Top 10 Tips for Leading Remotely

1. SHOW GENUINE EMPATHY

When we think of a remote worker, it’s tempting to think of someone who has chosen to work all or partly from home as a lifestyle choice. However, this is not necessarily the case. Health, social and familial responsibilities may oblige team members to adapt when and where they work. Being empathetic is an important trait for any leader, whether in a physical or remote office. Leaders need to recognise that remote workplaces can create special situations that require more empathy because of the lack of physical proximity – just because the team member doesn’t answer their phone on the first ring, doesn’t mean they’re not working. Similarly, electronic communication can often be more ambiguous than face-to-face communication. Because so much of how and what we communicate happens with our body language and eyes, it can be easy to misinterpret digital communications such as email and WhatsApp or WeChat messaging. Leaders who recognise this and practise empathy and patience — rather than jumping to conclusions about a person’s tone or intention — help cultivate an environment of trust, openness and improved performance.

2. PURPOSEFUL, REGULAR COMMUNICATION

Working in a remote location can leave team members feeling disconnected from their leaders, colleagues and from what’s happening in the business. Leaders of remote teams need to address this by regular and meaningful communication, recognising that keeping team members engaged, connected and informed leads to better work quality and increased productivity. Look for opportunities to create multiple points of contact and communication throughout the working week with your remote workers and office-based teams. Communication has to be conducted in a way that works for everyone. Ask your team what (and when) works best. Find a time and a system and use it often.

3. MAKE REQUIREMENTS AND EXPECTATIONS CLEAR

Misunderstandings and assumptions are common even in the best teams and can be amplified when people are working remotely. Be deliberate in making your requirements and expectations clear, and encourage the team member to summarise their understanding, ask questions, seek additional clarity or simply confirm their understanding back to you verbatim to ensure alignment. Agree and schedule regular check-ins to exchange updates, review progress (or change of course or priority) and ensure the remote worker is always up-to-speed on any decisions or actions that might impact their work. Establishing an ongoing dialogue prevents big mistakes later but you should also encourage your remote team members to communicate their needs or questions – and the information or response they want from you – so they can stay on task and meet their commitments.

4. FOSTER COLLABORATION

Encourage the team to share work, exchange ideas and seek ways to involve and include remote workers so they feel an equal and valued part of the wider team. Use sharing tools such as SharePoint, Microsoft Teams and other software that enable ideas, and document, collaboration and development. Set team, not just individual goals, and make time for brainstorming sessions that boost team creativity.

5. BE AVAILABLE

It’s easy to see when someone’s available and free for a chat in a normal working environment. It’s more difficult to gauge a leader’s availability from your home office or a different location. Make it easy for your remote team members to get in touch with you. Keep your calendar up to date and share it – and encourage the rest of the team to do the same – so you all know when you are available for a call or video conference. Equally, don’t be afraid to mark some time in your calendar as Do Not Disturb. Set up weekly check-ins to ensure all team members have one-on-one time with you regularly. Allocate just as much time for a virtual meeting or call as you would for a face-to-face one – if not longer – so the team member doesn’t feel you are rushing them (or short-changing them).

6. BE FLEXIBLE

Although it might sound counter-intuitive, remote working leads to increased productivity if team members are supported to find rhythms and routines that work for them. Some people work best by getting up early. Others might work best between 7-12 at night, and their pattern might not be your pattern. Allow people to set their own schedule around the work, and other responsibilities, and trust them to deliver. If you are constantly worrying about whether a team member is being productive, there is a greater issue of trust that needs to be addressed.

7. BUILD TRUST

Many of the biggest issues remote teams face comes down to a lack of trust. If you want to build a high-performing remote team based on mutual trust and respect, it’s up to you to role model that. Things to consider:

  • Can your team count on you to be open and transparent?
  • Do you say (and show) that you trust your team to use their best judgement and skills to get the job done on time, on budget and to quality standards?
  • Does your feedback demonstrate respect for others?
  • Do you demonstrate a work ethic similar to what you ask of your team?

If your team don’t feel they can trust you – or that you aren’t watching out for their best interests (and their backs!) their motivation, commitment and productivity will nosedive.

8. BE ON TOP OF THINGS

When remote team members feel isolated or disconnected, they look to their leader as the anchor of the mother ship. You need to stay informed, aware and ready to guide and advise them, so they feel they’re going in the right direction. Hearing “I’m not sure” or “I’m out of the loop on this” too many times from their leader doesn’t inspire confidence. In the same way, make sure you read all the emails, documents and other outputs your remote workers send in (and respond as required in a timely way) so they never hear: “Sorry I haven’t got it to yet.” When you say that, they hear: “You and your work are not important.”

9. MANAGE YOUR STRESS

Team members perform better when they are capable of handling stress and ambiguous situations. An emotionally stable leader who is adept in resolving team misunderstandings and conflicts (before they become issues) and who remains calm, open and transparent in persistently changing circumstances will reduce stress in the team.

10. PROMOTE WELLBEING

Leaders play a critical role in ensuring remote teams have work-like balance and don’t feel they need to be ‘on’ or ‘available’ all the time. Encourage your remote workers to set work hours and – as far as possible – stick to them and to take the same holidays as any other colleague. Take time to check-in on the person as well as the work and find out how the team member is finding working remotely – what’s working well, what’s challenging and what if any, additional support can you provide?