Even prior to the pandemic, companies were increasingly allowing team members to work remotely. Now, it is likely this trend will only accelerate even after the pandemic is passed. While the trend of allowing workers to work remotely has been driven out of necessity to remain competitive by finding talent, reducing brick and mortar, increasing gig workers, and meeting the workers’ demands for flexibility, the pandemic has added the necessity of social distancing.
The development of various technologies has made it so much easier for remote workers. While we have been using Zoom or Skype for a number of years, many are just now using one of these out of necessity. There are a growing number of technologies for communication, sharing documents, tracking work, and so much more.
The thrust of this newsletter is leading and managing a remote workforce. Remote employees often feel disconnected or isolated. In fact, this sense of disconnectedness can lead to a drop-in engagement and work quality, an increase in feeling isolated, and ultimately their departure. On the other hand, some workers may flourish working remotely. Recently, I was talking to a local government worker who has been working from home. In his opinion, he has been more productive.
Here are six tips to better leading and managing the remote team member:
Engage with Them:
Engage with your remote team members regularly to build and sustain your relationship with them. This may take the form of a one-to-one where you discuss their work, goals, challenges, and/or development. It’s a way to build your relationship with them and demonstrate they are important to you.
Establish Clear Expectations:
What do you and/or your company expect of the remote team member? Communicating expectations is very important and will help avoid frustration, as well as set the team member up for success. Look for opportunities to recognize when the team member is meeting or exceeding those expectations— “I loved the way you completed your weekly summary of activities! That’s exactly what we want our remote team members to do each week.” On the other hand, it is important to address when the remote worker isn’t meeting expectations, especially early on when he/she is new in that role.
Utilize the Best Channels of Communication:
As mentioned in the last newsletter, Leading in Crisis, take into consideration the nature and criticality of the message you want to communicate and use the most appropriate channel. For example, a simple message may be communicated via text or email. However, a more critical message may be more appropriately communicated via phone or face-to-face where a richer exchange can take place and questions can be answered at the moment. Be sure to implement the feedback loop to make sure messages are being received as intended.
Whether in the office or working remotely, team members want to feel supported and valued. When you engage with the remote team members, ask what support they may need from you. According to research, feeling supported increases job satisfaction. See them as whole people with needs and desires. Identify what those needs or desires are and look for ways to assist them. This communicates that you care about and respect them.
Engage Them in the Decision Making Process:
Even though the remote team member is out of sight, let them know you value them by engaging them in the decision making process, especially where the decision impacts them. Doing so increases organizational commitment.
Keep Them Connected to the Team:
Look for ways to keep them connected with the team. Examples include:
- Include them in conference calls with the team.
- Setting up a buddy system where team members are “linked” with another team member to work on projects, engage in brainstorming sessions, or just to stay connected. Dr. Switzer was conducting a webinar for a group of senior county leaders recently and one of the department heads shared that he set up a buddy system and asked that the buddies connect daily.
- Celebrate wins, work accomplishments, or other events together.
- Discuss values and how those might apply, especially if team members are located in different cultures.
Voice of Experience:
Longtime client, CEO Lawrence Lawrence, Team SOS, has had remote team members for twenty years. Over the years, the biggest challenge of having remote team members has been their availability during work hours. One of the complaints of remote team members is that can’t always reach the people they need when they need them.
Lawrence added, “Remote workers can be easily distracted and not be available when you need them.” He found that managers spent too much time chasing down remote team members. To combat this, Lawrence developed clear written expectations, such as being available during work hours, actively participating on the phone, using the proper equipment, and following protocols. Managers discuss the expectations with team members and require them to sign an agreement that they will follow the expectations.
Lawrence recommends that businesses considering using remote team member’s daily task list, require the right work environment, and have managers check-in with their team members daily. In fact, Lawrence’s managers check-in with team members in the morning to review the team member’s daily task list and again at the end of the day to see the extent to which the team member completed the daily activities.
Lawrence feels the right work environment for long term remote team members includes dedicated workspace, like a bedroom, dedicated phone for business, computer, monitor, and an appropriate background for video calls. Depending on the team, his remote workers may use Jabber, Facetime, text, or corporate phone. The software he uses allows his managers to easily see if remote team members are working and on track.
In his experience, most people are not suited to work remotely. He added, “We are social beings. Working remote isn’t for everyone. In fact, maybe only 20% are suited to work remotely for long periods of time. In the office, you can stop by and visit someone to get the information you need.”
Mary Lawrence-Jones is an Assistant Executive Director for the Sacramento County Department of Child Support Services. In the wake of COVID-19, Mary found herself managing from a home office. She missed connecting with her team on a daily basis and not being available to physically help or engage in conversations to discuss and/or clarify activities. She also found that she might only hear a portion of conversations while on conference calls.
Knowing that others are in a similar position, she recommended several practical ideas:
- Create a primary workspace and keep it neat and organized.
- Get up every day, eat, and get dressed like you are going to work.
- Establish a daily routine, including a prioritized task list of what you want to get done.
- Stay connected to work via conference calls and virtual meetings.
- Conduct one-to-ones with team members via Zoom or Skype.
- Look for opportunities to encourage and build up others.
- Keep your boss informed.
- Practice self-care by taking regular breaks and connecting with friends outside of the workplace and limiting your daily intake of media.
Lawrence and Mary’s advice are congruent, practical and can help you navigate having remote team members. What steps will you take to lead and manage remote team members more effectively?
For the Faith Based:
One may think that remote workers are a novel creation of the late 20th and early 21st centuries enabled by technology. However, remote workers have been around for centuries. One of the greatest stories of the growth of all time is the Christian Church. Christians have grown from a group of 12 disciples to over 2 billion believers. The early days of the Church was a prime example of managing a remote workforce. The New Testament documents examples of managing a remote workforce through the letters of Paul to the various growing communities of faith.
Knowing the six tips for better leading a remote team, we can see how Paul led remotely even without technology. Paul exemplified the six tips for managing a remote workforce. Paul’s letters show how he engaged (Tip #1) and supported/encouraged (Tip #4) his followers. His letters were heartfelt and directed personally to the community being addressed and he always engaged the intended audience through prayer and personal acknowledgment of the recipients. In 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul encourages the community by saying “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
In terms of the channel of communication (tip #3), Paul preferred to visit communities in person to create leadership teams. However, given the vast geographic scope, Paul managed, he relied on letters to be delivered to the communities. Paul put forth much time and effort into the messaging enclosed in the letters. He also included a feedback loop as part of his messages as he also referred to receiving letters.
For tips #2 and #5, which are creating clear expectations and allowing the remote team to be involved in decision making, Paul relied on his community leadership structure. The message of Christianity needed to be consistent and that was the expectation Paul set during his visits and reinforced in his communications. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there be no divisions among you, and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought,” (1 Corinthians 1:10). At the same time, the boots on the ground had to make decisions on their own of how to communicate but Paul would be there when he was needed for support. An example of this support is when Paul commented on the problems in the community of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” The message of Christianity in and of itself is a message of togetherness. Paul’s greatest example of keeping the team connected (tip #6), comes in one of his most famous quotes from Romans 12:5 “so in Christ we who are many forms one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
Paul is one of the most influential people in the Bible and is a great example of how to be a leader even when your team is remote.