5 Tips for Leading Remote Teams

Leading remotely is something you may have been thrust into recently without much warning. Some people have been used to leading some or all of their team this way for a while. Regardless of your situation, here are 5 tips to consider or reconfirm as sound ways to lead a team remotely:

The Environment

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Setting up the working space is very important. Many people won't have the luxury of a separate place to work. They may not even be able to close the door for some peace and quiet. Help them choose their workspace and provide the best opportunity for sanity and productivity. The kitchen table may cause issues for repeated interruptions, so encourage them to find a space that will limit the interference.
Consider a good ergonomic chair and ensure they get up, dressed and get ready to be at work. Sitting up in bed with a laptop may sound great but will lead to poor posture and not provide a good routine.

Set Expectations

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Linked to the environment, help your team know what is expected of them. Are they allowed to be flexible in their working hours? Help them determine when to start and finish. If you are a micro-manager, you will find remote leadership hard. You can't be present and therefore will have to trust them to get on with their work. Talk about possible distractions and help them come up with ways to handle them. When will you organise a check-in? Help them feel connected and suggest they work out a routine - much like they had at work - it helps with workflow and separating home / work life.

Communication

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Talk to your team members. They could be missing office life, so encourage them to share how they are feeling. Extroverts will miss the opportunity to talk to people. Those who dislike change will be feeling lost and struggling with a new environment.
For most people, being around team members is the thing they liked most about work. This is now an issue for many people working from home. or remotely from the team. Set up regular virtual team meetings. Help the team feel connected. You can provide opportunities or suggestions like these:
  • Virtual team meetings via Zoom or similar technology
  • Daily check-ins with you as their manager
  • Virtual tea breaks with a colleague
  • A 'work remotely' buddy to do a video call to start the shift showing they're up, dressed and ready to go

Coaching

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As their leader, you still need to coach them. Use zoom or virtual technology to have a face to face discussion. Try to have as much of the 'in-person' experience as you can. You may consider doing more coaching than you would have done in the office. Allow them to talk.
Coaching is about drawing out from the other person so avoid lecturing and doing all the talking. Facilitate the discussion. As you can't see what's happening throughout the day, focus on the outcomes required. Talk about what needs to be done by when. Help them set targets, measures and report back on what's happening towards the outcomes you agree on. It will help if you start off by trusting them to do their job. Don't ask them to build trust - it's probably not their fault they are in this position. Consider them already having your trust. People tend to become what we expect them to be (Pygmalion effect).

Make it Fun

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People get motivated by enjoying their work. Consider injecting some fun into the working day. During virtual team meetings you can run activities to help build the team and discover more about them. Using activity books that have a remote application can be useful. Run quizzes with the team. These are great to be able to cement in knowledge of products, services or new information. You can try video conferencing bingo where each person gets a card and marks off when someone says or does something on the card - like "Can you hear me?" or "Sorry, I was on mute." Consider activities that can be run throughout the day and end with a team reveal at the end of a shift or the end of the week.
Whatever you do, do something that will help the team feel inspired and led. Even your wording can have an effect. A check-in sounds much better than a check-up. Encourage them to take mini breaks, go for walks outside and eat well. Remember that outside of a physical team environment, they may not have reminders of regular break times, so encourage them to be proactive in this area and establish a routine as it will increase productivity.
For more tips on remote leadership and leading teams, take a look at these resources:
LearningPlanet for short video tips
Practical Leadership - A book of leading teams
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Author, Derek Good

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