Managing a remote team requires a different mindset to face-to-face management. Although your responsibilities are similar, it’s harder to monitor your team when they do not work from a shared office space. Simple things like communication and a shared understanding of responsibilities and targets can quickly become major issues. Effective remote leadership can help you deal with these issues.
In this article, we’ll explore remote leadership dynamics and look at some best practices as you get to grips with managing your remote team. Let’s dive in.
Changes In The Dynamics of Leadership: From Office to Remote
Over the last decade, remote work was becoming increasingly common. In 2019, according to a report by Bugger, 3.2% of the US workforce worked remotely. The COVID-19 outbreak, which occurred at the end of 2019, created a monumental shift in the way we work.
According to Gartner, since the start of the outbreak, 88% of organizations required or encouraged employees to work from home. Almost overnight, a huge portion of the population was forced to work from home.
It’s too early to tell what the long term outcomes of this policy will be. Certainly, this change will be temporary in some industries. Many businesses that have adapted to this new normal are likely to incorporate remote work to some degree into their business operations.
According to Ekoapp, 74% of finance leaders plan to shift some previously on-site positions to remote positions permanently. Six out of ten HR managers also said remote work would continue post-COVID. The reason? Remote work is far more cost-effective for many companies.
Many managers have never had to support their team remotely before, and have found the transition challenging. Read on to learn some of the best ways to be a great leader to a remote team.
Remote Leadership: How to Guide Your Team
Many of the same skills that make a good remote manager are the same as an in-person manager: you need to set goals, make expectations clear, and support your team to succeed.
The main issue that you will face as a remote manager is how to achieve these goals when you are not in the same room as your team. Primarily, this is an issue of communication.
As a remote manager, you need to keep your team informed about day-to-day tasks and the company’s overall strategic direction and how they fit within it. You’ll need to communicate clearly to avoid misunderstandings and track the work being produced to ensure it aligns with your needs.
To achieve this, ensure your team has the following essential information:
- Communication tools to be used: Will you use email, or something else? Ensuring everyone is using the same tools will keep communication running smoothly.
- Project management tools to be used: A project management tool allows everyone to see their assigned tasks and overall project progress at a glance.
- Work hours: Will you keep a 9-to-5 structure, or allow your team to flex their hours? Whatever system you choose, ensure it’s clear and that you have a system for clocking in and out. Online time clock tools will help you keep track of employee work hours. You can use tools to track productivity if you have the budget, but a free employee template will do the job.
- Company policy on leave: What should someone do if they are sick or there is an emergency? How is pre-planned PTO handled while everyone is working remotely? Ensure you have clear policies and enforce them consistently.
Good remote leadership is about being proactive. Try to anticipate the tools and information your team might need, and put them in place ahead of time.
Though everyone is working remotely, professionalism is still key. You should still expect your employees to clock in on time, notify you if they will be absent, and avoid wasting time during the workday.
As the manager, engaging your team is more important than ever when they all work remotely. Two of the main struggles remote workers face are loneliness and a lack of motivation:
Effective remote leadership will involve motivating and inspiring your team. Take the time to hold whole-team and one-on-one meetings. Ask people how they’re doing and what support they need, if any. By being present and prioritizing compassion, you’ll let your team know they can count on you. You can also keep the team connected by hosting remote team-building activities. How about an online quiz, video call happy hour, or remote team lunch?
Trust is also essential. Since you can’t look over your team members’ shoulders all day, you’ll need to trust that they are working and being productive. Without trust, your workers will feel stressed out and micromanaged.
In a nutshell, remote leadership is about being a leader, even when your teammates can’t see you.
Things To Avoid While Leading A Remote Team
Now that you’ve learned what you should do let’s look at some remote leadership mistakes to avoid.
Some managers believe that remote work is a privilege granted to employees and have unrealistic expectations of employees. Some assume that, since the employee is at home anyway, they can be reached at all hours. In turn, employees may feel pressured to respond to work calls and emails out of hours, for fear of their remote working privileges being revoked.
However, requiring your employees to be available beyond their standard working hours disrupts their work-life balance. This can lead to frustration, unhappiness, stress, and burnout. And burned-out employees are not productive employees:
Here’s a tip for you: if you think of something you need to tell your employees but don’t want to disrupt their off-time, write the email and then use an email scheduling tool to send it later, during business hours.
Managers also often make the mistake of assuming that home-based workers are putting in fewer hours or more inclined to slack off. In fact, the opposite is often true. 55.2% of workers reported that they work more hours during COVID-19 as a result of working remotely:
Remote managers should also fight the urge to micromanage. If you check in on your employees excessively, you’ll just end up annoying them and stressing them out. You’ll also harm their productivity with unnecessary distractions.
As long as your employees produce the required deliverables on time, you have nothing to worry about. Remote leadership means trusting people to their job. If they don’t, you can hold them accountable. But you should not lead with distrust and suspicion.
Metrics You Must Track While Leading A Remote Team
Of course, avoiding micromanagement does not mean failing to track your team’s performance. Tracking the right metrics will help ensure your remote team remains productive.
For remote teams, numbers that focus on output rather than simply hours worked are best. Here are some you may wish to track:
- Deliverables completed. This might be lines of code written by software developers, words produced by writers, and so on.
- Customer satisfaction. If you’re managing customer service staff remotely, you can gauge their performance using customer satisfaction scores.
- Revenue per salesperson. How much monthly revenue is each member of your team bringing in?
- Leads generated. How many new leads are your team members bringing into your pipeline, and are they good-quality prospects?
- Conversion rate. How many of your leads or prospects are turning into paying customers, and is this number generally increasing?
Of course, not all measures will be appropriate for all teams. It will depend on the nature of your business goals, and your team’s function. Choose the metrics that make the most sense.
It is critical that you explain the performance metrics you’ll be using to your team. This is part of the manager’s job of communicating expectations. If they know how their performance will be assessed, they are better equipped to consistently hit their KPIs.
Train Your Workforce To Improve Productivity
Remote employees can be just as productive as employees who are based in the office. However, if you want to get the most out of your remote team, your remote leadership strategy will need to include training and development.
Companies with a mixed workforce (one in which some employees come to the office and others work remotely) sometimes make the mistake of taking an “out of sight, out of mind” approach. This means that remote employees get fewer opportunities for training, career development, and advancement. Do not make that mistake with your remote team.
Ensure that training opportunities are available to your team. This doesn’t just mean providing them when there is a problem or when productivity slips. Instead, strive to build a culture where every team member is encouraged to develop their skills and proactively seek learning opportunities.
Encourage your team to take up available opportunities and ensure that their schedules allow time for career development activities. Also, try to provide informal training and coaching for your team members as needed. Ideally, you will do this as part of a structured program.
Remote leadership is different from managing a team based in the office. Remote managers don’t just need to implement the core principles of good management. They also need to understand how to supervise, inspire, and lead their teams without seeing them face to face.
Fortunately, many of the qualities that make a great manager can be implemented remotely. Proactivity, creativity, and empathy are critical. Good managers also know how to spot issues as they arise, and address them before they become more significant problems. Great remote managers understand how to strike the balance between not micromanaging their team and appropriately holding them to account.
With strong remote leadership, managers can build productive and happy remote teams. These teams will be equipped to hit their KPIs, reach their goals, and help the company achieve its strategic aims. All without ever setting foot in an office.
Owen Jones is the Senior Content Marketer at Zoomshift, an online schedule maker app. He is an experienced SaaS marketer, specializing in content marketing, CRO, and FB advertising.