The Do’s and Don’ts in Leading a Remote Team

how to lead a remote team

This article is written by Joanne Trotta. Joanne is Managing Partner and Founder of Leaders Edge Inc., a forward-thinking coaching and consulting company supporting organizations to develop employee-engaged, sustainable company cultures.

2020 has been a year of firsts for many employees, and with many organizations making the switch overnight to working from home, one might assume that people are feeling more comfortable working remotely in our new world of work. But the reality is that balancing the needs of our home and work life has added a significant amount of stress to just about everyone in the workplace. People are feeling the pressure, no matter their role or function. 

Most leaders have been supporting are feeling overworked, maxed out and exhausted. They are putting in extra hours beyond their already long days, and they are not taking time out for themselves to recharge their batteries. In addition, the focus they once had around supporting and developing their teams has taken a back seat to other priorities. And that is a big mistake.   

Your team needs you more now than ever before. Gallup's latest research indicates that employees are feeling less prepared to handle the current and future world of work. According to the report, employee preparedness and alignment are trending downward. Employees are feeling less confident about:

  • Being well prepared to do their job
  • Their employer communicating a clear plan of action for economic times
  • Their immediate supervisor keeping them informed about what's going on in their organization
  • How their organization cares about employee well-being

As leaders, it is critical to keep the lines of communication flowing both ways and to be consistent with one-on-ones, coaching and developmental conversations. We also need to be on top of sharing any relevant information to keep our employees updated on all our efforts for a safe return to work as well as what the future might look like for them. 

Leaders who work well in the virtual world will experience tremendous benefits, such as increased engagement, growth in productivity and the overall strengthening of employees’ commitment to their job and the organization. Those who sit around and wait for this situation to pass so they can return to the traditional brick-and-mortar environment will get left behind. 

Here are some helpful do’s and don’ts to ensure every member of your team — both in the office and elsewhere — feels like they are a valued part of the organization. 

Do’s for Effective Remote Leadership

1. Leverage Technology

As leaders in the technology space, leverage the tools you already have to stay connected with your employees. This includes WebEx, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, etc. We are big advocates of using the video feature of the application you are utilizing, too, as it allows you to connect on a deeper level despite not being physically together and enables you to see others’ faces and expressions while you are engaging in your day-to-day discussions. For fast immediate needs, however, we are used to texting, instant messaging and email, so use those options as well (when appropriate) to keep the flow of communication going. 

Ask your team members how they prefer to engage with you, as it may vary from individual to individual. Some might not be comfortable with video, and that’s okay. But if you lead by example and make yourself visible, then they will most likely follow suit. Maintaining human connection is extremely critical right now due to mental health concerns and the lack of typical socialization. Your team needs you, so step up and be there for them in a way that makes their lives easier to manage. Be flexible in your approach.

2. Check in on a Regular Basis

As the recent Gallup research supports, we cannot stress enough the importance of ongoing communication. Do not wait for your scheduled one-on-one sessions to check in with your team. Take every opportunity to do so informally on a regular basis to stay connected and show your support as their leader. You should treat coaching, communication and feedback as an ongoing dialogue, which means that you cannot neglect any of your employees due to physical limitations.

I strongly suggest working with your employees to identify predetermined times when they are available for regular check-ins. It could be early morning before their day kicks off or perhaps wrapping up at the end of the workday. Come up with a plan that works for you both, but don’t forget to ask them how they are doing and if there is anything they need from you. This should happen at minimum once per week, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

3. Connect the Dots

Providing regular updates on your overall business results and plan is important. As leaders, we need to continuously connect the dots on how each employee contributes to the big picture and corporate strategy. 

I have written a lot about this concept of creating “emotional connectedness” for our employees (view more on the LeadersEdge Inc blog). We cannot afford to take our foot off the gas when it comes to constant and consistent communication. When you meet with each employee, explain how the project or task they are working on fits into larger company goals and how their role and contributions add value to the bottom line. Also, be clear on the results you want and expect from them.

Don’ts for Effective Remote Leadership

1. Don’t Make Assumptions

Instead of assuming what your team may need and expect from you as their leader, ask them. Create the safe space and airtime for them to share their needs and expectations with you. Your role is to attentively listen with empathy and compassion, rather than dispense judgment or attempt to adjust their thinking.

Then, after they have been open with you, it is your turn to share what you need from them. Clearly lay out the expectations from both perspectives; don’t leave room for guessing or making assumptions. If you want to bring out the best in your team, then make sure the support you provide is personalized to their needs and circumstances. 

2. Don’t Micromanage

One of the most beneficial aspects of allowing work to happen remotely is that employees are empowered to get the job done in their own safe space and at their own pace (for the most part). I have witnessed too many managers obsessing over how they feel like they are losing control and how productivity will be impacted, as some employees may not be able to accommodate the standard 9-to-5 workday, especially during these challenging times. They feel this overwhelming need to control how and when the work gets done.

If there are clearly established deadlines, expectations are understood and employees have the tools and knowledge to accomplish the task at hand, then the work will get done. Worrying about something you have little control over will only frustrate your team. In fact, it may result in you being perceived as a micromanager who doesn’t trust their team to get work done, and no one likes working for that kind of leader.

3. Don’t Expect Employees to be Available 24/7

Be careful about the example you are setting with your team when you decide to engage with them before or after standard work hours. We often send mixed messages when we do so, and employees might interpret that as being expected to be available around the clock. This is not realistic for you or them, so save your messages in draft and send them at a reasonable hour or be explicit in your message that you are not expecting an immediate response. 

We all have lives outside of work, and we need to lead by example and set healthy boundaries as it relates to when we engage with others. “Do’s” tip number two also supports this point. Set realistic and healthy expectations with your team and talk about how you can best support them based on their personal circumstances, not your own.

How Are You Managing Your Relationships with Your Team Members?

Managing and leading a team that consists of both onsite and remote workers requires you to develop a modern mindset and skills to address the diverse needs of each team member. The future of work is here to stay, which means you must embrace the idea that your team may never be in the same place at the same time. How you show up and engage as their leader will make a world of difference in the overall results and performance of your team and organization.

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