Leading Remote Teams is Never Easy
Leading remote teams in a time of workplace disruption is not easy.
The challenges inherent in leading people who are working remotely range from a lack of face-to-face interaction to a lack of resources, such as skills with technology, time and priority management skills, being able to navigate disruption, and being able to employ the creativity necessary to get stuff done.
Now, in a time of the most novel public health crises in our lifetime, where the rules of work, workplaces, and work cultures have shifted, working remotely in the future with distributed teams will increasingly be the norm, rather than the oddity.
Before this current crisis, according to some research, less than 4% of the US workforce worked from home remotely exclusively and full-time.Human Services Consulting and Training
That number has already expanded 100x in the last six to eight weeks and—with upwards of 80%-95% of workers under some type of “stay-at-home” or “shelter in place” orders by federal, state, or local governments, by the time all is said and done, that number will be even bigger than that.
Here are some important questions leaders should carefully consider during this time of disruption:
- What do you do as a leader?
- What are the things you should be focusing on at this time?
- What are the initial thoughts you should be having around this crisis moment as you shift your team from on-site to off-site, or from 100% on-site to a hybrid model of work?
Leading Remote Teams Without In-Person Dynamics
The assumptions and expectations about work, workplace environments, and workplace cultures are so “baked in” to workplace leadership and management practices, that they are almost never questioned.
As a matter of fact, since the post-World War 2 era, most of those assumptions and expectations have been ruthlessly reinforced through books, training, publishing, and even though the nature of workplace communication itself.
With that being stated, there are legitimate reasons leaders value face-to-face communication.
- Leaders value face-to-face workplace interactions like meetings, conferences, and physical 1-on-1s because of the nature of the texture of the nonverbal interactions involved in face-to-face engagement.
- Leaders value the nature of the physical space of the workplace which they assume and expect to foster teamwork and creativity.
- Leaders value the fact that some work roles just can’t be done remotely. Although that is being challenged now, even as 100% of “non-essential” workers are being told to stay home and even that percentage is being challenged with the blurred line of distinction between “essential” and “non-essential.”
With these things in mind, what does a leader need to do to lead effectively once those assumptions and expectations have been upended?
Leading Remote Teams With Focus
Yes, it’s tough to “dial-in” when it seems as though every day the work world is spinning out of control, and when it seems as though government pronouncements cannot offer stability or focus, based as they often are on reaction to the novel public health crisis, rather than measured response.
However, there are the six areas that leaders can lead on with remote teams when the world seems to be spinning out of control around them:
- Create boundaries on attention through encouraging psychological safety and autonomy for work to be accomplished and encourage workers to limit home/remote distractions for short periods of time.
- Ensure that team members and leaders acquire and “upskill” on deeper media skills to be able to address the rapid spinning up of the use of video conferencing, live streaming, and even VoIP tools.
- Encourage engagement and discourage quitting or disengagement by creating space in virtual meetings for check-ins and touching base.
- Arrange “virtual water coolers” or “virtual coffee breaks” in instant messaging tools like Slack, or Microsoft Teams, or even breakout rooms in Zoom, where team members can chat and connect without the leader present.
- Encourage the development of better writing skills so that emails, memos, and other written communication become concise and purposeful, rather than rambling or devolves into being used as a proxy for a phone or video call.
- Role model the scheduling of self-care time in the day and ignore the temptation to overschedule video meetings or bombard team members with IM and email.
Leading Remote Teams for Tomorrow
If leaders focus on these six areas, they will be able to rapidly onboard their teams to working in virtual environments and working remotely quickly.
If leaders drill down into these six areas with purpose, they will be able to grow as leaders of remote teams, and when team members return to working in physical spaces together, they will have a new set of skills at their disposal.
And, if leaders focus on developing skills in these six areas with the team members they are coaching to become future leaders, they will have a team better prepared for the next unthinkable workplace disruption.