6 Essential Tips for Leading Remote Teams

6 Essential Tips for Leading Remote Teams

Remote leadership can feel like a totally different challenge than leading people you work with – side by side. How you interact with your team in an office does not always translate exactly to remote employees.

Use these tips to be more conscious of the unique approaches you can take to get the best from your team members.

1 – Make time for small talk.

When managing remote employees, it’s easy to just talk about what needs to be done and jump off your call, end your chat, and get back to executing.  And in some cases, that’s exactly what you should do; if you’re on a tight deadline, fighting a fire, or just having a quick standup meeting that makes sense.

However, if that’s all you do, you’re really missing out on a critical part of leadership. By building rapport with every team member you are building a high functioning team. Rapport is what will help you work through the problems each team member has, trust they can come to you with things important to them, and give you the benefit of the doubt when you make a mistake or an unpopular decision.

2 – Use video as much as you can.

Research shows more than half of human communication is non-verbal. When you don’t get to see someone in the office every day, having any type of visual clue to what someone is thinking is essential.

Whether you’re gauging their reaction to a change in plans, or just trying to judge their overall mood that day, a video tells you way more than an audio-only call, or chat will ever reveal. If the video is lagging it is okay to turn the camera off, just always start with video to help stay connected.

3 – Have longer one on ones.

Since you don’t have all those moments in the office to build rapport and talk about issues ad hoc, make up for it by setting aside more time for your one on ones with your remote employees. Your “open door policy” fails when it’s, “call me at a time that works….without our time zones conflicting….when I might be at my desk…but you can’t see for sure.” If you ever forget to update your availability on Skype, MS Teams, Slack, etc,  you realise that your remote employees have no idea when your door is actually “open.”

The best way to handle this is to give remote employees a full hour every week on your calendar for one on ones. This ensures you can cover a variety of topics and really dive into issues that aren’t covered because they’re not in the office for ad hoc discussions.

4 – NEVER cancel a one on one.

One of the fastest ways to build resentment in your team is regularly cancelling one on ones. 

Remote employees miss out on a lot of things going on in the office.  One on ones provide an opportunity to make up for that as well as handle all the little things that build up over the course of a week. 

Pick a time that always works for you and make them sacred on your calendar. If you absolutely have to, reschedule it and be considerate of their time, but never cancel.

5 – Use animated gifs and emoticons to convey emotion.

Yes, that is correct, we are saying do the ‘unprofessional’ and send gifs. Given that so much of communication is non-verbal, it’s hard for words alone to convey how you feel about something. Especially in work, words can come across more aggressive, or not as impactful as you may like. If someone did great work, or there’s a good team win, find a gif and send it with the message praising them. This is a far more effective way to show positive emotion and remove any doubts about the tone of the email. 

6 – Think about the most remote employee.

Once you start adding remote employees, it won’t be long before you have people across many time zones. That can make meeting scheduling a real challenge. Often times, you will get one person that always has calls at awkward times for them. You show a lot of solidarity if you add some rotation into your meeting times so that all team members feel accommodated, even if only once in a while. It will help your team remember the sacrifice their teammate is regularly making and the remote person will feel heard.


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