How to Effective Lead Teams Remotely

5 min read time

As there are more and more opportunities to perform job tasks online and not have to be in an office environment daily, leaders need to know how to not only effectively manage remote employees, but to still make them a part of their teams. 

50% of the workforce currently works in some sort of telecommuting role and 80 to 90% of all employees saying they would like to work remotely at least part of the time, (per Global Workplace Analytics) offering remote opportunities is an attractive way to gain productive workers.

But, as a leader in an organization who needs to get projects and goals completed, you may feel like gaining a trust level with a remote team can be a bit of a challenge. Well, I'm here to tell you it IS the way of the future of the workplace, and we NEED to adapt to make the situation work for everyone involved.

Now I know that overseeing a team of remote employees doesn’t come naturally to many leaders, especially those who are accustomed to seeing their employees in the office at least a few days each week. Some of us even question how they can know if people working away from the office are really working.

Here are a few tips on how to manage your remote employees and still maintain high productivity and their happiness:

1. Ensure Technology is Available and Working Well

One of the first steps is to make sure the employees have the tools they need to complete their daily tasks. If they can't download files, can't hear on conference calls, or their laptops keep shutting down or need fixing, then the employees get frustrated. Invest in reliable tools to make collaboration possible. Then you can develop clear processes around those tools to assist remote teams in being as successful as possible. lead remote teams

2. Communicate CLEARLY and OFTEN

As a leader, you NEED to communicate very clearly and over-communicate. For examples, clearly communicate to the team and individuals who will be accountable for what, agree on a timeline for each project and assignment, and monitor progress by scheduling daily and weekly check-ins. 

A great idea for these examples is to share calendars, have company messaging/chat and video meetings. Note: Seeing a person's face on a regular basis creates connection - which is typically lost in remote roles). 

3. Create Context

It's YOUR job as the leader to provide specific context for the team. You need to paint the big picture for the team members and bring the importance of their roles to the forefront. Team members need to know what their roles are, and more importantly, why they matter.

Research has shown that when remote teams meet early on, either face to face or via videoconferencing, it helps set them up for success. 

I highly suggest creating a road map (Google Docs is a great place to store this info and then share the file with the entire team!) that includes these questions that everyone has the opportunity to respond to up-front:

  • What are the overall goals of the business and how can each team member contribute?

  • What is the role of each team member and the team as a whole?

  • What are their responsibilities to each other and to the organization?

This road map ensures that the team is moving in the right direction and that everyone knows the team rules. Then, as new members join the team, it can be used as part of the on-boarding process. 

4. Manage the Virtual Distance Carefully

There is a sense of emotional and psychological detachment that builds up over time when people become over-reliant on technology to mediate their relationships. When remote teams under-perform, many leaders think that it's because of their actual distance away from the office.

Well, I'm here to tell you that per Virtual Distance International (VDI) data, the root cause is virtual distance. It changes the way that people relate to each other. 

Think about it - when you work remotely, you can’t take somebody out to coffee or go to happy hour with your co-workers. As a leader you need to think strategically about how to establish a place for people to connect and engage with one another. They won't do it on their own. 

A Kenexa Research Institute study found that 50% of the positive changes in communication patterns within the workplace can be credited to social interaction outside the workplace. The company, FlexJobs, uses Yammer for water-cooler conversations; for big announcements; and to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and promotions. Slack is another popular communication tool for remote teams.

Even though the teams are remote, you still need to organize interactive events. Employee volunteering is an effective way to boost engagement and morale. Your remote teams can identify causes they care about and how they want to participate. They can conduct virtual charity auctions or fundraise for events in the community, such as food drives or charity walks/runs.

In addition, I suggest finding creative ways to physically get the employees together, or perhaps even you, as the leader, can find time to meet with them. 

5. It's OK to Unplug

unplug from work Many remote workers struggle with "clocking in and out" at specific times. They feel the need to always be available - to show they are working. That shouldn't be the case! Give them that permission to close out of all their work and communicate to your entire team that no one should have to respond to calls or emails before or after specific times. 

6. Include Them

They are a part of your team, so when the team or company celebrates a goal, no matter how you do it, include them. Send them swag for them AND their families (t-shirts and promotional products are fairly cheap but employees LOVE receiving gifts, especially in the mail!). Recognize them in virtual meetings. Have monthly one-to-one's (and don't EVER cancel them!) with your remote members. Take extra time to listen to them - so if your typical one-to-one's are 30 minutes, give them 45 minutes. Remember, they are isolated physically, so they may have more to say when given the opportunity!

How do you know if you have a GOOD remote employee?

Having a remote team takes a lot of trust on your end as their leader. And remember, not everyone is cut out to work remotely. Some get distracted easily or need the structure of an office to keep them motivated and on-task. But for those who can easily focus and enjoy not having office interruptions, remote work is a great option. 

- Start by giving them simple tasks that don't need to be managed closely

- Check to see if they are dependable in other areas (on-time to meetings, back from breaks and to work each day, follow through on projects, etc.)

- Do a test project to see if they clearly communicate, actively ask questions and are fun to work with

The best place to start is always with YOU as their leader. You’re the example that your remote team will look to emulate. The better you work to establish a culture of ownership, the easier the office to remote transition will be for your team members.

So, when you consider people for remote work, you need to be sure you have FULL confidence in their accountability, work ethic, and skills. Especially as you develop your remote leadership skills, you want to have people you would give the benefit of the doubt in their work and output.

There’s a lot about managing remote teams that’s exactly the same as managing those on-location. However, it’s a mistake to assume that a remote employee is the same as one working in the same office as you. These remote employees are faced with unique challenges and YOU have to understand those challenges to effectively manage your entire team and lead them to success!

Make sure to share this with anyone you know who is working remotely or thinking of working remotely or leading remote teams!