6 rules for leading a remote team

Our C-suite panel share their distilled wisdom.

by Stephen Jones
Last Updated: 10 Aug 2020

PICK UP THE (VIDEO) PHONE

For people to feel valued, informed and part of a coherent team, they can’t go weeks without hearing anything from you. High frequency of communication is essential for remote teams, as is picking the appropriate channel: with emails and text messages, people can easily get the wrong end of the stick.

“Talk to people and just ask how they’re getting on,” says Jeff Phipps, UK MD of software firm ADP. “I’ve been so surprised that people I thought would really struggle have sailed through this, and some people I thought would be fine, haven’t. By talking to people you understand what’s really happening as opposed to what you see in your office, looking out of your window.”

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR SIMMERING CONFLICT

Without being able to read body language, it is very easy for conflicts to develop among remote teams. “Step in at the earliest possible stage to avoid small niggles turning into major meltdowns,” advises David Liddle, CEO of conflict resolution company TCM.

“Encourage people to talk about how they are feeling and to hear each other in an empathetic way. Involve the team in discussions about how work will be managed and be transparent about decisions and arrangements. If everyone is clear about what is happening and why, and feels they have been part of the decision-making process, it is much less likely that conflict will arise.”

TRUST PEOPLE

At the root of presenteeism, and much disengagement, is the erroneous belief that if you can’t see someone working, they must be slacking off. “The reality is that there’ll still be a lot of managers who simply don’t trust their people to work effectively remotely,” says Mark Price, former Waitrose MD and government minister. 

“There’s the temptation to micromanage and send them five emails a day asking them if they’ve called Bert yet, but that is not going to work. When you don’t see people on a daily basis, you have to think much more deeply about how you’re communicating and whether you’re making your colleagues feel trusted and empowered.”

KEEP MEETINGS DISCIPLINED

“While your remote staff may crave interaction, lengthy meetings are probably not at the top of their list. Go short. You can always schedule a follow-up. Start on time, stay on topic, and if possible, end early,” Says Chris Dyer, author and CEO of PeopleG2, an entirely remote firm.

“Always schedule with ‘Parkinson’s law’ in mind: any task will expand to fill the time allotted. Thirty to 45 minutes should be adequate for most meetings - and most attention spans, particularly for folks who are new to working from home.”

BE VULNERABLE

In a remote working world, just saying ‘I’m fine’ is not an acceptable response when asked how you are, says Malcolm Cannon, national director of the Institute of Directors Scotland.

“I ask people to answer with a number between one and 10. I have to do it too. That makes them think about and articulate what is affecting them. It also gives me as a leader a scale against which to measure their answer.”

LOOK AFTER YOURSELF TOO

“I think people are opening up more and that the emotional burden leaders are taking on has increased. We talk about leaders increasingly becoming coaches, which is a good thing, but they’re not counsellors and they’re not therapists,” says Sarah Ellis, co- founder of Amazing If.

“I suspect the boundaries have become even more blurred, so leaders should make sure they look after themselves as well.”

Image credit: Tang Ke/VCG via Getty Images

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