Managing a team of employees has never been easy. In addition to attending to your managerial duties, leaders are also occupied with planning for the future. And this does not even begin to cover the interpersonal complexities of managing a team.
Bosses and team leaders are responsible for providing team leadership and coaching, focusing the team on tasks at hand and internal/external client/customer needs, coordinating team logistics, and carrying out all the many tasks that these responsibilities entail.
Now add the challenge of leading from behind a computer screen, miles away from the office. That is the new challenge facing many team leaders and managers as social distancing rules kick in all over the country – Georgia included – as a part of the response to COVID19.
When first thrust into this unfamiliar territory, many leaders may flounder. Of course, commitments are made to stay in constant touch, to always talk through every step and phase and give real-time updates – but circumstances may seem to get the better of you.
You find yourself struggling to communicate effectively, you find it nearly impossible to stay aligned, and you find yourselves miles away from achieving the desired goals.
So, what does it take to lead remote teams effectively? Here are some basic guidelines:
Set Clear Expectations from the Start
One of the biggest concerns – or rather, fears – of remote leaders is wondering if their team will remain productive during this virtual work arrangement. Will they become slackers who merely give the appearance of being engaged while actually spending all their time surfing the Net and posting on Facebook?
It will become clearer whether your team is actually engaged or not once you’ve established clear expectations including the following:
Make clear to your team know from the outset just when you expect them to be reachable and how; call, text, email, chat, or otherwise. Ensure that your team outlines hours (such as 9 AM to 5 PM) where they would be available not only to you, but also to the rest of the team or clients.
Do not be unreasonable. Just because your team is working remotely does not mean that you can expect them to work any longer than they would in the office.
During these hours, if they will be unavailable for any amount of time (e.g. for a doctor’s appointment), they should communicate this to you beforehand just as they would in an office environment.
Your team’s output should be as close to the same as it would have been if you were sitting just a few feet away from them as possible. To accomplish this in a virtual working arrangement, define measurable objectives and direct your team members to check in with you and share their productivity at the end of the day.
A combination of defining objectives and end-of-day reporting will eliminate the need to micromanage your staff for fear that they are slacking.
Lead with Trust
Speaking of micromanaging, that practice is dangerously easy when you’re present in the office. All you have to do is walk around and look at your employee’s screens. But when you can’t physically keep an eye on your team, you may feel the need to resort to other ways to control them – but this is unlikely to lead to improved productivity.
Just like managing a long-distance relationship, managing your team from a distance requires a lot of trust. Although this seems like an obvious thing to say, it must be said because often, remote leaders mistake delegation for trust.
In other words, simply handing a team member a task and telling them to do it is completely different from entrusting them with a task they feel supported enough to accomplish on their own.
In order to lead with trust rather than micromanaging or using command-and-control tactics, remote leaders have to be a lot more introspective.
The best place to start is by empathizing with your team. It isn’t healthy for you – or your team – to constantly wonder what your team members are doing at every moment.
To understand the context of your team’s work experience, ask yourself how they must be feeling about achieving the objectives you’ve set for them. Will they be feeling empowered? Confused? Or stressed out? And how are the events occurring in the rest of the world – which are very strange and disturbing right now – affecting them?
Next, reflect on your role in bringing about these possible reactions. And don’t forget that trust often begins with a personal connection. So, it’s important for remote leaders to set aside work and spend time talking with employees – even if it is remotely, like making sure to discuss news, pop culture, hobbies, and family.
With you working to become more empathetic and open, your team will learn to trust you more from a distance and you will have a better idea of how they are coping.
Leverage Technology to Encourage Engagement
The success of your remote leadership can and will be measured by your team’s output and achievement of set goals and objectives. To make this happen, remember the significance of communication in this non-traditional work dynamic.
Yes, you’ve set clear expectations regarding availability hours to ensure that you can reach your team members if and when you need to communicate with them. However, building community is an equally important part of the remote leadership equation.
Building community is critical to keeping your workforce engaged from a distance. And technology is thankfully available in abundance to help us accomplish just that. Create dedicated spaces to celebrate team milestones as well as team recognition.
Take advantage of the many online spaces and applications to keep your team connected to you even when you are not directly in contact with them all day long. This includes shared Drives and Cloud spaces, productivity/workspace management software, and business communication apps.
These tools will help you stay connected with members of the team and ensure that they are engaged with the work – and with you – on multiple digital spaces in real time.