Is it true that “people who come into the office just get more done”? That was the position posed when Yahoo walked away from remote work policies back in 2013. Remote teams who have committed to learning and instituting remote best practices have known that this idea doesn’t hold true in typical remote work circumstances (and it also has been disproven by research). Of course, remote working during a pandemic certainly pushes the limits on remote work productivity. Our challenge back would be to ask if productivity is the only or best measure of remote team success, especially during times of crisis?
Not all remote teams are created equal and so much of the effectiveness, strength, health, and productivity of remote teams rests within the hands of leadership. When remote leaders have mastered the skills needed to effectively motivate and manage their teams, it has a tremendous trickle down effect on the health, positivity, and productivity of everyone working within the organization.
We highlight these skills within our Remote Work Competency Model; however, within this article, we walk through the top skills managers need to master in order to effectively support their distributed teams. These skills apply to leaders who are managing fully distributed teams or even just one remote employee.
Ability to build and contribute to a positive remote work culture within a team.
The culture of an organization is a common identity that reflects shared values and beliefs. Company culture is important in any work environment, but when employees are working in remote and hybrid teams, establishing a strong and intentional company culture is crucial.
Culture shifts begin with the personal transformation of leaders, managers, and supervisors. There are an influx of guides on creating a remote team culture, but the critical steps are for distributed leaders to identify the underpinnings that drive your own organization’s mission, establish a match between your values and actions, and define the rituals and practices needed to create an environment that’s healthy for all your employees. Hint: you can’t simply copy-paste in-office culture into a virtual environment.
Ability to facilitate effective communication among team members and teams.
Communication concerns continually rise to the top when it comes to discussions on challenges faced by remote teams. We even dedicated two months of our Networkplaceless digging into the underlying causes of some of these communication challenges.
When it comes to communication for a remote team leader, it’s important not only to master your own skills of effectively communicating with your team but to establish the tools, channels, and best practices for your team members to communicate with one another. Equally important is the ability to identify causes of communication breakdown and steps to address them.
Ability to set expectations for, manage and maximize team performance across distance.
The reality of a distributed working environment is that you cannot physically see all of your workers every day. Many leaders who are new to remote environments tend to revert back to those physical cues of visibility at computers as a measure of performance. Instead of relying on time tracking or intrusive video monitoring, virtual performance management is founded on trusting your team to complete the work and aligning metrics that are specifically tied to output and work product.
Mastering the skill of virtual performance management involves a commitment to setting and communicating clear expectations that you can measure in any setting. And following through the metrics specifically tied to output and work product. It’s also about incentivizing constructive contributions and celebrating achievements.
Ability to appropriately manage interpersonal conflict with remote team members.
As with performance management, interactions between employees can often go unseen and unheard. In a virtual environment, it’s easy for conflicts to only become apparent once they’ve started affecting the work and interpersonal relationships.
Distributed leaders need to be able to recognize the signs of potential conflict early and to implement best practices for addressing and resolving conflicts when they do arise.
Ability to set goals and communicate a compelling vision for the future.
Setting and communicating the vision for your team in alignment with your company’s vision is essential for your remote workers to understand the ultimate goals. The goals and roadmap you set for your team will define the work that they do.
It’s also critical for your employees in understanding how their work impacts the results and vision for the team—research shows that employees who feel like their work directly contributes to a higher purpose are more engaged in their work.
Ability to manage a change initiative in a distributed environment.
In the modern digital economy, change is accelerated. Leaders in any organization need to master the art of managing this constant change—and leaders with remote team members need to know how to manage change across distance.
In remote teams, change can include bringing on a new tool or implementing a new process, restructuring the department, or going through a phase of rapid growth. In a virtual environment, these changes require intention, documentation, and a deeper understanding of what best practices look like without physical interaction.
It’s important to take the time to understand what effective change management processes look like, the barriers to change, ways to overcome those barriers, and how to create replicable change management processes that will work in your organization.
Learning & Development (L&D)
Ability to support the development of remote team members by setting goals, sourcing learning experiences, and developing a learning program.
Supporting the growth of team members is a critical responsibility of any manager, and supporting the growth of remote employees requires special consideration. In addition to transitioning employees through roles, it’s necessary to understand the skill gaps and opportunity areas that each professional will need to develop in order to be successful in their next remote role.
You also need to plan for your own professional development.