I am no stranger to working remotely, including managing teams who may or may not be remote themselves. I’ve learned that while it takes a little effort (on both sides), you can achieve maximum results regardless of your office location.
In my current role, I am in charge of an operations division with multiple locations including several in the Midwest and one in the Philippines. Working out of my home office adds another dimension, however I’ve found that to be a successful remote leader I simply need to make sure my team knows what to expect, as well as what’s most important in a reporting relationship where your boss isn’t always around.
You will find that whether it is your team members or even other leaders within the organization, some are more adaptable to successful remote engagement than others. Like anything else, it requires a mind-set change, which can take some time. With these six tips, you can shorten the learning and change adoption curves more easily.
1. Set mutual expectations up front – when taking on a new leadership role, sit down with your team and come up with mutual expectations together. Make sure everyone knows your goals, how often you will communicate, how often you’ll be able to meet in-person, best communication methods, and how you will meet the collective goals, to name a few.
2. Show, don’t tell – I’ve told my team from the start that if they don’t show me what they’re doing, it’s either left to my imagination or I might even doubt they’re doing anything. We recently had a change that I needed to make sure the front line associates were communicated with and more importantly, understood. So, I asked the directors and managers to take photos of the creative ways they made this happen. Not only did I fully understand how they accomplished the task, it was fun to see what everyone came up with and share best practices.
3. Pick up the phone – in today’s world we can all be a little apprehensive to want to communicate in any other way than text or email (just ask, I mean text, my 15-year-old daughter!) Without the luxury of being able to see someone face-to-face in a meeting or stopping by their desk, leading from afar requires a lot of phone (or Skype) time. Your team also has to get used to this and is one of the expectations you need to set up front.
4. Learn their cues – as a remote leader you have to fine tune your listening skills and be able to accurately sense tone. You will begin to understand that one person always over-uses exclamation marks in email, while another person never does, but that doesn’t always mean that person is any less engaged or upset about something. Or vice versa. Listen for cues over the phone. When you are in-person, pick up on individuals’ non-verbal signals so you can actually start to pick them up even on a conference call!
5. Make it personal – when you don’t see someone everyday it is easy to get straight to business. However, building relationships, establishing trust, laughing together and sharing weekend stories is what builds strong teams. This is vital in remote leadership. Get to know your teams and co-workers. Let them get to know you. Don’t get straight to business without first seeing how that football game went or if they got that new car they were thinking about.
6. Wherever you are, be all there – if you are able to travel to see your teams, give them as much of your time as possible while you are at their location. This will only strengthen your relationships and make working remotely much easier for everyone. When you are remote, don’t be typing an email while on the phone or forget to actively listen and pick up on cues. They will notice – and you will notice the same thing – so set the expectation on day one!
Being a successful leader takes patience and understanding. (Being a successful remote leader…well, multiply that by 5.) I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t. But – those who can master it will discover huge advantage in the years to come as business becomes more and more global and more and more digital. If you can lead anyone from anywhere and achieve maximum results, you will be a very hot commodity not only for your company, but in the marketplace.
What are your some of your top tips for remote leadership?