Remote working is a dream for many, yet it can be frightening for managers and business owners. How can you lead a new remote team? How can you effectively switch from working in an office to a remote team environment?
This article breaks down best practices for leading a new remote team, into six bite-sized and easy to implement elements: flexibility, communication, policy, leadership, culture, and hiring. It provides a strategic framework that will help you lead a new remote team.
1. Flexibility is at the Core of New Remote Teams
Flexibility Will Bring Success
Any major shift in environment will bring challenges and some unwanted change. With a new remote team you have space to believe in possibility. No longer held back by four walls, no longer prey to traditional office limitations, as a distributed team you have the space to nurture your own personality.
The ultra-flexibility of remote working simplifies the day to day, so everyone has the clarity to focus on what matters most. Not just in work, but to their health and life as well. This is the massive long-term benefit that will help bring success and wellbeing. Except, flexibility can be easy to stifle when you move to a remote team model – ensure it stays central to all your thinking.
Don’t Be Afraid to Lose Control
Managers are naturally afraid to lose the control they have in a traditional office environment. This has long been cited as the key reason companies have failed after trying remote working.
As a manager you want to know everything. You want to be on top of everything. It’s normal to feel a vacuum when your workforce is distributed across the planet. But to control a remote team like a normal office environment will sever the flexibility you hope to achieve.
Micromanagement doesn’t work in any office, especially not a virtual office. Previously you could wander through the office asking questions and continually communicating. Not now. Let go and trust your workforce to deliver. And if you don’t trust them to deliver, you’re hiring the wrong people.
Evolve and Learn in the Early Days
You don’t have a blank canvas. You already have a team, a culture, a history and a way of working. Now you must lead and help your team rewrite the canvas. Another common mistake is to focus on tools and implement rules. Project management and communication tools will help your team function successfully, but remote working success isn’t based on equipment, it’s based on communication, leadership and culture.
Take a lead but remember the importance of flexibility. Allow time for the proverbial dust to settle and learn from the process. Everything will be new and there will be lots of mistakes. Long-term success will depend on how you adapt in the coming months.
With a distributed team working distributed hours it’s very easy to become isolated islands operating in silo. The most successful fully remote teams practice over-communication. In a traditional office you make information available when it’s requested. Over-communication involves communicating everything, regardless of whether it is needed or requested. This involves everyone:
- Record all your research and process
- Track what you do each day
- Inform relevant colleagues about all the decisions you make
This is not disguised micromanagement. It is about independent employees documenting their progress and decision making, to avoid duplication and increase efficiency. Instead of communicating when you have answers, you communicate questions, dilemmas and development as well.
Leverage Video Messaging and Video Calls
More than half of communication is not about the actual words. It is gestures, cadence, movements and expressions. Video is more effective than writing for this reason. It also helps create culture and stronger connection with your team. Plus, video is way faster than writing emails.
There are some great tools you can use, such as Loom and Screencast. Both allow you to record your screen or yourself, or both at the same time. It’s easy to be self conscious at first, and rerecord the video countless times. So remember, you’re never perfect, not when you’re speaking in person either.
Create a Communication Cadence
Without a traditional office you can’t stop everything to make a big announcement. With a remote team it’s more important to practice cadence. Ensure a consistent communication update is part of your weekly process, so everybody stays in the loop and understands when to expect an update. It doesn’t need to be via email, video is great for this as well. And even if there isn’t an update, keep up the cadence.
Do You Need Virtual Office Hours?
Your team will still need to connect in real time to get work done. So how does this work when your remote team is spread across the world? There is no single answer and it’s important to remain flexible about working hours.
Take this challenge positively. A distributed team will allow you to increase your standard hours of operation, from nine to five, possibly all the way to a 24-hour always-open office. Work around your employees’ timezones and working patterns to find opportunities for teams to be together, at least once a week. Use a communication channel like Slack to ensure easy and regular communication between any new remote team members.
Actively Create Opportunities to Connect
A distributed team cannot meet up for a beer after work, nor share their lunch together. Or can they? Remember the importance and value of outside-work connection to your team. Try to implement this into your culture. For example, you can have a shared coffee break over Zoom at a regular time each work. Or an after-work virtual get-together once a week, perhaps involving a quiz or anything that’s not work.
Such activities shouldn’t be compulsory, as they wouldn’t be in a traditional office. Cultivate them and you will find that your employees appreciate the connection.
Policy is tough. Ideally, a policy will have the opportunity to evolve over time, based on your learning. However, you may not have such luxury. Here are the key questions that your remote working policy needs to consider.
