Managing remote teams is not a new thing, it’s just suddenly new for a vast number of people and organisations. It has been incredible the speed that almost every organisation was able to pivot to remote working and, for the most part, successfully in the short term.
The priority for the initial two months of remote working was connection, both technologically and as a team. Continuing a sense of belonging and security, through support and face to face interactions during the height of the crisis in Australia, was essential for employees mental wellbeing.
As we move to the next phase, the growing conversation for a new model of working will see remote working become part of a new normal for many. To allow a mixed working model to be effective, work practices need to adapt to a workplace where not everyone is based in a single location. Even if only a small number of any team work remotely part time, the management approach and processes need to operate as a remote team.
“Remote work has less to do with the tools and more to do with effective management practices”Dame Stephanie Shirley, 1960 (a trail blazer in female tech entrepreneurs)
Many of the traits needed to mange a remote team are simply good management behaviours within an office environment. The difference is communication and processes become more deliberate when managing a remote team.
Without delving into the nuances of managing people, there are three elements that underpin managing a remote team effectively.
Building trust through leadership behaviours is fundamental to creating a productive remote team. Without it, even the best communication will be ineffective. Trust is built and eroded by daily words and actions. Some core essentials to consider include:
- Allow employees personal freedom with their work hours. Choice around hours that are transparent and fit with the team and deliverables has shown to increase engagement and retention.
- Demonstrate trust in every communication and interaction. Agree clear objectives, clarify each employees responsibilities, and then trust them to deliver. Don’t question where they are and what their doing.
- Clarify goals and objectives regularly. Keep communicating the vision and ensuring each team member clearly understands their part.
- Output vs hours can be a seismic mindset shift, but we know that more hours doesn’t necessarily mean more productive. With clear objectives, a team can focus on working towards outcomes instead of putting in hours just to be seen.
- Recognise each team members strengths. Without visibility of colleagues efforts, contribution bias and resentment can simmer. Recognise publicly the contribution and strengths of the team, so that each understands the role they play.
There are so many ways we communicate working together in the office. Constant interactions and visibility of other events, observing body language and others interactions, give context and affirmation of working relationships and unofficial progress reports. When all or part of the team is remote, this subtle messaging and communication doesn’t apply.
- Communication has to be clear, consistent and deliberate.
- Ensure communication is clear rather then just trying to be concise.
- Utilise all three types of communication – asynchronous, synchronous and in-person.
- Set protocols for which communication method should be used for different types of interactions and updates.
Often the focus is on technology and systems but these are just the tools that enable remote working. Unfortunately the tools don’t create the culture or productivity of a team. When communication breaks down, it’s easy to blame dysfunctional systems but as long as the systems are fit for purpose, the focus needs to be around the behaviours of employees using the systems.
- Set and communicate process for using systems
- Set the example for your team as to how you use the systems well.
- Make sure everyone is trained and start with simple tasks before learning all the features
- Celebrate shifts in behaviour to encourage good habits.
After the frenetic change of the past two months, there is an opportunity to review how we’ve transitioned to a remote working and what needs to change to ensure the new normal can be a productive and positive employee experience in the long term.