How to Lead a High Performing Remote Team
With the recent ban on travel and the closure of many offices around the U.S. and the world, thousands of businesses and millions of people are now forced to work remotely. It’s forcing businesses and employees out of their comfort zones, having to not only figure out how to work from home but also how to use new technologies, adapt and, ultimately, innovate.
We are much more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. It takes a situation like the present to force innovation on us. People will start to see that working remotely, though hard at first, can in many instances be even more efficient and effective than the old way of work — when done well.
As a result of this crisis, the way of work for many businesses will be changed forever. Why?
The standardized structure of going to work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is a traditional structure born out of the Industrial Revolution way of work. Until now, we’ve never had a reason to make sweeping changes to that standard workday.
Now we do.
The real question is, how can we do it right? How can we and our businesses succeed in this new world of work?
Here are a few tips and best practices to think about when leading a remote team.
Establish a clear and specific game plan.
Without a clear game plan, remote workers can fall into a pattern of feeling disconnected from the purpose and mission of an organization. Together, managers and employees should establish objectives, short-term deadlines and clear expectations of each other, which will keep both of you on track toward your long-term goals. This will enable you to better monitor progress, troubleshoot any problems and keep your team accountable on a regular basis.
Focus on outcomes, not hours.
Let go of the need for your team to all be “online” from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Instead, focus on the deliverables you need accomplished and when you need them completed.
When establishing goals and deliverables, think in terms of the output of each employee rather than the time spent on work. People work at different speeds, and many have different hours of the day when they are most productive. Understand this and focus your energy on holding them accountable to SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound) that you can both track.
Since you’re not seeing all of your employees in the office, small talk, banter and the quick questions are harder to come by in remote work. While emails, Slack and texting often allow for quick correspondence, they aren’t optimal for solving more complex issues and don’t provide the same sort of interpersonal connection that you get when chatting in the halls.
To overcome these barriers, it’s critical you work even harder to establish lines of communication with your team. Set up coffee chats with each of your direct reports with the objective of simply connecting, host virtual happy hours and, most importantly, any time a big issue arises, don’t try to solve it via email or messaging. Pick up the phone or get on a video call ASAP to hash it out. Don’t let issues fester over time, because without seeing each other, it’s much easier to forget the person on the other end of that email is on your team and that you’re working together, not against each other.
Set clear expectations.
Team members need to be accountable on a timely basis to both their peers and their managers. Rules for communication should be set to encourage transparency and responsiveness. For example, you can require all employees to acknowledge an email within several hours and to provide a set deadline for responding to the request for information.
Make sure you and your team have a clear set of expectations for how you will work together, from setting “away” messages to having a shared place to communicate off days and back-up plans for solving a problem when someone is offline.
Meet with regularity.
If you wish to establish a feeling of camaraderie and team spirit, of being a part of something bigger, you must hold regular team meetings, both at the larger organizational level and within each team.
When you share important news about your company’s performance, both good and bad, and updates about important happenings in the organization, your employees will buy into the purpose and mission of the company and go above and beyond their duties to help the organization succeed. Remote workers should always be a part of these meetings. Whether you require them to come into the office (if possible) or hold them virtually, these company meetings need to be a regular part of your calendar. It allows team members to feel connected and part of the overall mission.
Have fun together.
One effective way to build camaraderie and a culture of collaboration is to schedule casual get-togethers, as well as retreats and team-building events with the whole team. Especially for remote teams without an office, it allows team members to get to know each other.
When our current period of forced remote work is over, many employees will have experienced the ease and efficiency of working from home and start to push organizations to adopt more flexible work-from-home policies.
Don’t get left behind; start thinking about how you can foster a more conducive, productive and supportive work environment for your team. Offering your employees the flexibility to work remotely is not only a win for all involved — it’s a necessity in the new world of work.
To operate in this new world as an effective business leader, you will need to be ready to lead remotely.
Originally published in Forbes on April 14, 2020.