Laura Schroeder is the Director of Brand at Personio. In this post, she details the importance of leading remote teams, and exactly what leaders should keep top of mind in order to encourage a productive, motivated, and engaged remote team.
A recent HBR study found that although poorly-managed teams are generally less productive than well-managed ones, the productivity gap during the pandemic has widened considerably. This has made remote leadership a key strategic business topic in 2021 and beyond.
For most of my career, I’ve been working remotely and managing remote teams. For me, this is more of ‘the old normal’ rather than the new, and I’ve developed some helpful practices I’d love to share. Let’s start with some helpful context…
Diversity & Flexible Leadership
Teams come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, as well as personalities and working styles. Each and every one of them is likely impacted in some way by remote work.
For example, introverts who felt overwhelmed by open-concept workspaces may be thriving, whereas extroverts might be struggling without their daily dose of social energy.
On top of that, the mental fatigue and attention fragmentation caused by interacting online has been hard on all of us. As a team lead, it’s important to keep personality differences in mind and tailor your approach where possible to accommodate different needs and preferences.
Moreover, people often have different working styles and experience levels. Some may need more support, while others simply want you there to remove obstacles. Especially in a remote setting, it’s not always clear who needs help. You need to stay close to your team.
Family Status & Diversity
Family status is another factor that needs to be taken into account when we talk about diversity. At Personio working parents who struggled when kindergartens and schools closed were allowed to work 25% less with the same salary, while first-time managers were coached to help teams manage workloads.
In short, the intersection of diversity and remote work makes it good practice to be flexible about when, where, and how people do their best work, and it pays off in terms of mental health, trust, and even productivity.
9 Tips To Effectively Lead Remote Teams
If we keep in mind that teams are a mix of different personalities, preferences, working styles, and life stages, how do we manage them effectively? Here are some tips, strategies, and resources you may find useful…
1. Focus On Results
While leaders need positive work relationships to get things done, pleasing everyone isn’t always a realistic goal. If someone you manage is unhappy, help if you can, make a change if needed, but always stay focused on results. Especially in a remote setup, steady progress towards a shared goal is the glue that holds your team together.
2. Have A Vision and a Plan
Speaking of shared goals, how do you drive results and hold people accountable when you can’t see what they’re doing? You need two things: A vision that makes clear what you want to achieve as a collective, and a plan to achieve it, including owners, dates, and important milestones. A vision paints the picture but the plan brings it together by managing workloads, measuring progress, and holding your team accountable.
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3. Punch Up Your Meetings
Online meetings can be exhausting, and at their worst, they can also delay real work from being done. It’s crucial to make sure that every meeting is succinct and necessary. Have an agenda, guard it, and cut people off they start to ramble… even if that’s you. If you don’t need the meeting, cancel it and give people their time back.
4. Encourage Collaboration
A team is a wellspring of creativity and expertise, and you can tap into it by encouraging people to try new things and work with different people. In fact, collaboration helps keep people connected and inspired, so mix it up! Look for opportunities to enable cross-team initiatives, which is especially important in a remote setting because it encourages people to interact and provides a context to do so.
5. Make Yourself Available
Your attention, please! Availability for remote team leadership is essentially non-negotiable. Communication is a lifeline, but this also means you can’t be a bottleneck to anyone on your team, especially when you’re working remotely. Manage your inbox and be there for your team when they need you.
6. Think Big, Not Blah
We’ve all felt it. Working remotely can cause people to lose touch and to get stuck in a rut, losing touch with day-to-day operations and, more importantly, inspiration. You can combat this by helping people think like entrepreneurs. Everyone can do big things, even from home, when they are given clear goals and a solid support structure.
7. Give & Get Feedback
Leadership isn’t all about providing opportunities that lead to amazing work, as there are also some boxes to check and unexciting things to be done. Especially in a remote setting, it’s important to give people regular feedback (even, and especially, when it’s less than stellar). Make sure, though, to be appreciative of everything people on your team are doing well, so they can build the confidence to do better. And, as a leader, you can always do better, too. So, make sure to keep feedback channels open and inviting.
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8. Listen. A lot.
While you may have to do a lot of the talking, because you’re communicating things they need to know and to do, it’s just as important to keep your ears open. Try to spend at least as much time listening as you do talking, because no matter how much you know, someone on your team knows things you do not. Authentic listening, too, can help you stay alert for signs of burnout.
9. Never Neglect ‘We’ Time
Even if your remote setup is firing on all cylinders, you still need time together as a team. Time to bond, collaborate, celebrate successes, and enjoy one another’s company. This can be in the form of a hangout of some kind, a group activity, or anything of that nature, and remember to feed your troops. Something that gets everyone on the same page.
HR’s Role In Remote Work
There’s no doubt that HR will play a key role in helping organizations embrace the important elements of remote work. Taking a broader perspective, companies need to achieve a level of operational excellence that enables increased productivity under remote work.
At the same time, it’s important to prepare leaders and organizations for new methods of working. This means helping them adapt to a new normal, providing the right tools, and ensuring they have the right insights to know what’s working or needs improvement.
As the times change, so should our working models, which means finding new ways to unlock the productive potential within our organizations.
About Laura Schroeder
Laura Schroeder is a brand and innovation strategist who has worked and advised in the HR technology space for 15 years at leading global organizations. As Head of Brand and Comms at Personio, her focus is helping HR teams scale operations, reduce complexity and work more strategically.
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