Essential Tips for Leading & Managing a Remote Team in this Strange World!

Managing a team in the traditional brick and mortar, everyone sits together kind of setting is one thing. Doing so when everyone is working from home (wherever home is!) in the middle of a global pandemic really is a different beast altogether. Without the right style of leadership, things like team engagement and productivity can very easily slide… inevitably taking performance down with it. Here are a few things I learned leading a remote team over the last 9 months. It took some getting used to, but I’d like to think we did pretty well and managed it all with some grace.

Set clear expectations early & often

Schedule regular and structured check-ins.

My team has a standing Whiteboard Monday entry in our calendars. At the same time every Monday, we all get together for an hour on Zoom to check in with each other, share our top priorities for the week, and flag any blockers that need to be dealt with. This get together is a great opportunity to keep track of project evolution, move things along, and share lessons the we learned will team mates.

Manage for outcomes.

It’s important to get super clear about the parameters and expectations for each project and then to give your team the space to own their process and get the job done.

Obviously, I’m working on the assumption that your team has been set up for success – you know exactly what skills and knowledge are needed to get the job done. You’ve hired right. You know exactly which tools, resources, and support structures are needed on a day to day basis, and your team knows how they can access these.

But taking it a little further, this point is about managing for outcomes. You need to be clear about what you are looking to achieve, and then give your team the autonomy to get there. Don’t micromanage their process. God knows, in a remote setting, that’d feel like madness.

Have Empathy & Offer Flexibility

Take the time to understand the unique circumstances of each team member.

Every member of a team has a different home environment. Some will have partners. Some won’t. Some will have kids. Others don’t. And, those kids? They could be at school or learning from home. Some will have dedicated home offices while others may be taking meetings from a dining table doing triple duty (speaking from first-hand experience here).

Point is – you need to appreciate each individual’s whole picture and understand the possible challenges they are having to navigate. Be supportive. Schedule meeting times with these variables in mind. You show a lot of solidarity if you make the effort to work within the boundaries of these variables.

Remember to check-in.

We need to remember to check in with our people. Different people respond to remote working environments in different ways. Some people absolutely love it and thrive. Others may find it isolating and need your support. Remember to ask, “Are you okay?” or “How’re you doing?”… and be prepared to respond appropriately.

Remote teams need to stay connected.

Without the luxury of bumping into someone in the corridor and having a quick chat about that thing that’s stopping you from taking the next step on the project, it’s easy to feel like we’ve lost what always was an easy way to move things along.

You need to rethink how you work… rethink your team management processes. Rethink your one on ones… offer up longer / more frequent one on ones for those who need it. Be guided by your remote team and what will serve them best. Also, whatever you agree on, honour it – operating in a virtual environment demands that you show up on time and prepared… just as you would a face-to-face commitment.

Emphasise communication

Take advantage of the different tech options out there.

Slack and Google Hangouts are great for impromptu chat messaging. You can set these up so that you have 1-on-1 communication channels with individuals as well as group channels that mirror the actual team, specific projects, whatever makes sense for you really. If nothing else, maintaining this open communications protocol can increase your team’s productivity because you limit the need to send clarifying emails, wait on a response and sometimes clarify some more!

Then you have the more traditional email and Zoom calls for heartier meeting settings. Again, be explicit about the rules of engagement – is there the expectation that you must video connect to every meeting? Is an audio call-in just as productive? When is the 1-on-1 more appropriate?

Provide and request feedback to ensure alignment.

With remote team management, communication presents itself as both a priority and a challenge. Don’t make any assumptions around how your team is coping with working virtually. Don’t make any assumptions around the effectiveness of the various mechanisms you’ve put in place to assign work and track progress. Don’t make any assumptions about that common understanding of where our energies need to be focused.

I came across an article on the HBR that speaks to the communication challenges that come with digital interactions and how to collaborate effectively. That first best practice about not conflating brief communications and clear communications was a big lesson for me.

Each tip listed above is simple but not necessarily easy to do well. They require that you really give some thought to the people, tools, and process elements of managing your remote team. They also demand time, attention, and consistency. Done right though, your team will thank you. And done right, your business will thrive.