7 Top Tips for Leading Remote Teams
One of our newest courses, Leading Remote Teams, is also my favourite. That’s because for a time, a decade or so ago, I led a team spread around the country. Of course, with COVID it is now the norm to lead from a distance. And to have to do it using Zoom or something similar. Back then it wasn’t so unusual either. Especially if, like me, you needed a team of subject matter experts with plenty of experience in the field. So I found myself with a team of around 10, all in far flung locations. Obviously the biggest difference at that time was that we could also travel and meet. That is an enormous help in building and cementing a team. But, despite that, I think many of the key things I learnt from that time are true today. Here are my 7 top tips for leading remote teams:
1. Management by Objectives and Trust
We get a lot of feedback from our Leading Remote Teams training course. So we know that one of the hardest things for a leader now is the loss of visual references that progress is being made. Is the work getting done? In the office there are lots of clues that things are going well. Corridor conversations, quick at desk updates, team meetings and so on. When your team is remote you don’t see this activity, and you worry about productivity.
Some leaders react by trying to micromanage. Some go to extreme lengths to ensure that employees are at their laptop, including dubious forms of electronic monitoring! This kind of controlling behaviour risks destroying the cohesion of your team. There are two simple ways to avoid this:
- Firstly, set clear, but realistic objectives. Include checkpoint deliverables to give you the security that progress is being made. Increase your involvement if things start to go awry.
- Secondly trust your team to use working patterns and hours which deliver those objectives. Working at home during COVID can be difficult, with childcare and other pressures to cope with. If you agree realistic objectives with them, trust them without micromanaging their time.
2. Put People together to work on Tasks
When we assign tasks to our team we often focus on who to give it to, rather than how to get the best result. Currently our team members are isolated and working from home. So it is especially important to structure delivery of our objectives to promote collaboration and co-working. This reduces the sense of isolation that happens when an individual works alone on a task or project.
3. Contact for its own sake
Most of my contact with my first remote team was work related. In an office setting there is much more time to discuss personal life and wellbeing. After one personal crisis blew up I realized that I needed to replace that “water-cooler moment”. I began to call just to chat and “chew the fat” and understand what was going on in people’s lives. It doesn’t matter how you go about this, as long as you do it!
4. Buddies and Mentors
Not everyone needs a buddy or a mentor, and the people you ask to do these roles need to know how to do it. But for new entrants to the team a buddy can be invaluable in helping them settle in. And for experienced team members a mentor, from outside of your group, can give the support needed to get to the next level. Buddies and mentors are nothing new. But in this crisis, where people are isolated and development might be overlooked, they are a good option to cement the team and keep good people engaged.
5. Build in time for every individual
We all tend to have favourites on our team. People who think like us. People who we can easily spark ideas off. We tend to go to them more often to test thoughts and work up actions. As a leader you should speak to every member of your team in this way. If you don’t, they will quickly feel neglected and on the outside. And as a benefit you get ideas and other perspectives that will shape and strengthen your plans and proposals
6. Meet regularly as a Team
Remote Teams must get together to bond, exchange ideas and have some fun! Pre- COVID that was easy enough, budget permitting. It often created both high octane ideas and memorable social occasions! Things are different now, but you can use technology to promote a sense of team through virtual workplaces:
- It goes without saying that regular team meetings using Zoom or similar are essential;
- You might consider a Tool for collaboration and lighter communication that is different from work email. Slack and Teams are the market leading options and both provide multiple channels for collaboration, or just for social chit chat. Don’t underestimate the value of this for team building. It is not simply timewasting chatter;
- Don’t rule out social get togethers using technology. All sorts of activities have sprung up COVID, from virtual horse racing, to quizzes, games and karaoke. You might just want to throw this one at your team and see what they come up with!
7. Be the Champion for Wellbeing
These are difficult times and your team see you as the leader who will steer them through. For me the one responsibility you can’t delegate is to be the champion for wellbeing. Your people are subject to the stress and fear brought by the pandemic, and uncertainty about the future. Thankfully the science of vaccination is providing a way through it, but that is some time ahead. Now is the time to manage using kindness and trust and by being a leader who takes practical action to promote wellbeing in the team. To find out more about the Productivity of Kindness you can view this webinar from our founder Graham Allcott.
By Richard Green, Chief Finance Officer of Think Productive North America.