Keys to Leading Remotely in a Highly Remote Organization

Leading remote teams has been pretty common for several years in large organizations doing business globally, but I think we can agree, we wouldn’t necessarily have described it as the norm.

Fast forward to today where at least 68% of organizations have some, or all of their populations working remotely… not necessarily from home, but remotely. According to Review 42, the plot thickens now that 99% of remote workers have indicated their desire to continue to work some part of their workweek remotely in the future. So, if you were waiting for things to get back to “normal,” you can stop holding your breath.

Ask Yourself These Questions.

Has remote work been successful?
It depends on how one defines success, but the general answer seems to be yes. To ensure we are successful in the future, we need to take a closer look at the “what’s at stake,” as well as best practices in organizations that have been successful.

What is the key differentiator among competing organizations?
You may have heard it said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  Those great words came from Peter Drucker, who pointed out the importance of the human factor.  He stressed that no matter how solid your strategy is, your projects are doomed to fail IF those involved don’t nurture the culture.

What role does face-to-face interaction play in nurturing the culture?
How do we keep employees engaged, attract and retain key talent, leverage diversity and be profitable and efficient? The answer is, not like we used to!

Rosalynn Carter (Former First Lady of the United States said, “a leader takes people where they want to go.  A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to go”. How does a leader show how much they care and get others to do the same even when they’re not in the same office or can’t grab a water or coffee together? How do they inspire people to build networks, relationships and to collaborate?

Keys to Effectively Leading Remotely

It starts with the leader who asks the right questions, understands, and values culture, then takes appropriate steps to protect the existing culture or reinforce the culture that’s desired.

It includes having a 1:1 check-in to ask what your team member needs. Establishing core hours where people can talk, zoom or email like they used to, builds trust, moves projects along, enables compassion, builds strength and resilience. Setting people free to work where they want to and when they want to outside of core hours can give them a feeling of control in a world where today it feels like there isn’t much control.

A leader who successfully manages a remote team leads by example, takes vacation, and disconnects from work to connect with friends, family or nature.  A leader who is comfortable with who they are encourages their team members to listen to their bodies, to understand and leverage when they are at their peak performance and when they are not.  They talk openly about online meeting fatigue and agree on guidelines of how to handle these without feeling shame or less than.

An in-touch leader helps the team manage their workload and recognizes the struggles of the times as well as the differences in how people react to isolation, distractions and having to use technology in ways they never have before. He or she knows what resources are available, such as an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP). The best leaders stay focused on the future and give people realistic hope, even when immediate circumstances can’t be changed.

A supportive leader chooses their words carefully, celebrates successes, gives grace when bad behavior occasionally surfaces from what is normally a good employee, and models coping behaviors like unplugging, practicing good self-care, taking vacation, and asking for help.

As Richard Their states, leading a virtual team is difficult. In addition to all the above, it requires the leader to be grounded, to have a robust support system and to know when to ask for help.

I don’t want to shortchange the other aspects of remote managing. Enabling remote workers to be as, or more productive requires:

  • Two-way communication
  • Establishing clear expectations
  • Revising and drafting new policies
  • Ensuring necessary equipment, training, resources, technology, and support are available.

But as I said, … it starts with the leader.

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