Corporate Path Leadership finds examples of remote teams everywhere. This is not just in start-ups or cutting-edge progressive companies. In today’s competitive marketplace, it can be challenging to find an employee that is the right fit, and who is willing to commute an hour or more each way into a specific office location. To attract talent (and keep them), companies are becoming more flexible.
Yet the results are mixed. Problems can crop up from obvious time zone and technology challenges, but more importantly, remote employees can feel isolated, like they are not part of the team. These challenges may counter benefits, such as no commute time, work/life balance, etc. We want to showcase ways you can overcome these challenges.
What Does It Take to Lead a Successful Remote Team?
While high-profile companies like Yahoo and IBM originally embraced remote environments, some are now going back to take them away. We think remote workers and teams can be highly successful components to a company’s success. Where we see team leaders fail is if they take a “sink or swim” approach with employees, by not providing ample guidance for their growth and assimilation.
“To be successful, leaders of remote teams need to be more engaged and disciplined, guiding the team on a regular basis with good communication.”-- Ken Giffin
Here Are Our Five Key Pieces of Advice
#1 – Establish Strong Relationships
It is easy for remote employees to disappear in an organization. Team leaders have the onus of building strong work relationships with all employees, but with remote employees it may be harder to recognize when those employees are thriving or failing. When you are in the office together, it is easy to recognize non-verbal cues for these traits. On email however, this is much more challenging. Our advice is to have a weekly check-in with all remote employees. Spend at least 10 minutes talking about how that person is doing, what is going on in their personal lives and what they are most excited or fearful about in the coming work week.
#2 – Create Clear Work Expectations
Work expectations can come in many forms. First, as a leader, you need to be clear on what policies make sense for working remotely. Is it expected that the employee will be readily available during specific business times? Is there notice needed if the employee is working different hours on a project with other time zone participants? Does the employee need to provide a daily or weekly report on projects and status? These are some of the simple, up-front conversations that should happen with all remote employees to make sure both parties understand what is expected.
#3 – Arrange Time to Meet Face-to-Face
If employees are not in the same physical city, travel expenses can be challenging for regular in-person meetings. Yet leaders still have options for building strong team relationships. For employees still in the area, a drive into the office once per week might be needed. For more remote employees, weekly meetings on those days via video conferencing can bring everyone together. We would also recommend, unless budgets are dire, that all remote employees should be in the office for several days, together with the rest of the team, at least once per quarter. Seeing someone in person (or seeing their face on the screen) does wonders to build camaraderie.
#4 – Identify Clear Milestones and Track Progress on Team Initiatives
Perhaps the biggest remote team challenge is getting work accomplished together on large initiatives. Leaders must have a similar discipline for setting expectations with individuals, as they do for setting those expectations with the team as a whole on big projects. If something is due in four months, decide how to break that project up into clear milestones, and assign owners to ensure that the project will keep moving forward. We also suggest regular check-in meetings. While this obviously keeps everyone on track, it can also identify areas of the project that may need additional help. Then additional tasks for employees (remote or not) can be identified, or additional resources can be brought in to ensure you still meet project objectives.
#5 – Communicate Regularly
Feeling part of the team when remote can be challenging and lonely. Leaders need to routinely communicate to the team as a whole, in addition to regular one-on-one meetings. Keeping everyone informed, involved and feeling important is critical. While it may seem redundant, communicating more than needed is actually a crucial way to accomplish this. And while it is easy to give someone a “good job” in the hallway, make sure to recognize efforts of remote employees just as often as those who are spending time in the office. Ideally you can share these successes with the group.
“The future of teams is with remote workforces. We strongly believe that remote teams will succeed with the right leaders. Adding discipline, strong communication and expectations to any team is important. But for remote teams, it might be a matter of success vs. failure.”-- Ken Giffin
Contact Us Today
We make it easy to jump start success. Simply contact us and share your current team challenge or need, and we’ll respond with program ideas to innovate your team performance.