Five Key Tips For Leading Remote Teams

How to help your teams stay productive from home stay productive together

written by: Ryan Anderson, VP of Digital Innovation at Herman Miller

Five approaches to remote team success

  1. Be clear about how you can help your team stay motivated and in touch.
  2. Use online meetings sparingly and use tools for ongoing contact as you work.
  3. Make sure remote team members are included in important conversations and decisions.
  4. Find creative solutions to maintain social connections digitally.
  5. Contact your team members regularly and establish results-based performance metrics.

Is leading a remote team a new experience for you? I’ve led several remote teams over the past decade and explored remote work extensively with some very knowledgeable colleagues at leading technology companies. Based on those experiences, here are my top five tips for getting started on the right foot.

1. Be aware of the challenge

Managing remote work is all about inclusion. Employees usually don’t find it difficult to get their work done from anywhere. The real challenge is helping team members stay in touch, be heard and maintain a sense of belonging. As a leader, you need to ensure that your employees continue to work toward a common goal and feel part of the team. So model a healthy, productive, virtual team culture.

2. Work asynchronously

Many remote teams are quickly moving to online tools like Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc. for their meetings. Such solutions are helpful, but require everyone to interact at the same time. This can slow down teamwork, be quite stressful for introverts, and interfere with private time for team members in remote time zones. Instead, choose Slack or Microsoft Teams as your main means of communication and use online meetings more sparingly. Create a Slack or Microsoft Teams channel for your project and encourage your team members to communicate with each other throughout the day as needed. You’ll find that your projects run more smoothly and your team interacts more. As a leader, it’s your job to learn more about your chosen platform (check out a tutorial!) and actively model meaningful behaviors.

3. Establish protocols for communication.

f you have a team where some members are in the same location but others are in remote locations, establish protocols that ensure remote team members are not excluded from conversations. For web meetings, turn on the video camera in the room so remote workers can see who is talking. Pause the conversation frequently, no more than every ten minutes, to ask if remote team members have comments or questions. Make sure everyone is present when you make important decisions, and encourage pre- and post-meeting conversations in Slack or Microsoft Teams.

4. Be social

When working remotely, team members often don’t have the opportunity to participate in informal social interactions throughout the day that contribute to a good team culture. So consider setting up a separate Slack or Microsoft Teams channel, called “break room conversations,” for example, to post funny memes or talk about Saturday’s soccer game. You could also schedule virtual coffee breaks via video to just talk a bit or celebrate a team member’s birthday together.

5. Measure performance

Many companies still believe that attendance at work is a measure of productivity. (This assumption is wrong. This only measures obedience, but I digress). If that’s the case in your organization, then you may want to move to outcome-based performance metrics and make sure each team member knows what is expected of them as your project progresses. As a leader, you need to take extra time to talk to each team member on a weekly basis – ideally via video meetings, because non-verbal communication is important in a face-to-face meeting. While you’re at it, watch for signs of burnout. Some companies may worry that remote employees are slacking off, but often the opposite is the problem. Employees don’t gain distance from work when it takes place at their home and in multiple time zones.

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