Who works remote? – This isn’t applicable to a new fully remote team, but the most pertinent question for mixed working. Your answer needs to be future-proof to consider your team five years from now. Who is working at the office base and who is working remotely?
Virtual working hours – Imposing strict daily working hours removes flexibility. However, your policy needs to be realistic about how much people work in a week. In particular, address when they are expected to be available. Don’t make it too strict (see avoiding burn out in culture below).
Setting goals and expectations – How does this work within your company? How are goals tracked? How do appraisals work remotely?
Data protection – How do you safely and securely ensure your new remote team has access to all the information they need? How do you ensure home computers are secure?
Office space and day to day working practice – Can your remote team work from anywhere? Is there an expectation that they have an actual office (such as a coworking space)
4. Leadership for Remote Teams
Remote leadership is a major headache without an efficient strategy and structure. In reality, leadership will fail anywhere without strategy and structure. The importance of structure is amplified when working remotely.
Identify critical leaders and set up a communication system. Ensure that your leaders always get their heads together, possibly via daily stand-up meetings. With a distributed remote team it’s essential to set up a cadence for your internal management team. Also identify critical leaders within your virtual workplace. Who can you rely on to help develop office culture?
Remote management requires leaders to refocus on the fundamentals of good leadership. Think effective meetings, smart goals, clear communication, and leveraging individuals’ strengths within the company. When switching to a remote working model, it’s essential your critical leaders have the time and space to think about their management. You don’t want leaders bogged down in day-to-day tasks when your company is undergoing fundamental change.
Identifying and Addressing Risks
Change brings an element of risk, to your new remote team and to your overall business. At this time you will need to monitor key data streams and increase feedback from both your staff and customers. Your team of critical leaders needs to be honest about potential risks, so they can be mitigated effectively.
The biggest risk is likely to be how you respond immediately to an unknown risk, with a virtual leadership team on different working hours. Establish a clear process and ensure you distribute responsibility to enable an effective response. There will be times when everything doesn’t go through you and that’s part of managing a remote team – trust your leadership team to take responsibility.
Contingency is essential as you move to a new remote team. This change will not be smooth and there is not an obvious fallback. Be clear about the business objectives and principles when faced with a crisis. Identify the most important stakeholders to prioritise. Contingency benefits from flexibility as you will have more directions when risks emerge.
Be Available, More Often
Being available more often is just doubling down on core management skills. Workers in any environment can feel isolated and in need of support. It’s important that you and your leaders create a space where their staff can be heard. This will look different for every remote team and is based on core principles – clear communication, over-flexibility and culture.
The fundamental principle is that you need to be available more often, so you can respond in real time.
5. Culture for New Remote Teams
Culture is the most important element of all good remote teams. Prioritise culture above everything else as you lead a new remote team.
Be Honest – This Will Take Time, It Will Be a Learning Curve
Very few managers think it will be easy, but few neglect the fact that there’s probably nobody in the organisation who has previously led a transition to remote working. You are going to make mistakes and learning curve may be steep. That’s okay if you communicate this message from the start and accept it’s new to everyone.
Be honest with your workforce about the challenges. Encourages their ideas and feedback. Create a sense of opportunity and a canvas from which your workforce can develop a new working culture.
Take Steps to Avoid Burn Out
All the research on remote working shows that remote workers do more work than workers in a fixed office environment. This contrasts the typical stereotype. Remote workers are available more often and many struggle to switch off. Instead of commuting they do emails over breakfast immediately after waking up. Their office may be in their home, hard to shut down for the day. Over-communication creates a risk that instant communication is expected.
Your culture needs to mitigate the risk of burnout. Be open and give your workforce time to speak out about their stresses. Be realistic about expectations. Move away from instant communication to efficient communication. Most importantly, encourage your workers to unplug and turn off. Help them set boundaries, so they’re not responding to messages over dinner.
One practical process you can implement is using Slack. Your employees can set their status on Slack, so everybody knows when they are at work and available.
Create a Sense of Community
New remote teams have the space to believe. They can evolve in many directions. They are free of limitations and restrictions created by the same four walls and nine to five. Now is your opportunity to encourage a new sense of community.
Community is defined by its members so this isn’t something you can control, but something you must nurture. Make it easy for the community to come together and create a shared personality.
6. Hire Remotely
A remote team needs remote workers and Search Remotely is the leading platform for sourcing the best remote talent. The Search Remotely jobs board is updated throughout the day and instant job alerts are sent to our members. With Search Remotely you can access a wider talent pool and add to your new remote team.