Managing remote teams: Why communication and leadership are key
Posted: Wed 20th Jul 2022
The world is a very different place than it was just a few years ago, with employees mainly enjoying the benefits of the changing working landscape. It’s now more popular than ever to either work remotely or in a hybrid role spending part of the week at the office and the other at home.
Many people are opting for these working solutions as it allows them to cut down on their commute time and improve their work-life balance. However, while there's plenty to shout about for remote working, it can make leadership roles all the more challenging.
What once might have taken getting some people in a room together to resolve a situation or problem now requires a little more orchestrating and thought. Some staff might be in the office, others at home and others working from the beach. Leaders themselves may not even work in the office at all!
If you're building a new team in a start-up or continuing to grow in size and visibility in a market, you should consider your remote-working strategies. This is especially key if new applicants or existing staff have a preference for flexible-working patterns.
For any remote team, there can be a potential disconnect among employees, and the importance of clear communication and leadership from the get-go has never been more important.
What remote leadership means
With a fluid working dynamic, remote leadership is more essential than ever. While this might be the case, there is no defined remote leadership role as each organisation has adapted to flexible working in different ways.
However, the fundamentals of leadership remain the same, and managers must continue to communicate clearly and effectively. Empowering team members and being a good listener remains a necessary leadership quality.
Transparency and flexibility are key
In a remote world, transparency means communicating with people at all levels, sometimes through a number of different channels. An email and message on Teams or Slack can go a long way to keeping people in the loop.
Remaining dynamic by helping team members complete their tasks, and keeping departments on schedule and focused on goals, is vital. Remote leaders will have to take a flexible approach to keeping staff motivated.
Having the agility to adapt to changing circumstances has seen remote leaders create new strategies that can increase productivity and bring teams closer together.
In response to a hybrid pattern of working, leaders must continue to adjust their approach depending on the situation. They must use collaborative and communicative methods to improve overall accountability and transparency.
Creating team cohesion
In the remote and hybrid working environments, it's the leader's role to make sure staff stay in regular contact with each other, as well as their managers. There's the potential for a divide when teams are split between home working and the office.
Some staff may never even meet each other in person, so it's arguably a little hard for them to be invested in the colleagues they might only see on the screen once a week.
Here are some effective ways to build a cohesive team for remote working:
Video conferencing: Zoom, Skype, Teams
Instant messaging: Slack, Teams
Project management tools: Trello, Asana, Teamwork
Hybrid management training
Virtual team-building activities
Workers in the office may not even realise they're collaborating with their fellow workers in person, but it's more of a concerted effort on behalf of someone working remotely. Using effective hybrid team-building methods allows for a smoother workflow and a happier and more harmonious workforce.
Managers in the past may have been guilty of holding a little too tightly to the reins when it came to working from home. There was a worry that home-based staff were slacking off, but since 2020 the evidence has shown the contrary. Reports from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that output per hour worked was 1.7% above the 2019 average level.
As such, managers and leaders have grown to embrace trust in their staff to get the job done and to act responsibly when working alone. While we may feel less inclined to check in on staff members from a productivity perspective, it's still important to monitor them from a leadership mindset.
Working from home can be isolating, and while some people thrive, others struggle. Regular communication allows managers and team leaders to look for any signs of stress, discomfort or burnout. The remote leadership team may need some training to help them understand what they're looking for.
Making sure every voice is heard
Although communicating through online channels has been around for a while, not everyone is so great at it. A leader’s task is to improve the organisation’s technology and ability to communicate effectively on the various channels and platforms available to them.
Such effective remote leadership creates a collaborative environment as well as an engaged working culture where staff feel as though their voices are being heard and their input considered.
Leaders must take the time to listen to employees and use the feedback they receive to create lasting solutions for new working models.
Enabling and empowering staff
Businesses, especially growing ones, are all about results. But it's also about the people you bring into your company. Trusting your staff to do the right thing begins from the moment you hire them.
Nial Eyre, principal consultant at Transform HR, says:
"Trust is the anchor that binds teams together. Micromanagement or excessive control will be counterproductive. Leading teams to focus on outputs, not specific tasks, is the way forward.
"A work culture that promotes self-direction and personal responsibility and ensures the right structure, resources and processes are in place is needed."
Essentially, it's important to be clear with staff about goals and expectations, but there comes a point when you have to let them get on with it. Trusting staff to do their jobs is something that a remote leader must come to accept.
What's crucial is to create effective communication pathways so that staff communicate their progress and let the right people know when they have finished their tasks.
Putting everything in place
To enable and empower remote or hybrid staff, you must make sure they have the right tools and support for the job. From company laptops to regular virtual team meetings, it all contributes to creating a positive and productive remote working environment.
Once everything is in place for people to do their jobs, it’s a simple case of getting out of the way and letting them do it. Studies have shown that, on average, those who work from home are 47% more productive.
The mental-health benefits of working from home indicate that staff are also less stressed, and many prefer the hybrid style of meeting. By giving staff the freedom to manage their workloads, companies can enjoy the benefits of a more productive workforce.