Flexible work arrangements and working remotely have become permanent aspects of today’s business world. As companies navigate the transition to work-from-home setups, managers play a crucial role in providing direction and support. To help out, we’ve gathered tips on how to be a good leader for a remote workforce.
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Research by Robert Half, a global human resource consulting firm, indicates that 66 percent of workers prefer to work remotely three days a week — even as the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic has passed — and 74 percent of companies allow their employees to work from home. Hybrid and full-time remote arrangements put different pressures on leaders as they manage workers from afar.
Here are ways you can adjust your leadership to keep your team connected and productive while everyone works from home.
Consistent, open communication is a common difficulty with remote teams, so you must put in a little extra work to make people feel connected when your workforce is distributed across locations and time zones. Put at least one weekly video conferencing meeting on the calendar – you can call it a check-in, an update or a status meeting – and devote that time to project management, providing your team with any pertinent updates, seeing how they are doing professionally and personally, and taking questions.
Acknowledge that you and your team are all navigating a new dynamic and welcome feedback on any new practices, like the weekly check-in meetings. Make your employees aware of all avenues they can use to contact you – like email, Slack or text – and try to implement their suggestions where possible.
Socializing is a huge part of work, and working remotely may be difficult for team members who feel isolated and cut off from regular social interactions. As a leader, you can create opportunities for remote socializing using apps and collaboration tools like Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other instant messaging platforms to help your workers stay connected remotely.
“Happy hours, wigs, Zoom backgrounds, virtual yoga, extra town halls and cooking classes are all helping keep everyone connected,” said Paul Rubenstein, chief people officer at Visier. “We rely heavily on tools like Slack and Zoom to be social outlets.” [Check out our reviews of 8×8 and Ooma Office, as well as our Zoom review, for helpful communication software recommendations.]
If you’re looking to create a more personal connection with your team, dedicate time in meetings for casual conversations and icebreaker questions. Ask open-ended questions that allow your co-workers to share about themselves without being too personal, creating the opportunity to build stronger relationships over time.
A lot of meaning can get lost in an email. A terse “yes” response from a team member to your three-paragraph query might come off as frosty to you, but it may simply mean the responder was short on time.
Train your staff in collaboration and overcommunication while also emphasizing that they should try not to make assumptions. A simple miscommunication between employees can lead to resentment and offense, which can seriously impact your team and company culture.
Check in with each individual on your team to clarify what you need from them, see what they need from you and get their personal expectations for the weeks ahead. Individual meetings are more effective than repeating in every group meeting that anyone can speak up, as remote workers won’t feel they are wasting others’ time and may feel more comfortable speaking in one-on-one conferences.
If you manage a large team or are responsible for your entire organization, make sure that you are checking in with everyone, not just the people you interact with on a daily basis. This may include administrators, IT personnel and support staff. This will go a long way toward boosting morale and give you insight from every level of your company. [Get ideas for creative perks for improved morale.]
Keep in mind that many employees have a lot of stressors when working from home. For example, you likely have employees who have to work around their kids. Make it known that you are allowing more flexible scheduling. Ask employees to consistently communicate what they need to maintain productivity as remote workers, and do your best to meet those needs. If you need to adjust your time tracking or project expectations, do so in a way that still accomplishes your goals.
Never rely on one single technology to interact with employees. For instance, email is often considered the least engaging way to build up teams. Virtual conferencing works best, but consider meeting in small groups. Large virtual conferences can quickly become confusing and unproductive. Audio conferencing calls are great for quick meetings, but if any sensitive data needs to be shared, take the personalized approach of video calls. Time-sensitive communication should be handled via live chat apps. Slack, notably, can execute all three functions. [Read related article: How to Use Slack for Workplace Communication]
Video meetings can be ineffective without preparation. Create an agenda at least a couple of hours before the meeting and share it with all the invitees. You can allow deviations from the agenda and then use it when you need to get the discussion back on track. Also, carefully consider whether every meeting is truly necessary. There is a case to be made for canceling meetings that get in the way of productivity.
You can effectively manage your remote team and keep communication open in many ways, including through regular group meetings for updates and project management, feedback surveys, virtual social events, and individual check-ins.
Remote teams can work together effectively, but the dynamic poses some unique challenges. Anticipating issues before they arise will help you make better decisions for your team.
These are the top challenges of managing a remote team and their solutions.
In remote-work environments, communication is often confined to written exchanges, lacking the spontaneous face-to-face interactions of an office setting, like bumping into co-workers in the break room. Interactions can further be challenging because everyone is navigating geodiversity issues, working different hours and using different communication tools.
Solution: To enhance communication in remote-work settings, it’s essential to use shared online calendars for easy scheduling and to purchase the best video conferencing software for your business. You also should create a remote-work plan with clear guidelines regarding communication methods and hours.
Trust is crucial and is the foundation for a successful remote-work arrangement; however, it can be difficult to build and maintain in such an environment. While some companies use tools to track their remote staff’s productivity, not every business is comfortable with employee monitoring. Ideally, you naturally trust your employees are working when they say they are — and doing their jobs accurately — regardless of physical location and whether you’re using monitoring software to essentially spy on them.
Solution: Building trust begins with assuming positive intent and implementing trust-building activities. You can create a trust agreement, set clear goals, be open and transparent and communicate trust from top leadership. You can eventually gain the trust of your employees through consistent actions and genuine vulnerability.
Many employers considering remote work worry about the productivity levels of their employees, especially when leaders are unable to monitor them on a daily basis. However, the Becker Friedman Institute (BFI) found people working from home are 7 percent more productive than those who work in the office. Although many remote teams are more engaged than office workers and even experience an increase in productivity, some may struggle without having direct supervision, requiring additional support and tracking methods.
Solution: Implementing strategies like the “Clarity, Responsibility and Accountability” model of leadership can help unite your team around one vision and purpose. When everyone understands what you’re working toward and their individual role in achieving that goal, they are more likely to be motivated to do their part. You can also use a shared calendar and conduct regular one-on-one check-ins to foster collaboration and maintain visibility into remote employees’ activities – without the worry that they’ll feel micromanaged.
Transitioning from the office to a remote setting without giving employees clear guidance and directives for understanding their job responsibilities will affect their ability to be productive. Furthermore, it’s easier for someone to be accidentally left out of the loop when you’re not all working in the same location and at the same time.
Solution: Effectively managing your team involves regularly setting clear expectations for priorities, milestones and performance goals. Establishing well-documented procedures and boundaries and ensuring realistic expectations for meeting attendance and after-hours communication can help you promote productivity and work-life balance for your team.
Lauren Kubiak contributed to this article. Source interview was conducted for a previous version of this article.