How To Lead And Manage a Remote Team

Leaders of today have their work cut out for them. The corporate landscape of the 21st century demands resilience in their pursuit of excellence but also patience with their decisions. Modern-day business leaders need to embrace the freedom of individuality while balancing company initiatives and accomplishing key objectives. And most of all, they must be flexible in their ability to lead and manage a remote team.

Remote work is no longer a potential option or wishful thinking for busy parents, as COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape of the modern-day workplace as we know it.

In 2020, Growmotely conducted a survey and found that 74% of respondents expected working from home to become a standard in the business world.[1] Although inevitably, there will be companies that mandate their employees back into the workplace once the pandemic is over, it’s safe to say that the corporate world will never be the same ever again.

Keeping this in mind, company leaders must ask: how can we lead and manage a remote team? Is it possible? And more importantly, is it worth it?

While there may be multiple correct answers to these questions, we need to place these questions into context to establish some foundational skills and communication lines to truly maximize our chances of actually surviving a permanent work-from-home culture. Regardless of your preference on whether or not working from home makes sense, some people will be left in the dust if they don’t adapt to the new demands placed on their plate.

True leaders evolve with their problems to stay ahead with innovative solutions, which is why future leaders will focus on prioritizing people over their individual preferences. Here are five tips on how to effectively lead and manage a remote team.

1. Focus on the “What,” Not the “How”

Managing a remote team shouldn’t equate to adult babysitting, yet this is how most leaders feel about it. Yes, people will do what they want while at home, but that doesn’t mean they’re constantly taking naps or playing video games.

We all function at different rates, hours, and times throughout the day, so allowing your employees to do the same may increase their work output while improving their quality of life. Interestingly enough, Stanford published a study documenting a 13% increase in workplace productivity while working from home, which also yielded greater satisfaction at work and a nearly 50% decrease in attrition rates.[2]

For the early risers, this may mean allowing them to start their day early and end their day early. For the late adopters, it may mean that their workday may take them into the later hours of the evening. And to be honest, it shouldn’t matter what time someone is on the clock, as long as they get their work done and meet their deadlines. This is important because it allows individuals to choose their day, which can facilitate trust, have honest conversations about struggles, and provide people greater fulfillment with their work.

Most of all, focusing on the “what” is far more critical than the “how” for the company’s bottom line. At the end of the day, results are the only thing that matter. Ask yourself: do you really care how someone does their job as long as they get the job done?

2. Ask for Feedback, Don’t Just Give It

Influential leaders don’t tell their employees how to solve problems; they ask them how to solve problems. Asking for feedback about a problem is how continuous innovation is created because it cultivates a problem-solving mindset by the entire company, not just the leadership team.

If the leadership team had all the answers to their problems, why would they need other employees working for them? A leader’s role is to state problems to facilitate innovative thinking and problem solving, especially if this problem solving isn’t a strength of the leader at hand.

In Simon Sinek’s book, The Infinite Game, he discussed how great leaders are usually the last ones to speak on a topic or problem because they actively choose to hear a collective effort from their peers before taking a stab at solving it. They utilize their team and resources to come up with the best ideas, not those that come from the talking heads of the corporate ladder. In turn, these simple steps facilitate growth, innovation, and connectivity between team members and their peers.

Asking employees for their feedback makes them feel valued and a part of the team, significantly affecting team culture and morale. When people feel connected to a group, they’re willing to go above and beyond to show their loyalty. More importantly, their motivations become intrinsic instead of extrinsic, significantly changing their emotional buffer for stress, tension, and uncertainty.

Even if the feedback provided can’t be used or implemented, it is still essential to growth and development. And in many situations, leaders will be surprised by the brilliant answers posed to them once they work up enough courage to ask the questions and be vulnerable by stating they don’t have the answers.

3. Be Vulnerable

On the surface, vulnerability may seem like a weakness, but it’s a sign of strength. Those willing to show their vulnerabilities will win over their peers and employees because they are not above everyone else. Humans are vulnerable beings, yet, in the workplace, vulnerability has been brushed under the rug due to the overwhelming toxicity that masculinity has placed our modern-day workplace into.

By showing your vulnerability, you become one of the tribe. You show others that it’s normal to express emotion and inherently set the tone to prioritize your peers’ mental and physical well-being. We all have good days and bad days, so celebrate the good days and be open about the struggles of the bad days. You will be surprised to see how people respond positively to your efforts.

Brene Brown is a renowned expert in leadership and vulnerability and has discovered just how powerful being vulnerable can be in a workplace. Through her research, she has found that men and women differ in their abilities to be vulnerable based on gender expectations and roles, which is why it is so difficult to make this transition in the office.[3]

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways around this barrier. It takes intention and continuous practice to achieve greatness in any field of study, so prioritize vulnerability like the muscle. The more you use it, the easier it becomes to carry a heavy load.

4. Immediately Confront Conflict

Being away from the office can provide greater flexibility and comfort, but it can also allow petty issues to become significant problems down the road. If there are fewer touchpoints of contact between leaders and their team members, there may also be fewer opportunities to bring up conflicts and issues throughout the day. This is a slippery slope because minor problems quickly turn into big ones without much effort, causing a cascade of problems that may eventually lead to employee burnout or the failure of meeting deadlines.

The classic “watercooler” discussions that happen throughout the office are still a factor in company culture online, as conversations and group text messages can become burdensome for company growth and team morale. Be sure to stay on top of these conversations to avoid any underlying pitfalls or employee conflicts that will inevitably happen.

5. Be Willing to Learn Everyday

Lastly, leaders of the future must be willing to unlearn, relearn, and breakthrough old thoughts with new information daily. In his blockbuster book, Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results, elite Silicon Valley consultant Barry O’Reilly discusses the cycle of how transformative leaders use this adaptive model to innovate new ways of improving business and thought processes continuously.

Highly effective leaders are constantly searching for new and innovative ideas. Yet, many go about it wrong, which can stifle ingenuity and creative thinking. By utilizing the unlearn, relearn, and breakthroughs, future leaders can vastly change how they innovate with their teams and provide the structural framework to change how they do business.

Final Thoughts

Leading and managing remote teams doesn’t have to be difficult as long as you are willing to put in the time, energy, and resources to be transparent with your problems and execute. It is your job to ensure the highest levels of trust with your team, which will take you and your people to the next level, providing fuel to the fire towards your future success.

When leaders lead with their hearts, they also create loyal followers and future leaders. Be willing to do what it takes to put your people first, even when they’re working from home in their PJs.

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