Guidelines & principles
Establish how you mean to start and then continue. Does your structure support the growth and engagement of your company and its team? What policies or guidelines will you use and how will they be communicated or even enforced? Are they consistent with your values? If you want your team to have autonomy, consider the language you use about checking in and if you track hours, maybe consider tracking deliverables instead. Consider the equipment they need? How are you supporting that with policy and/or compensation? If they need flexibility, how are they letting you know they have a change of plans? Do they even have to? Make sure you are clear and that you are consistent between your walk & talk and that you are setting everyone up for success.
Hiring a team who can work in a completely remote way is not the same as hiring an “office” team. Focus on communication skills in a different way, how they work on their own in a self-directed way, what their comfort level is working with others in this way. Realise that those who are used to this way of working can also be great role models for you and others on balance and flexibility as a team.
Onboarding and beyond
You can’t onboard the same way with a remote team as you would with a physical office team. How will you ensure your team feels welcome, connected and motivated when you don’t see them face to face? What will set the tone for how you want to work with this new person or team? It may mean sending them a welcome package and scheduling more video calls in the beginning and being more open and even vulnerable about how you communicate about yourself as a leader. When you do the little things like share the family photos, give a tour of your home office and ask them about themselves in a genuine and curious way, your new team members can feel a lot less alone and quickly integrate with the team.
We know things can be misunderstood in the best of circumstances but, when working remotely, clarity is one of the most important things to consider. Does your team truly understand what needs to be done and what you as a leader need? Look at the tools you can use like Trello, Monday or Asana to ensure clarity of tasks and make sure you have other ways to check in as well.
Communicate & Check in often
How does your team usually communicate? Think of how you can connect when you can’t holler from your cubicle or catch-up by the coffee machine. There are loads of tools and methods out there, don’t be afraid to ask around, check in with your team and see what tools will suit the communication styles your team needs. It could be messaging like Slack or Skype but make sure it also suits the needs and feel of your team. Make sure it isn’t too formal if that’s not your style or too distracting if that doesn’t work either. One of the biggest things to consider with a virtual team is how, when and why you check in with (not check on) each member of your team. You shouldn’t wait for a formal review or the next face-to-face (if you even have them) to see how things are going work wise. Check in as often as needed allowing your team to feel safe to be honest about how they are handling things. See if either of you need any course correction in tasks, how you are working together or what they need from you as a leader.
Community, culture & creativity
Connecting with your team when you can rarely or never meet face to face is a very different way of thinking. Even virtual “meetups” can fall flat if they aren’t done in a way that is sincere and honest to the real culture of the organisation. How can you develop a community for your team, one that sparks creativity, new ideas and growth as individuals? Try having thinking sessions, discussions about You may think you have an engaged corporate culture but if you aren’t careful, you will find that it doesn’t translate with a remote team. Best way to see what works, ask!
Growth – as a team and individuals
One of the benefits of remote working is flexibility to learn in formats and on schedules that suit the individual. This is something you need to consider as you continue to work with you team on enhancing their own skills and capabilities. Consider bringing in experts for webinars on topics of interests, providing online classes, subscriptions to forums, online conferences, books and even events such as hackathons that can be accommodated during their flexible day. Encourage sharing and even job shadowing as a way to connect. Listen to your team and help them seek out that learning. When you make sure you aren’t focusing on the 9-5, Business as Usual, creativity can thrive. This can spark innovation and benefit your organization as they will have flexibility to think of how things could and should be done or problems solved instead of how it has always been done.
Take more care….
Being a leader of a remote team isn’t easy. It’s easier to prioritize the work and not the people when you don’t see them face to face. You will need to take a step back, often, and reflect on how you are caring for your team and for yourself. Is anyone a little quieter than normal? Is there a change in tone in messages or emails? This one isn’t about work or the outcomes but the people behind the work. Take care of them and yourself.
Let it go & be more Human
Working remotely means your work and personal lives will intersect more than ever. As a leader, you need to be ok with being more human and letting that personal side of yours shine through and seeing your team in a more human way as well. In the wise words of Elsa (thanks Disney), some of the things you “control” in a traditional office workplace shouldn’t be in your worry box in a remote setting. If you are asking people to be themselves and expecting great work, you can’t let the small things like the background of their zoom calls, their use of emojis, their dog saying hello during calls, etc. bother you. Unless it is affecting their work, your brand (and be honest about if that is really the case), or offending others in a grievous way, you need to focus on the amazing things a more human, balanced, remote team can do and not the little things that don’t fit with “your” idea of a workplace. Let personalities shine & you may surprise yourself on what shows up for the whole team.