Leading a remote team is hard. Here’s how to do it right.
How good are you at leading a remote team? That’s a question facing countless business owners and bosses these days, with everyone who can do so working from home, and some employees hoping to make this a permanent arrangement. But managing people who work remotely is much harder than managing people who come to the office every day. These challenges can cause work-from-home experiments to fail, and they’re why some leaders are skeptical about remote work.
If you’re leading a remote team, it’s vitally important to make sure you have, or can learn, the skills it takes to be an effective remote boss. While they’re helpful for managing on-site teams as well, when leading a remote team, you really can’t get along without them.
Being a clear communicator is vitally important when your only contact with a team member is by email, text, phone, or video chat. There’s a much greater danger that you or your team member could either misunderstand each other or miss out on vital information. Begin by making sure to schedule regular check-ins and talking by phone or video on a regular basis. And if you’re in any doubt, work with your fellow managers or a coach to ensure your communication skills are as good as they can be.
Of course you care about your employees but how good are you at letting them know it? Working at home can be tough on some people, particularly those who must care for children at the same time. They will likely need logistical support, such as your willingness to be flexible about work times and even deadlines. But given the isolation and frustrations many face while working at home, they may need extra emotional support as well. Make sure to let employees know you and the company are there for them with whatever help they may need.
There’s a lot more to keep track of when you manage a remote team. There are daily and weekly check-ins with team members, metrics you use to evaluate each employee’s performance, and an ongoing record of who’s been assigned which tasks, so that no team member has too much or too little to do. The only way to make this work is either to zealously keep track of all these items yourself, or get a highly organized and dependable team member to track them for you.
This is important for every boss, but it’s especially vital when managing remote employees because if, say, you cancel a check-in a few times, they may read the wrong meaning into those missed meetings. It’s easy for people who are stuck working at home to feel cut off from your company and thus insecure. If they know what to expect from you at all times, it will help them regain that sense of security.
Barking dogs, cats on laps, and napping babies might not normally be welcome at a business meeting, but their presence is common in these work-at-home days. These times are stressful enough for your employees without adding in worries about things like dressing professionally or having a pristine workspace in the background during video meetings. So let your team be their whole human selves while working at home, and be your whole self as well. It’s a chance to bond with the people who work for you on a deeper level than you ever could in the office.
These are scary times, and your team members are very likely concerned about the future of their jobs and your company, as well as worried about the future in general. So help them out by being as upbeat as you can. This doesn’t mean lying to them or sugarcoating bad news–you’ll lose their trust if you do those things. If there are problems, let them know that, along with the steps you’re taking to solve them. Projecting a sense of optimism–that things may be bad but you believe they will get better and you’re doing your best to make that happen–can go a long way toward making employees feel more confident and better able to focus on their work.
This may be the most important remote management skill of all, because if you don’t invite employees to talk to you, and then really listen to what they say, you’re guaranteed to miss important signals and information. Successful entrepreneurs leading remote teams and best-selling author Simon Sinek offer the same advice: From time to time, call your employees on the phone (no email!) and simply ask them how things are going. Then really listen to their answers. If they’re struggling, don’t immediately suggest a solution–begin by hearing them out. And when you do respond, consider what’s best for them as well as what’s best for your company.
This kind of thing can take time and effort you might not feel you can spare. But building that simple connection will more than pay for itself as you lead your remote team work through difficult times, and beyond.
© Inc. 2020
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