How to effectively lead remote/telework teams.
Create a culture of trust
- Set expectations for working in the open so the whole team is accountable to each other – and hold yourself to the same standard.
- Make sure your telework policies and team agreements focus on outcomes and results, not just time spent working.
- Be vulnerable and human with your team – show them by example that it’s okay to struggle with a problem or ask a question.
Set expectations and norms
- Establish work assignment logs or other tracking tools to provide specific and attainable performance expectations for all employees — those in the office and remote workers.
- Create and write down team agreements to establish baselines for things like:
Empower your team
- Acknowledge challenges out loud (via group chat, video call, etc.) and give your team a safe platform to talk about any strain they are experiencing.
- Normalize failure and encourage people to acknowledge and learn from their mistakes. This will not make your teams fail more, it will empower them to succeed.
- Encourage “distributed leadership” – rather than trying to micromanage everything, allow natural leaders to emerge and let teams self-organize when they are comfortable doing so.
- Make sure policies, plans, and other important documents are easily accessible to teams through a “Single Source of Truth” or central location.
- Use multiple channels to communicate important information (i.e., email, group chat, video call announcement).
- Hold virtual “office hours” where anyone can drop by with a question or concern.
- Schedule regular All Hands calls where you can share updates with the whole team, or invite team members to present on their projects.
- Establish regular check-ins for project updates or smaller teams:
- What I did yesterday
- What I’m working on today
- Questions / concerns / action items
Understand everyone’s context
- Take some time to learn about various work styles and communication styles and how they will affect each individual’s remote work approach.
- Be aware of cultural differences that may affect distributed team dynamics (i.e., speaking up to participate in the conversation vs. remaining silent on video calls)
- During check-ins with direct reports, specifically ask about any concerns they have, and see how you can support them.
Build human connection
- Schedule topic-based social video calls to build connection and camaraderie for team members (i.e., favorite movies, funny pet stories, family traditions).
- Develop remote rituals for celebrating with the team and acknowledging contributions.
- Create virtual spaces for “water cooler” and non-work interactions (i.e., group chat channels focused on music, gardening, or other commonly shared interests).
- Encourage everyone to take a few minutes at the beginning of virtual meetings to acknowledge “humanness” by asking about the other person’s day, weekend plans, or other topics of general interest.
- Telework Manager FAQs (U.S. Office of Personnel Management)
- The manager’s manual for remote work (Slack)
- Remotely Managing (Stella Garber on Medium)
- How to build a remote team (GitLab)
- How to lead a distributed team (Range)
- A guide to managing your (newly) remote workers (Harvard Business Review)
- Managing distributed project teams (Project Management Institute)
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