations to ensure your team doesn’t get overloaded or burned out. Your team is counting on you to provide as much stability as you can in an uncertain world so make sure you’re aware of larger company goals that could impact your department or organizational changes that might be happening as a reaction to the pandemic. This all ties back to making sure you’re communicating well. Employees want to know what’s going on and you’re their connection to more senior levels of decision making within the company.
Leading from a distance
Great leaders can motivate and inspire, even from a distance. They can make teams feel like they aren’t alone though they might be working apart. If you’re finding yourself leading a disconnected team then try some of these tips to help turn things around. From increasing how often you communicate to recognizing employee efforts to prioritizing team building, there are always areas to improve when managing a team. Being aware of the stressors and barriers facing your team can help you avoid potential challenges before they even arise. So don’t just focus on your to-do list and manage tasks. Think about the people relying on you through the pandemic and see if your leadership approach could use an update to become even more effective in the future.