Essential Leadership Skills: How to Lead Remotely ·
Current situation with COVID-19 and lockdowns have changed how we work (at least for a now), as many of us haven’t probably trained or even thought about long-time remote work and leading completely remote teams before. While many of us are already used to home office days every now and then, very few have been working completely with remote teams in a situation where no-one is actually in the regular office and everyone is locked down in some different remote location for the unknown future. As we add the additional stress resulted by the general world situation to the picture, leaders have their hands full trying to guide their teams to manage the situation and stay calm, motivated and engaged to the work. If ability to lead remote teams wasn’t an important leadership skill before, leading remotely has truly become an essential leadership skill during 2020.
Earlier this week I took a short break from writing my book and helped someone with a problem on how to lead remotely. I have been leading remote teams located on different sides of the globe for quite a while already, and I have noticed that there are a few essential things that make remote leadership work. Here are my 4 keys to leading remotely, adjusted to the current special situation that we are facing.
Four keys for leading a remote team:
Set clear expectations for work and results:
You don’t need to micro-manage, but your team must know what is exactly expected from them (results, schedule, working methods, reporting etc.). Pay even more attention than normally to set very clear expectations before ask your team to complete their tasks, and after giving the expectations, ask if everyone understood everything. Then let the people do their work, and show that you trust that they will take care of their part even if you are not around supervising them. Remote work is, in the end, based on clear expectations and trust..
Set clear communication methods and schedule:
- Facilitate online meetings for the whole team, and do this more often than you would normally meet when everyone is in the office.
- Schedule daily personal calls with your individual team members. A short check-in (5–15 min) every day, or even twice a day, is not too much if you are working remotely for longer periods of time, especially if the general situation is exceptionally stressful.
Video is much more effective than just the voice, so if this is an option, use it. It is also good to agree what kind of communication goes through which tool (email, calls, video conferencing and instant messaging).
Include some personal talk in these meetings, as people will be missing the regular chats at the coffee machine or lunch breaks. Isolation takes its toll on people, and a bit of idle chat is good to let everyone to vent out their emotions.
Also make sure that you acquire as much as possible information from your own company and its situation and then deliver this information as openly as possible to your team.
One thing to avoid while leading remotely: Constant chatting and messaging.
People need focused time to create good results. If you and your team just found the instant messaging, and everyone is part of your team’s instant message group, there is a big risk that constant stream of messages will make it impossible to focus on actual work. It is good to keep an eye on the amount and quality of messages your team is generating and how much of that is urgent, work related and important for everyone in the group. Guide your team to use 1on1 messaging on topics that do not require everyone’s attention to minimize the distractions for the whole team. Experienced remote teams are used to this, but if you just started with remote work, this is something to consider and might need some guidance from a leader.
Lead with empathy, caring and calmness:
Remember that this is an exceptional situation, and people might be going through a variety of feelings. Try to remain as calm and optimistic as possible, and show it to your team, so they can take some comfort from that. This is a time to lead by an example. Also make sure that you check daily how people are doing, and if they need any kind of help from you. People will be feeling anxious and some may be unfocused, do your best to be empathetic, and adjust your expectations according to the abnormal amount of stress the people might be feeling. Remember to truly lead, not only manage and distribute tasks.
Provide good tools for remote work:
Make sure that the working- and communication tools are performing as good as possible, and bring the feedback from your team to the responsible departments (IT or others), and try to improve anything that is not working well. Unreliable remote working or communication tools are a huge efficiency sink, and they will cause added stress and frustration, so make sure you do everything you can to provide best possible tools to your team.
Those are the very basics of remote management for me. There is of course much more to remote working and leadership, but this should get you started and running as quickly as possible.
What are your thoughts? Would you add something essential to this list?
How to lead remotely summary
Set clear expectations for work and results
Set clear communication methods and schedule
Avoid constant chatting and messaging (for no real reason)
Lead with empathy, caring and calmness (especially in during special circumstances)
Provide good tools for remote work
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