Have you been effective at leading remotely? A few short years ago a study predicted that half of the workforce would work remotely by the year 2020. Then 2020 rolled around and it actually happened. A study by MIT showed that while only 18% of employees worked from home early in 2020, over 48% were working remotely due to health concerns, as companies implemented new remote work mandates.
We can expect that some of these employees will eventually return to their traditional office settings. But even though companies were forced to accept a change quicker than many wanted to, now that they are experiencing the benefits that come with employing a remote workforce, it stands to reason that many employees will look for ways to retain the benefits of working from home.
As it becomes increasingly clear that workers can do their jobs effectively (and sometimes even more efficiently) from home, we need to realize that this transition to a virtual workplace isn’t a one-time emergency occurrence. It’s a global shift. And with this shift comes another challenge that many aren’t prepared for: leading well from behind a keyboard.
Here are three principles essential to managing a remote team when leading remotely.
Connect Regularly, But Not Too Much
You’re familiar with the term, “out of sight, out of mind.” In the virtual workplace, it works both ways. If you’re not regularly connecting with your team, they not only think you don’t care, they also start believing they don’t matter. Poor communication with managers is the biggest complaint of remote workers, with 46% of remote workers indicating that the best managers checked in regularly and frequently.
But as with everything, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. Employees that feel micromanaged experience lower job satisfaction, higher levels of work-related anxiety, and increased stress over work-life balance compared to those whose supervisors had lower levels of employee monitoring.
When leading remotely, find multiple ways to connect and check in to maintain a balance of connection and accountability without overwhelming your employees or creating an environment of mistrust. Create virtual bulletin boards to post announcements and celebrate workplace wins. Instead of employees watching endless presentations on video calls, create a positive communication experience with a short video that recaps your project. Condense and manage the visual content you share to demonstrate you have respect for their time.
In the Digital Workspace, It’s Not So Easy
Intentional outreach is the only way you can communicate availability to your team members in a remote work environment. If you consistently fail to respond promptly to their inquiries, they’re going to start assigning meaning to your radio silence. Some will rightly assume you’re slammed, but others may assume they’re low on your priority list… or that you’re “busy” working through your Netflix queue. A quick email or chat acknowledging their need and committing with a timeframe to respond can go a long way to validate your employees’ needs and make them feel valued when you’re busy working on other projects.
Listen to Your Team, and Make Positive Communication Experience
Are you getting lots of grumbles when you announce the next compliance training? Has attendance at team videoconferences dropped? Listen to your team and make adjustments where they’re necessary. Get creative with solutions, and avoid making excuses for why things can’t be changed.
The novelty of teleconferencing has worn off and been replaced with widespread Zoom fatigue. While it initially seemed like a great solution, its usefulness has waned. As a leader navigating this new environment, it’s up to you to meet the intersecting needs of your company and your employees in a way that serves everyone well. Instead of a live video training, consider a pre-made animated video with a live Q&A chat at the end. Instead of a droning company-wide email, design an engaging infographic. The old adage holds true – if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Don’t just teleconference. Put a few more tools in your toolbox.
The same principles that apply to managing in-person teams apply to leading remotely. The only difference is the implementation. Forty percent of managers feel ill-equipped to lead a remote team, but the solution is simple: don’t lose sight of the basics, and get creative using virtual workspace tools to enhance your online work and relationships.
In short, you already have the skills. You just need a new set of tools.