5 Essential Steps To Leading A Remote Team

Leadership is challenging in any context. Yet when you mix in factors associated with a remote team, such as limited communication, disengagement, and different time-zones, it becomes even more so. Unlike traditional work environments, leading a remote team tends to be more disorienting, time-consuming, and complex.

In today’s world, technology changed the way people do business and as a result work took on a different dynamic. Many professionals now opt to work from the comfort of their homes or anywhere with an internet connection. Organizations benefit from this as well, as it gives them an opportunity to save money and hire the best talent without limiting themselves to geographical restrictions. With the increasing globalization and diversification of industries, this trend will only continue to grow.

What does this mean for managers? The prevailing popularity of remote work not only changed the way businesses operate, but also the way managers must lead. Most leaders are used to regular in-person communication, yet those working with a remote team must learn how to direct, engage, and unify their staff sans physical proximity.

How does one do that, you may ask? Pour yourself a coffee and read this.

Encourage Communication

Without daily face-to-face contact, it’s hard to know when someone drifts off course. Spotting and fixing hiccups in performance as soon as they arise can save you a whole lot of headache and time (and not to mention coffee).

When it comes to remote work, communication is often not given enough priority – and the consequences are costly. Encouraging and reinforcing communication creates an important feedback cycle, and also gives your team’s productivity a boost.

Encourage your employees to ask you for clarification rather than keeping questions to themselves. Stimulate them to communicate & organize independently. If your employees share insights and ideas they might pinpoint and resolve issues you overlooked.

Chat In Real-Time

While remote work has many perks, two of the main downsides are feeling isolated and disconnected. These feelings correlate with a loss of engagement. What are the symptoms of unengaged employees? Lack of motivation, involvement, initiation, imagination, and participation are just a few.

Use tools such as Slack, Hipchat, Stride, Google Chats, and Skype to allow your team to talk in real time. This will encourage employees to share ideas, thoughts, and updates throughout the day, and will help them connect and relate to each other through personal chit-chat. Try incorporating small talk into group meetings as well. Spend a few minutes at the start of each meeting asking how everyone’s week was and discussing personal updates.

With little reason to ever leave the house, remote workers often end up spending most of their days at home. While this can be a great change of pace from a typical office job, spending all your days alone can become dull and  discouraging. Give your employees a reason to enjoy a change in scenery by sending them gift cards for a cup of coffee at a local cafe of their choice. How often to do that, is up to you!

Maximize Face-To-Face Contact

Humans are visual beings, which means that regular face-to-face contact is essential to effective communication. Body language and tone play a huge role in creating meaningful and impactful messages. However the lack of visual cues in most tools used by remote teams, such as texting, email, or chat, can make it harder to collaborate.

Try to be physically in front of each team member on at least a few occasions throughout the year. In addition, incorporate tools such as Skype or video conferencing rather than relying on writing or calling.

Online meetings should have no more than 10 participants. If the meeting is larger than that, it’s best to keep it to a maximum of 30 minutes and have clear agendas before it starts. This will help you maintain everyone’s attention and demonstrate a productive and practical mindset. When doing lenghthy video conferences, remember to also limit the time of each speaker, and schedule breaks.

Foster Remote Team Spirit

Team unity plays a vital role in a team’s effectiveness. It’s no wonder corporations devote huge budgets towards team-building activities, trips, and other perks aimed at improving company culture.

While these activities may not be possible for remote team workers, virtual activities are. Luckily, there are programs such as TeamBonding, which stimulate virtual collaboration and communication, through activities and games designed to create bonds within teams. These activities make virtual teams work together, though physically apart, to reach goals.

Virtual games and online games also help increase cohesion, rapport, and intimacy between remote co-workers. What better way to maximize your team’s engagement than a little fun?

Demonstrate Trust

Accountability is often hard to track in a remote team.

Employees can underperform or become demotivated without anyone noticing. Many remote managers fear that out of sight employees will slack off, and turn to excessive monitoring as a solution. Yet micromanaging tends to make employees feel that their leader doesn’t trust them. This has a negative effect on productivity and motivation.

A remote team leader must show her employees that she trusts in their performance, productivity, and judgement. Demonstrate trust by involving your team in decision making processes and internal communications, and avoiding micromanagement. At the same time, remote leaders shouldn’t stop checking in on employees. Rather, they should communicate every day or week to offer support, discuss challenges, and provide coaching.

Set Clear Goals and Expectations

This is the best way to establish accountability and ensure everyone on the team is pulling their weight. In remote teams with limited communication channels, employees may have different interpretations of goals and the role each employee plays in achieving them.

For this reason, leaders must have a chat with every team member to clarify these goals, as well as expectations and measurable individual objectives. Clarify when you expect your team to be “online” as well. For example, to be reachable by phone, text, email, chat, or otherwise, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Stimulate accountability further by setting up a system where employees post their daily or weekly goals, and have them check off what they accomplished. Consider using scheduling software such as Asana, Wrike, JIRA, and Basecamp, to give remote employees more structure, encourage them to plan ahead, and help them identify which targets they need help with.

Want to be a world-class remote manager?

We’ve built a thorough resource dedicated to remote managers and the unique challenges they have to face: the Remote Manager’s Handbook. In this handbook, you’ll find some of the key differences between leading in-office and remote teams, principles for effective remote management, crucial remote management tools, and more. Get the Remote Manager’s Handbook here and become the best leader you can be.