remote teams

How to successfully lead your remote teams

Back in March, many of our clients were busy transitioning from the normal office routine to remote teams collaborating virtually thanks to COVID-19. 

Some of us have long had some folks working on remote teams so it was less disruptive and others were working on the frontlines and so never did shift to Work From Home. 

The one constant we’ve all faced has been that managing grief and anxiety in these difficult times has been a challenge. The uncertainty of all of this has been the other constant. 

Now, leaders and staff alike are wondering: What if this is our new normal? What if some or all of my team members are going to continue working from home indefinitely? We’ve seen a number of high-profile tech companies announce this IS the new normal for them.

Here are some ideas to help you continue to successfully lead your remote teams:

Offer Clarity on Expectations

In the “old world” we often set rules (sometimes unspoken rules) about the hours of work that team members were expected to contribute. Things like, you have to be at work by this time and stay until this time from Monday to Friday. If you weren’t on leave or grabbing lunch, you were to be sitting at your desk or risk being judged for slacking off. This has never been a good measure of success and outcomes, but now, the world has changed and it’s even worse.

As leaders, we’re weighing what we need to accomplish with everyone’s health and safety:

  • We can’t all be at the office at the same time now, can we? 
  • Even if we can gather together, do we all need to put in the same time to accomplish our goals? 
  • If we’re going to expect people to “stay late” when they have a project to finish, why don’t we expect them to leave early when things are slower?

When you talk with your remote team, be clear about what you expect from them. Do you want them to deliver the product or work the hours? What output per day? Per week? What about breaks and availability for meetings? The challenge now, more than ever, is to define deliverables, not hours.

Figure Out Your New Metrics

What gets measured? What does success look like? 

Now is the time to review what you normally assess in evaluations and performance reviews. Are the competencies, skills and values you’ve sought in the past, still the ones you need now? Are there any new ones?

How Will Teamwork and Connection Work?

What are your expectations around teamwork for remote team members? How will you foster a sense of team and build camaraderie when some or all of your team members are working from home? My greatest fear if Work From Home becomes the new norm is the damage to our work culture and team norms it may cause.  BUT, consciously thinking about what you want your culture and norms to be, and putting in place activities to build that, will help tremendously.

One idea I’ve heard is that everyone on a team logs onto Zoom first thing in the morning and leaves it on in the background with their microphone off. Then they turn the microphone on when they need to ask a question of the group, or to check in over coffee break, etc. This is a way they stay in touch each day, and feel like you’re still part of the team, above and beyond chat programs and email. 

Another is to start planning team workshops, team learning, team gatherings more often than when everyone worked together in the office. They can be virtual or face-to-face (depending on where things are with social distancing rules). Bringing the team together, particularly to spend the day on teamwork, team dynamics and openly discussing how to be a team, works wonders.

As we discussed in an earlier blog, celebrating wins with your remote team is also very important.

How will you ensure out of sight does NOT mean out of mind?

Explain Reporting Relationships

Communication is key in any office, but when you’re not running into people in the hall or scheduling regular face-to-face meetings, what will fill that void? Again, it’s best if this is very well defined so that your direct reports understand your expectations. 

  • How are they to keep you up to date? Do you like texts? Do you prefer email? Phone? Zoom? Be explicit about whether you want them to make appointments or they can just reach out.  Be clear, too, if there’s a difference in regular updates vs urgent communications.
  • How will you communicate with them? (Pro-tip: Check in with each team member to see what method would be best, for them). 
  • What should they raise, and when? When you’re unavailable, who do they turn to?

Be Available

Proactively and regularly check in with everyone on your team to ask them what’s working — and what isn’t. Managing virtual teams is slightly different from managing people who are all in a building with you. 

What do they need from you? “How can I help?” is an important question leaders should always have in their repertoire but especially for folks who are struggling with working remotely.

Coach’s Questions:

What have you found the most challenging with leading virtual teams? What will you do differently if this might be the new normal? 

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