Managing Remote Teams: Relationships First
Dear Karin and David,
Do you have any best practices for managing remote teams? I’m finding it hard to build genuine connection and to stay on top of performance when the team is so dispersed.
On the Road Again #AskingForAFriend
How to Increase Engagement and Performance in a Remote Team
Employees working from home, virtual teams, and global teams in multiple time zones are an increasingly common reality for managers across industries. While some organizations are insisting everyone come to the office to work, the trend is undeniably toward geographically dispersed teams. To be an effective leader, you’ll want to master the art of managing remote teams.
When David talks with leaders about remote teams, one of the common problems he sees is diving into technology first, without thinking about why you’re using it.
When it comes to managing remote teams, think relationships first, tools second. (Tweet this)
Karin first tackled this topic back in 2012 when she was still at Verizon leading a remote team of 300 people around the country who were supporting 10,000 outsourced employees from 7 different companies.
In that post, she shared that despite the challenges, when done well, there are also some real benefits to managing remote teams.
- Every interaction counts, people plan more for the time they have.
- Both the leader and the team make extra effort to show up strong.
- Teams and team members gain more confidence in self-direction.
- Teams feel more encouraged to take risks.
- It’s easier to be creative when no one is looking over your shoulder.
- When teams are together they work hard to create relationships and are deliberate about maintaining them across distances.
- Absence makes the heart grow fonder—remote teams call on one another when needed, and have quality interaction.
- They make better use of tools and technology.
- They listen more closely because they are not distracted by the daily noise.
Many of our clients work extensively in remote teams, and in fact, we often leverage a variety of technical solutions to keep communication going across continents to create high-engagement while training these teams together, virtually.
Here are a few behaviors to focus on as your working to increase engagement and productivity while you’re managing remote teams.
- Establish and over-communicate a crystal clear vision and expectations.
Managing a remote team forces you to be very clear and organized about your priorities and goals. Everything we share in Winning Well about establishing clear MITs (most important things), checking for understanding, and communicating frequently through multiple channels is EVEN MORE important when leading a remote team. Be sure your team knows what’s most important and why. It is more important than ever to check for understanding and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
For example, to ensure meetings translate into action, an international project manager we worked with relied on agendas that are built entirely around the Winning Well meeting formula. Every item on the agenda is detailed as to the decision to be made and includes a clear ‘who is doing what, by when, and how will the team know’ outcome.
- Formalize your approach to informal communication.
When you work together it’s easy to pop into the next office or catch someone in the elevator for casual updates. Don’t leave communication to chance. It’s helpful to formalize a communication process, even for informal updates, to keep your remote team informed. This is particularly important if some of your team are in other time zones.
Mix it up – a common mistake when working with remote employees is to default to only one form of communication. Remember that people receive and retain information differently. In addition to project management software, chat platforms, and email, use a mix of more personal communication as well. There’s no substitute for a real human voice. We’re big fans of using video over phone calls whenever possible. Find creative ways to leverage technology.
- Be real.
Building trust can be extra hard when face to face interaction is limited. A little vulnerability can go a long way. Find ways to get to know one another as human beings. Ditch the Diaper Genie® (or as this Fast Company article says, make an effort to “talk about the tough stuff.” ) When people don’t have information, they make it up. And most of the time what they dream up is way worse than the truth. Reduce this tendency by taking time to intentionally “re-humanize” yourself and your team. Be vulnerable, be real, and use tools to help you make these connections. For example, one manager we worked with use a private Facebook group where her team had different fun and personal activities from sharing a meaningful object in their office to discussing what in their life mattered more to them than their work.
- Foster collaboration.
One overlooked part of leading remote teams, is fostering peer collaboration. As the leader, it’s easy to become the hub of the communication, which can be extremely time consuming and limits creativity. Invest in building up the communication skills on your team. Encourage them to reach out to one another and to meet without you.
- Show up face-to-face more than is practical.
Even with a solid communication plan, it’s hard to beat the benefits of spending some informal time together getting to know one another as human beings. If your budget allows, travel to your remote teams from time to time and invest great skip level interactions, roll-up-your-sleeves work, and some time to grab dinner or take a walk.
Your turn. What is your best advice for managing remote teams?
Do you have a leadership or career question? Would you like some additional insight? Submit your question here and we’ll do our best to offer our perspective.