Innovative Leadership for Newly Remote Teams

What are the challenges of leading a remote team, and how can leaders adapt? Here's how to manage your remote team into success.
Innovative Leadership for Newly Remote Teams
Adrian Johansen

It’s no secret that 2020 brought a significant increase in the amount of remote work throughout the United States. The pandemic changed companies overnight, and they had to scramble to find a way forward.

But as we move into 2021 and beyond, it looks like remote teams will be part of the new normal. Businesses have realized that employees working remotely can be just as productive, and employees enjoy the freedom of being at home and avoiding long commutes.

However, many managers are new to leading remote teams.

What are the challenges of leading a remote team, and how can leaders adapt? Here’s what you need to know.

Challenges of Remote Leadership

When you’re not physically with your team members, the lack of face-to-face communication can cause feelings of isolation and loneliness. It can also be hard for a manager to know how team members are doing, whether goals are being met, and more.

Supervisors with remote teams will need to examine their leadership styles and see what needs to change. Leaders may find that everything from at-home distractions to time zone differences can disrupt the day’s normal workflow.

Remote managers also rely more on the written word to communicate, which is not everyone’s strong suit. When you can’t walk to someone’s desk to share a message, it’s essential to develop new skills.

Assume the Best From Your Employees

The first skill to cultivate a successful remote team is to create a positive intention for your staff. Some employers are concerned that every time an employee is not immediately reachable, they are slacking off. Some managers go as far as to install productivity software on their employees’ computers.

“Remote workers who are fearful of being monitored can withdraw from the very technology that they need to stay connected.” — Ella Hafermalz, University of Sydney Business School

Ella Hafermalz, a researcher at the University of Sydney Business School, disputes these paranoid thoughts and actions, saying, “This is dangerous territory for two reasons. Firstly, you are ultimately communicating a lack of trust. Secondly, remote workers who are fearful of being monitored in this way can withdraw from the very technology that they need to stay connected.”

To prevent this from happening, don’t make negative assumptions or anticipate conflict. Start with the idea that your employees are doing their best, and go forward from there. Focus on the goals your staff need to achieve and remember, you’re all on the same team!

Make Sure Policies Are Clear

As a remote team, it may be hard to keep everyone on the same page. With an entirely different environment, some might be confused on how daily and long term practices may differ from an office environment.

To avoid confusion and problems, ensure that key policies are in writing and sent to every employee. This may include information about absenteeism, reporting to management, and how to meet goals working remotely.

As a manager, you can conduct regular check-ins throughout the week. Think about what goals are most important and how flexibility can be built-in. The key as a remote leader is to manage performance, not presence, after all. If employees feel like their performance is valued, that will ultimately lead towards a more connected community.

Manage performance, not presence.

Create a Sense of Community

Those who work from home can feel disconnected from the team or even the company overall. This can cause problems with employee retention and morale, which can also impact productivity. To help ensure your team stays on track, here are some suggestions to create community with a remote team:

  • Start the day with a quick kick-off meeting.
  • Do check-ins throughout the day.
  • Create a virtual water cooler in online chat rooms where everyone can share.
  • Send out regular newsletters or emails.

Most importantly, your employees should always feel vital in your remote community. Be open to feedback as you navigate remote processes. By opening up to the diverse experiences of your team, you can gain further insight on ways to improve different processes in your company.

You can help your staff feel comfortable doing this by extending the “floor” on your communication channels and through other technology as well.

Take Advantage of Technology

Today’s technology tools mean that the workplace is nothing like it was 20 years ago. There’s no reason not to use these tools to make managing your remote team easier.

Track projects using tools that keep everyone up-to-date and aware of what the next steps are. You can assign tasks, track time, and more. Best of all, everyone can access the project resources in real-time — no need to shuffle papers back and forth.

Additionally, chat software and video conferencing allow us to be present with each other when we aren’t physically together. This can help team meetings feel natural and give you access to non-verbal communication.

However, all of this technology is without fundamental skills like communication.

Work on Your Communication Skills

Communication is always important in a business environment, but if you manage a remote team, that multiplies many times over. You want your team to feel supported and connected to you and the company.

This might mean working on writing for clarity. You may need to communicate something more than once to ensure the message got through. Clarity can also come through empathetic language which may be difficult to do in a remote setting. Be careful with your words, and remember that another human being is on the other side of that email.

Clarity comes through empathetic language and non-verbal cues, which is difficult to communicate online.

Whether we like to admit it or not, we rely on this empathetic language and non-verbal communication. Once a team is remote, a lot of that is removed. However, connection is still, and always possible, especially in a remote setting.

Remote Teams Can Be Successful and Fun

The fact that you manage a remote team shouldn’t be seen as a drawback. Instead, it’s a chance for you to develop new management skills and expand on the ones you already have.

Working from home is a significant benefit for many employees. Although there may be some rough patches in the process of cultivating an effective remote team, they are often more productive without the interruptions that office life brings.

When you follow the tips mentioned above, you’ll be on your way to having a motivated, effective team that meets its goals and benefits the company. It’s a win for everyone.

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