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The Art Of Leading A Remote Team – How To Ensure You Are Developing And Growing Your Team From Afar

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by Cecilia Gorman, owner of Creative Talent Partners

Remote work is our new normal and it has both advantages and disadvantages. A wealth of research shows that employees are more productive, happier, and more satisfied with their jobs when they can perform tasks outside of the office and yet we’re also witnessing levels of disconnect and disengagement as a result of pandemic isolation and hybrid work environments.

Leading a remote team certainly comes with unique challenges for managers. Most managers are used to seeing employees in person and monitoring their performance firsthand on a daily basis, which isn’t possible with remote work. Staying intentional about employee performance and how to best grow a team becomes more difficult, too. 

It’s not impossible, however. Here are some tips to ensure you are developing and growing your team from afar.

Accountability.

The principles of leadership apply, whether a team is on-site or remote. Managers are key to creating a culture of accountability and ensuring that each team member understands what’s expected of them and how their actions impact the team.

Accountability starts with clear expectations – just because a team can’t see each other in person doesn’t mean the manager should no longer hold them accountable. A few ideas to help managers improve accountability on their team::

  • Re-visit a conversation around how and when work should be done remotely, addressing expectations around availability, and what may have changed for the team in recent months. 
  • Be crystal clear on delivery commitments. It’s not enough to say that a project should be “done by Monday.” Monday at the start of the day? The end? What if the project has multiple steps that involve different team members? Being vague on due dates makes holding employees accountable much more difficult.
  • Be fluid with oversight. There is a fine balance between overly managing and productively managing. Empower the team to handle their tasks on their own, while also offering to assist and support them. Be flexible and fluid as each project or person warrants. 
  • Extract learning lessons from every deliverable. With post-project reviews, managers can focus on fixing problems moving forward by using recent lessons learned. Take time to review and determine what went well and what could be improved, both with the project or assignment itself and with the team.

Connection.

Remote work may be our new normal, but there is no doubt that physical separateness means team members will be disconnected from one another. And, over time, that’s concerning.

Fortunately, managers can find creative and impactful ways to cultivate interpersonal relationships in a virtual environment. Managers looking to boost connection on their teams can considering the following ideas:

  • Carve out and make sacred workplace-appropriate socialization time. Relationship-building took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we need to make up for personal connection time that was lost or compromised. Consider opening team meetings with a conversation starter, such as “Share one thing you are looking forward to.”
  • Get creative with appreciation, recognition, and celebrations, such as birthdays, promotions, or other personal or professional milestones. Consider sharing a specially-designed Zoom background or mailing a personal note card to commemorate the occasion. 
  • Plan alternative ways to connect in person, such as coffee meet-ups for team members who live nearby, team lunches, or an all-day offsite event to re-established community and connection.

Growth and Skills Development.

Most companies know that any investment in improving employees’ skills and abilities is an  investment toward the entire company’s future success. Now more than ever, it’s imperative to prioritize proactive, purposeful employee development plans and a manager plays a huge role in crafting those plans. 

No matter how busy or disconnected things get, employees must feel like their development is still top of mind. Recent resignation levels point towards a lack of development as a potential cause for departure from a company. Ways a manager can stay intentional about developing their employees are: 

  • Communicate a bigger picture. Show team members the importance of their roles in the larger business operations, making the connection between their hard work and the success of the company. 
  • Craft a development roadmap. Every employee has multiple areas they can work to improve. Think about hard skills, soft skills, interpersonal skills and challenge opportunities when putting together ideas for their improvement. Creating a customized plan for each employee is a great starting point in any development conversation. 
  • Adapt training to fit current work environments. Training can take many forms, many of which are conducive to remote work environments, although some are not. Is it smart to tie up the whole team in slower moving, all-day, in-person training sessions? Certainly, if the topic warrants it. Are microlearning and on-demand training the best options for team members with different schedules, skill sets, responsibilities, and locations? Also yes, if online programs align best with the training goals. 
  • Ask for employee input. Getting feedback from team members to see what skills they’d like to grow is an important part of of any development conversation. By partnering with employees on their growth, a manager opens a personalized dialogue around training and development with each member on their team. 

Technology.

As we learned in March of 2020, effective technology makes remote work possible. From Zoom and Teams to Slack and Messenger, technology is the lightening fast tool used by every employee in every moment of every working day. 

That said, when it comes to developing and growing a team from a distance, technology also brings a few hurdles and challenges. A few ideas for managers to overcome those challenges are:

  • Revisit technology ground rules with the team. It might be time for the team to discuss how technology is working to help them communicate and collaborate appropriately, as well as where it is not. For example, when are text and instant messages appropriate for work communications? When are they not? When is Zoom preferred over a conference call?
  • Overcommunicate work/home boundaries. It’s helpful for teams to share when and how they will be delineating their workday. Try  including working hours in email signatures to indicate availability. For example, something like “I’m offline from 4 pm to 6 pm and will respond when I am back online.”
  • Work to solve meeting overload. Now is a good time to review and/or outline meeting protocols in an effort to reduce and eliminate unnecessary meetings. Consider where standing meetings are still productive use of everyone’s time. Try setting meetings for 25 or 50 minutes to give a bit of breathing room. 

Lead Your Remote Team Successfully.

Remote work is the new normal. Despite being here to stay and most employees preferring the flexibility of a hybrid work environment, there are still a lot of potential pitfalls when it comes to staying focused on employees’ growth and development. Yet, with the right standards, expectations, and protocols in place, managers and teams improve their ability to succeed. 

 

Cecilia Gorman

Wildly addicted to all things leadership, Cecilia Gorman is a veteran of the advertising industry and the owner of Creative Talent Partners, a training consultancy that specializes in the development of rising managers and their teams. Whether it’s a team offsite, a manager workshop or through her online Manager Boot Camp course, Cecilia’s sole pursuit is adding value to growth-focused employees.