The current coronavirus epidemic has forced many former office workers to work from home. While the current circumstances are acute and will hopefully pass, the fact remains that as the overall job landscape shifts, the future number of remote workers will only increase.
A remote team could mean just one remote team member or now include everyone. It may be a hybrid model of skeleton office and field-based team-members or perhaps the leader is the one now separated from the team. Whatever the circumstances, a leader of a remote team must accept they will have to lead differently to get the results they need.
For the managers and leaders spearheading remote teams, as well as teams that consist of remote and in-person employees, making the jump from in-person to virtual leadership can be challenging, especially if this is the first time you have experienced it.
In this new, ever changing state, the key what’s of leadership haven’t changed, but some of the how’s have. These small differences that can make a big difference for leaders, their teams and the organisations they work for. The key though remains to think leadership first, location second.
Leading at a distance is different; you won’t now see your colleagues in the corridor, at the water fountain, or in the kitchen. Everything about our interactions and our interrelationships with team members or colleagues is different when we’re remote. Out of sight might literally be out of mind and that’s not what any of us want.
To lead effectively from a distance, first managers must build the processes and systems to make sure that they stay connected to their team members. Here are some examples.
- Communication: In general, communication is going to be through media or software like zoom, skype or teams rather than face to face
- Trust: Remote leaders need to build trust with people they don’t see very often
- Relationships: leaders, need to build good, solid working relationships with their team members, and maintain them when they aren’t in regular contact
- Coaching: Knowing exactly how team members are feeling and making sure they understand that they are an important part of a team is key to maintaining performance and motivation, which can be achieved through distance coaching techniques.
Remote Leadership Model
The Remote Leadership Model has three elements:
- Leadership and management. This element doesn’t change. What you do,
- Tools and technology. As a remote leader you may have to use technology to do things you have never had to think about before
- Skill and impact. To maintain effectiveness, you will need to use this new technology well or your leadership capabilities will be undermined by an inability to communicate.
As a long-distance leader, it is vitally important that your team members still understand their role and what is expected of them while they are working remotely. Trust is developed when remote workers continue to deliver on time, on budget and to the high standard a leader – and wider stakeholders-would expect when they are in the room.
Like an in-person leader, objectives should be delivered on three levels. First, they must be aligned to the wider business goals, secondly, they support the team’s requirements and thirdly contain individual objectives. They should be transparent regularly tracked and reviewed so each team member knows exactly what’s expected. SMART goals don’t change because someone isn’t in the room!
Coaching for performance
One of the greatest skills of any manager is to help their team develop and become better in their roles. A remote model doesn’t change this. When coaching a team remotely, this has to be a two-way conversation. Find out from your team members how you can best support them and how you can best coach them. The best way to understand someone else’s perspective is to ask them. One simple but very effective method to maintain someone’s motivation, is to use a web cam. Home workers can feel very isolated, particularly if they are not used to it. Let them see you, so they know you are invested in their wellbeing and on-going success.
The last tip to consider, may be the first thing to address. When any member of the team, including its leader, is working from home, maintaining appropriate boundaries, both professionally and personally are imperative.
Boundaries are needed for the success of any team, but when there is a temptation to blur the lines between work time and personal time, they are even more important. Everyone has a personal life; everyone needs to switch off, relax, exercise or just be themselves. Without a commute or physical space to make the distinction between the ‘office’ and for example the ‘kitchen’, it can be difficult to separate home from work.
Many remote workers can switch on earlier, or switch off later, or because of the other people they share their working space with; partners, children, parents etc, they may separate their days into different periods of productivity. Wherever possible. these should be respected.
Just because an e-mail dings into an inbox, that doesn’t mean it has to be answered. Moreover, a leader needs to have clarity about when a subordinate is expected to respond to a set of requests. As a leader make sure the boundaries you are setting for your team are the ones you’re willing to set for yourself as well.
Remit Group offers a suite of leadership and management apprenticeships that include a range of on-line and self-learning elements. Our experts remain on hand, or on Skype and Teams, to answer any questions you may have about vocational learning.