There are various challenges involved in managing remote teams. While some challenges like enabling virtual collaboration take center stage, others are often overlooked—although they are equally important. This also holds true for remote leadership.
Good remote leadership is essential if businesses want to fully leverage the benefits of a global workforce and guarantee remote work success in the long run. But what might sound simple in theory is actually quite challenging in practice.
What are the main challenges of leading remote teams? What does it take to be a great remote leader? And what can organizations do to successfully master remote leadership?
The Terminal Remote Leadership Report surveyed 400 HR and engineering leaders to identify the key challenges and pain points faced by remote leaders. The results showed that the latter were mainly concerned about the following issues:
Focus on ensuring productivity rather than preventing possible long-term consequences of mismanaged remote work, such as mental health issues
Reliance on productivity tracking instead of trust
Lack of a strong remote work culture
Providing opportunities for learning and development
Talent acquisition beyond traditional geographical boundaries
Many of the above-mentioned challenges evolve around the lack of a well-developed, future-ready remote work strategy that is built for the long term and considers critical components such as employee experience, remote hiring, and more.
With remote work being so different from working in the office, it’s clear that remote leadership requires different skills and qualities. But what makes a great remote leader? What skills do remote leaders need
Some of the key attributes of a remote leader are:
Empathy: A great remote leader needs to acknowledge the challenges faced by remote workers, be understanding and listen to what team members have to say.
Attentiveness: With the physical distance that comes with remote work, leaders have to be more attentive and observant than ever to pick up on potential mental health issues or other problems faced by their employees.
Flexibility: Every employee adapts differently to remote work. A good remote leader is flexible to cater to different employee needs and adjust their leadership style according to the situation.
Trust: Trust is a fundamental requirement for remote work. Remote leaders need to be able to overcome the feeling of losing control over their teams and have trust in their employees.
Motivation: Keeping remote employees engaged and motivated is more difficult compared to working in the office. Therefore, remote leaders need to be particularly motivated and set an example for their teams.
Important remote leadership skills include:
Being a good communicator
Acting as a role model
Having strong time management skills
As always, putting theory into practice isn’t easy, but there are some best practices leaders can follow to establish good leadership in remote teams. Here are 11 tips for leading remote teams:
Clear framework for remote work
Access to communication tools
Active listening and regular feedback
Frequent check-ins with the team
Respecting individual workflows
Culture of trust
Mentoring instead of micromanaging
Clear expectations and focus on outcomes
Virtual team building activities
Time to adjust
Whether it’s communication rules, expectations or working hours, establishing (and enforcing) ground rules is crucial for remote work. Especially during the transition from in-office to remote work, it’s important to provide team members with the necessary guidance.
For example, businesses should define core working hours during which the whole team should be available, while giving them the flexibility to arrange the rest of their working hours as they wish. Working out a clear framework for communication is also an important step in establishing good remote leadership.
Good communication is essential for successful remote work. Remote workers can’t talk to their colleagues face to face. Instead, they must rely on means of virtual communication—sometimes even asynchronous communication if the team is globally distributed.
Setting remote teams up for success requires access to a wide range of communication tools which cater to different communication needs. Video conferencing tools must be available in every distributed team. The same goes for instant messaging channels like Slack.
Empathy and attentiveness are two of the core qualities of successful remote leaders. Putting them into practice means being approachable and properly engaging with team members during one-on-one calls.
These calls should be used to get to know teammates individually and make sure they know that they can also approach the leadership team. Active listening and honest, constructive feedback are two additional steps towards demonstrating good remote leadership.
Loneliness is one of the most commonly cited drawbacks of remote work. Remote leaders are responsible for making sure everyone is doing okay. One way of getting there is to have regular check-ins with the different team members.
While many remote leaders might mistake these check-ins for opportunities to check on how employees are advancing in their work and projects, it’s crucial to use these moments to ask employees how they are feeling, and to make personal conversation to get to know them better.
Most remote workers are knowledge workers whose job requires a lot of deep concentration work. Being interrupted frequently is annoying, and distractions (even well-meant check-ins to see everyone is doing fine) are counterproductive and can quickly lead to frustration.
Therefore, it’s very important to not intrude on their individual work routine. In the end, it’s all about finding the right balance between ensuring employee well-being and respecting their time and work.
Building trust in remote teams isn’t just about trusting employees to get their work done without constantly looking over their shoulders. Instead, it’s all about establishing a two-way relationship of trust between the remote team leader and the team itself.
Being approachable and giving feedback are two important elements of building trust, but it takes more than that. Gaining the team’s trust involves making them feel included, valued and respected on a continuous basis, as well as offering the support and guidance they need to thrive in their new workplace.
With the physical distance, remote leaders might feel like they are losing control over their teams. However, it’s important to remember that keeping track of everyone’s work and progress is too time-consuming. Not to forget that it goes against another fundamental remote leadership principle, which is building trust.
Good remote leadership is not about control, it’s about being a mentor to the rest of the team by giving them the necessary guidance to work independently and grow into working remotely.
It’s vital to set clear objectives remote employees can work towards. Having a clear goal helps them keep the necessary focus to get their work done in an efficient way. Key measures to achieve this include making sure employees know exactly what is expected of them and clearly communicating key objectives and deadlines.
Once expectations are clear, employees should have the freedom to establish their own plan of execution. What really matters is that the set goals and expectations are met. How the team gets there is, for the most part, irrelevant.
Since creating a proper remote work culture is one of the major pain points when it comes to leading teams remotely, it’s all the more important to encourage remote teams to socialize and bond. There are dozens of virtual team building activities to choose from, from fun little online office games like remote work bingo to proper online social events like virtual pub crawls.
Wrapping up a project or meeting an important deadline is a significant accomplishment which shouldn’t pass unnoticed. Remote leaders should make use of the opportunity to congratulate their team on their achievements and thank them for their work. Celebrating accomplishments encourages team bonding and drives employee engagement.
Employees can’t be expected to switch from working in the office surrounded by colleagues and supervisors to working fully remotely from one moment to the next. Getting used to the new working conditions and developing new routines takes time.
Therefore, remote leaders should grant their teams an adjustment period and consider possible hold-ups and slower progress on projects when distributing tasks and setting targets during this period.
The Lano Academy is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Lano Software GmbH disclaims any liability for any actions you take or refrain from taking based on the content contained in this article.
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