Remote Leadership: How to Lead Your Team from a Distance

— August 27, 2019

Running an organization has never been easy. In addition to attending to managerial duties, leaders are also occupied with planning for the future. And this does not even begin to cover the interpersonal complexities of managing a team.

Bosses are responsible for providing team leadership and coaching, focusing the team on tasks at hand and internal/external client/customer needs, coordinating team logistics, and carrying out all the many separate tasks that these responsibilities entail.

Now add the challenge of leading from behind a computer screen, hundreds or thousands of miles away from the office.

That’s right. As modern business trends take over, a growing number of leaders now find themselves in virtual relationships with their direct reports.

You may be separated by time zones as well as physical distance from your team; perhaps for a month or two, or perhaps for good. This type of management presents its own set of hurdles.

When first thrust into this unfamiliar territory, many leaders flounder. Of course, commitments are made to stay in constant touch, to always talk through every step and phase and give real-time updates – but circumstances seem to get the better of you.

You find yourself struggling to communicate effectively, you find it nearly impossible to stay aligned, and you find yourselves miles away from achieving the desired goals.

So, what does it take to lead remote teams effectively? Here are some basic guidelines:

Set Clear Expectations from the Start

One of the biggest concerns – or rather, fears – of remote leaders is wondering if their team will remain productive in this virtual work arrangement. Will they become slackers who merely give the appearance of being engaged while procrastinating work?

It becomes abundantly clear whether your team is actually engaged or not once you’ve established clear expectations as follows:

Availability Hours:

Let your team know from the get-go when you expect them to be reachable by call, text, email, chat, or otherwise. Ensure that your team outlines hours (such as 9 AM to 5 PM) where they would be available not only to you, but also to the rest of the team or clients.

During these hours, if they will be unavailable for any amount of time (e.g. for a doctor’s appointment), they should communicate this to you beforehand just as they would in an office environment.

Daily Productivity:

Your team’s output should be the same as it would have been if you were sitting just a few feet away from them. To accomplish this in a virtual working arrangement, define measurable objectives and direct your team members to check in with you and share their productivity at the end of the day.

A combination of defining objectives and end-of-day reporting will eliminate the need to micromanage your staff for fear that they are slacking.

Lead with Trust

Speaking of micromanaging, that practice is dangerously easy when you’re present in the office. All you have to do is walk around and look at your employee’s screens. But when you can’t physically keep an eye on your team, you may feel the need to resort to other ways to control them – but this is unlikely to lead to improved productivity.

Just like managing a long-distance relationship, managing your team from a distance requires a lot of trust. Although this seems like an obvious thing to say, it must be said because oftentimes, remote leaders mistake delegation for trust.

In other words, simply handing a team member a task and telling them to do it is completely different from entrusting them with a task they feel supported enough to accomplish on their own.

Now, in order to lead with trust rather than micromanaging or using command-and-control tactics, remote leaders have to be a lot more introspective.

The best place to start is by empathizing with your team. It isn’t healthy for you – or your team – to constantly wonder what your team members are doing at every moment.

To understand the context of your team’s work experience, ask yourself how they must be feeling about achieving the objectives you’ve set for them. Will they be feeling empowered? Confused? Or stressed out?

Next, reflect on your role in bringing about these possible reactions. And don’t forget that trust often begins with a personal connection. So, it’s important for remote leaders to set aside work and spend time getting to know their employees – even if it is remotely, like making sure to discuss news, pop culture, hobbies, and family. With you working to become more empathetic and open, your team will learn to trust you more.

Leverage Technology to Encourage Engagement

The success of your remote leadership can and will be measured by your team’s output and achievement of set goals and objectives. To make this happen, remember the significance of communication in this non-traditional work dynamic.

Yes, you’ve set clear expectations regarding availability hours to ensure that you can reach your team members if and when you need to communicate with them. However, building community is an equally important part of the remote leadership equation.

Building community is critical to keeping your workforce engaged from a distance. And technology is thankfully available in abundance to help us accomplish just that. Create dedicated spaces to celebrate company milestones as well as community recognition.

Take advantage of the many online spaces and applications to keep your team connected to you even when you are not directly in contact with them all day long. This includes shared Drives and Cloud spaces, productivity/workspace management software, and business communication apps.

These tools will help you stay connected with members of the team and ensure that they are engaged with the work – and with you – on multiple digital spaces in real time.

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Author: Paul Keijzer

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