remote teams

The New Normal? 10 Best Practices for Leading Remote Teams

Remote teams are nothing new. Although globalization has popularized the concept, some argue that remote teams started with the expansion of the Roman Empire. What’s different right now is that the Covid-19 crisis has catapulted thousands of organizations into working from home literally overnight. And while some multinational organizations have the experience and tools in place to quickly adapt, for many other companies the move from traditional office to home office is a dramatic change.

While there’s no doubt that we are living in turbulent times, with each day bringing fresh challenges, the good news is that remote teams can be extremely successful. In fact, research by MIT shows that remote teams can actually outperform teams operating in the same location! Our experts have set out 10 essential Best Practices to help you and your organization meet the challenges of leading remote teams and maintain business momentum in the current environment.

1. Clarify and adapt goals

First and foremost, an event as disruptive as the Covid-19 pandemic could radically change business goals and priorities. As with any change, some doors will close and others will open. What do you need to prioritize? Are there any opportunities here? Maybe this is the time to focus on urgent short-term goals like guaranteeing the supply chain and making processes more agile. Or perhaps it’s the time to work towards long-term initiatives such as product development or taking services on-line. Put simply, what do you need to STOP doing, do LESS or MORE, or START doing?

2. Clarify changes in role or activities

Now bearing in mind your new priorities, what skills do you have on your team? Who is best suited to do what? Involve the whole team in this discussion—you may well discover hidden strengths and abilities in these new circumstances. Do you need different ways of doing tasks in this new scenario? What tools do you have or need? Who can help you?

3. Agree your Team Charter

What are your goals, values and rules as a team? A framework of agreed rules will boost effectiveness and prevent conflict. Examples of teamworking rules include: What are our working hours?; What are our agreed response times?; How will we communicate?; How often will we meet?; etc. Get to know everyone in the team. What work environments do they currently have? Bear in mind that under lockdown, many workers may be sharing resources such as computers with other family members. Others will be constrained by having small children at home, which will inevitably bring interruptions. Flexibility, empathy and a sense of humour are key attributes right now.

4. Trust your Team 

More good news! Remote team working is a drastic cure for micromanaging, an outdated management practice which at best can generate dependence and at worst demotivation. For leaders used to sharing an office with their teams, suddenly not seeing their team can be one of the biggest challenges. But if you equip your team in the right ways, clarify tasks and objectives, and check in with them at regular intervals, people will come up with the goods. Now is a good time to take on board Ernest Hemingway’s advice: “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them”.  

5. Monitor progress

While larger companies will have intranets and customized internal tools for sharing information and tracking progress, there are also plenty of easy and effective cloud-based tools available for smaller companies. Examples include Slack, Trello, Workboard, Google Drive and Hub Planner. Look here for even more ideas.

6. Boost Communication – Schedule regular meetings

When it comes to virtual team success, effective communication is the number one deal maker or breaker.  We are social beings. So while remote working can sometimes boost concentration and productivity, team members—particularly extroverts—can feel lonely and disengaged. Without daily face-to-face exchanges, your team must make an extra effort to communicate effectively. 

Fix regular weekly or twice-weekly virtual team meetings; it’s much easier to cancel an unneeded meeting than to organize one at the last minute. If you don’t deliberately make space for this, you run the danger of the team losing sight of what others are doing and ultimately drifting apart.

7. Limit e-mail

While e-mail can be a convenient tool for transferring relatively straightforward information or making simple requests, it often lacks impact and can result in misunderstandings. Team-members swamped with hundreds of e-mails and corporate What’sApps are much more likely to pay attention to your request or engage in meaningful debate if you ring them. Follow up important issues with a brief written reminder of what was agreed.

8. Put a face to a name!

Use video conferencing tools such as Face Time, Skype, Google Hangout and Zoom whenever possible. These visual communication tools harness the power of body language and voice; they allow team members to read one another’s emotions and build closer bonds. According to research by Zoom, 82% of users said they felt greater trust with video, leading to more accountability and less multitasking. Video can also improve decision making by allowing people to discuss ideas in depth.

9. Keep meetings short and meaningful

Most meetings are way too long, leading to distraction and disengagement. Silicon Valley giants Google, Apple and Amazon limit many meetings to just 15 minutes to encourage participants to get to the point. Less is more! The Agile/Scrum approach of daily meetings works well for monitoring on-going operations. Ask questions like: What are your top three tasks right now?; What is going well?; What are you having difficulty with?; How can I help you? If you really need a longer meeting, limit it to 45 minutes. Teleconferences (without video) can be particularly tiring, so be sure to use your voice to transmit energy and enthusiasm! 

10. Boost Team spirit and Morale

Lastly, even at the best of times remote working isn’t a bed of roses. According to a recent survey of 3500 remote workers, 20% of respondents said their biggest struggle was feeling lonely, another 20% struggle to communicate/collaborate, and 12% get distracted at home (a figure likely to soar for workers confined with their families).

Right now, it’s vital to look after individual and team morale. People are concerned about what the future will bring. Make sure your team knows you are there to listen if they need you. Acknowledge these feelings while trying to avoiding dwelling on the negative. Build positivity by focusing on what is possible. Look for what you can do and celebrate successes.

And try these additional ideas to build and maintain team spirit:

-Create team bonds: Get people to work on joint projects whenever possible.

-Create the virtual coffee machine: Set aside time at meetings for personal updates to build camaraderie. Try virtual coffees and lunches.

-Have fun as a team: Celebrate birthdays; start an on-line notice board; use Slack or HipChat with photos, jokes or challenges; play on-line games or do virtual works-outs together via YouTube. If you use your imagination the list is endless, the idea is just to have a little fun together!

Finally, despite the current difficulties, we live and learn from every situation. With patience, positivity and a little help from our best practices, we truly believe you and your team will emerge stronger, closer and better equipped to face future challenges!

If you’d like to get up to speed on leading remote teams, check out our leadership course offerings.