I have been led remotely and have led a remote team for the last few years. I have experienced both good and bad remote leadership. These are 3 tips for leading remote employees that I have learnt from my experiences. I like to think that I put these into practice in leading my remote team. However, they are the people to ask about that, not me. It is important that leaders model the right behaviours in the virtual world.
1. Be visible
As a leader, it is always important to be visible, but even more so with a remote team. Visibility inspires confidence and motivates your team. Make time for the small talk to maintain connection.
To remain visible you could initiate regular contact, both with individuals and with the whole team. You need to initiate the contact and invite problems rather than just saying you are available to be contacted at any time. Despite making your availability clear, people may be unsure about contacting you, particularly if they feel that their issue is small. Different people will prefer different methods of contact, so use everything that you have available, such as the telephone, email, messaging software or video calls. Be wary of too many video calls, simply replacing face-to-face meetings with video, as these can be exhausting.
2. Be clear
You need to set clear objectives for a remote team. If you are unclear about expectations, work can veer off track through misinterpretation and misunderstanding. The nature of remote leadership means that this misdirection could take a while to notice and rectify, wasting everyone’s time. You should check in regularly to identify any problems early. To lead a remote team successfully you should be aware of each other’s working circumstances to ensure that expectations are met. And you should model this behaviour by setting boundaries and being transparent about your own availability.
You will need to ensure that everyone’s role is clear and that each individual knows what tasks they should be completing. You also need to make sure that each team member knows what all the others are working on to avoid confusion and duplication. Even down to the level of meetings; the objectives of the meeting should be clear to everyone attending and the actions generated need to be summarised with clarity.
3. Recognise good work
You should make a conscious effort to recognise and praise good work. With a remote team it is easy to miss opportunities to do this. And with a remote team it is even more important that good work is recognised and credit given where it is due.
The good leader could set aside time at the end of each day to share good news and give specific, timely positive feedback. Remote working drives a focus on results and what is achieved, not hours worked.
To sum up
During the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, many people suddenly found themselves leading and being led from home. This was an unusual circumstance. Not everyone wants to work from home or be part of a remote team. This made it more challenging to get it right and to look after the wellbeing of your team. Leading remotely is a skill, which had to be suddenly learnt. Hopefully this will become a more common and useful skill as we move into 2021 and beyond, into a more flexible work environment.
Leading Remote Employees: Further reading
Orti, P. and Middlemiss, M. (2019) Thinking Remote reflects on the transition to remote working.
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