The technology is working well enough and everyone has learned to share screens and mute themselves. What’s next?
Learning how to operate successfully as a 100% remote team and that begins with the leader.
Recently I facilitated a series of workshops for a client on this topic. After three weeks of working at home and navigating this new world on their own, the leaders needed solid concepts and advice on how 100% remote organizations succeed. Below are some of the key messages:
– Micromanager burdens the remote team. In the office, the team leader can look over the shoulder or manage by walking around. In the absence of physical presence, the micromanager resorts to numerous emails asking ‘what’s the status’, or ‘give me an update’, not realizing that every email generates more work that diverts the person from the task at hand. Micromanagers feel out of control and anxious, and overload themselves and their teams with constant communication.
– Remote leadership includes trust and support. Successful remote leaders approach their team to support instead of to tell. They agree clearly defined deliverables, hold people accountable, provide support when necessary, and trust the employee to complete the work. They focus on the needs of the employee by eliminating any hurdles, and ensuring the employee feels the communication pathway is always open. When they feel the need to send an email saying ‘tell me the status?’, they take a deep breath and type ‘how can I support you?’
– Caring from a distance. The irony is that as technology becomes more prominent due to work from home conditions, leaders and teams need to consciously express their humanity. Remote teams need leaders who truly care and express their empathy, especially as some people in their organizations struggle with the reality of the current situation. Due to the lack of physical presence, people can feel disconnected from the team. A good place to start is regular one-on-one meetings where the leader asks ‘How are you?’
– Task-technology fit. People who worked in the office and suddenly are working from home believe they need to recreate the amount of real-time contact that they had in the office. This means that they load their agenda with video meetings and telephone calls and are exhausted at the end of the day. Successful remote teams recognize this is inefficient and match the variety of tools to the right task. For instance, some meetings could be a written update instead, thereby saving everyone’s time and using synchronic communication for important matters, such as critical conversations. For more on task-technology fit, check out this blog.
– Flexibility and structure mutually reinforcing. Often we think of flexibility and structure as being opposing forces, but in the remote team they can combine to provide the environment where the team thrives. Structure are the things that give the team the foundation. For instance, the team rhythm of regular meetings; the one-on-one between leader and team member; the clear and agreed deliverables; or the weekly lunch gatherings. With the structure in place, team members can apply flexibility, such as flexible working hours, especially during this time when many people have overwhelming commitments.
Almost everyone leads a 100% remote team right now. By recognizing that a remote team is different from a co-located, the new remote leaders can adapt their leadership style to make a difference for their team.