Leading large teams from home is an unnerving concept that has been thrust into the heart of businesses and leaders overnight thanks to COVID-19, however for me, leading remote teams has been a reality for over 7 years. Before starting Compare the Card, I led Global Travel, Credit Card & Expense for a Fortune 10 company and was responsible for a large team in Manila and another in the US, overseeing operations for three corporate aircraft, and managing an end-to-end process for almost half a billion dollars of spend – all from my home office in Australia. Along the way, there were things I did right and quite a few lessons learned.
Below I share 5 tips on how you can become a more effective remote leader starting today.
Communication is key
One of the biggest issues with working from home is the lack of hallway conversations with stakeholders, leaders and your team. In business, as in life, out of sight is indeed out of mind, and leaders who don’t take steps to address this shortfall will fail to reach their full potential. It’s important to regularly check in with stakeholders and your team, even when you don’t have a business reason to do so. This helps plug the gap in hallway communication and has a few added benefits:
- You’re likely to have a positive interaction
Stakeholders may not remember the specifics of every conversation they have with you, however, subconsciously, they will remember how they feel about your interactions. By connecting when you don’t have a favour to ask, you build rapport and a sense of camaraderie that you can lean on when a business need arises.
- Remain present in mind while not present in body
Saying hello achieves the simple goal of being on people’s minds. This makes it more likely you’ll be considered for opportunities that you may otherwise have missed.
- You will learn things you would never have known
Ever bumped into someone and heard, “Oh, actually, I need to talk to you about something”? This happens to me all the time! I once found out about a large project launch that impacted overseas resources that I was counting on. A small mention in a passing conversation led to a tweak in project timing that prevented overloading the resources and a smoother project launch. If you only connect with people during planned meetings, how do you ever expect to learn the unplanned?
- Your team will associate your chats with more than just work
Have you ever received a message from your leader and – even before clicking the glowing icon in your taskbar – had that sinking feeling and thought, “What curve ball do I need to deal with now?” Chances are, you only get messages from your leader when there’s an issue or need something to be done. The same thing happens with your team, so make sure you do more than just contact them when you need something.
Saying hello without an agenda may be challenging for those who are not naturally outgoing, however with practice, this can become a key tool for remaining present in mind, while not present in body.
Set regular meetings with team members
When in the office, many leaders believe they can get away with monthly catch-ups with their staff. In some cases, depending on seniority and the nature of the work, this may hold true, however when working from home, weekly meetings are essential. Even if it’s just for 15 minutes, connecting with your team regularly fills another gap that appears when working from home: the ability to perceive the unspoken. Have you ever walked by someone’s desk and noticed something was wrong? This may have been a personal or professional problem. If you don’t make the time to digitally ‘walk the floor’, it’s something you need to get into the habit of doing.
Remember, you don’t need to have a set agenda for a catch-up, nor have your team prepare detailed summaries for each meeting. Just go in with three simple questions:
- What can I help you with?
- What’s been keeping you busy this week?
- What’s coming up?
Get dressed and use the camera!
So picture this: you wake up, dreary eyed, get out of bed, brush your teeth, make your coffee – maybe you work out for a bit or tend to your kids. The last thing you want to do is put on a respectable shirt, shave or do your hair. I mean, why would you? You don’t need to go to the office – no one is going to see you, right? I’m guilty of this too, but by not getting dressed and making yourself presentable, you fail to give yourself an opportunity to use one of the best tools available when working from home: your camera!
Everyone has heard the old adage, “70% of communication is non-verbal”, but few use their camera outside of key conference calls. Get into the habit of using video conferencing more often and encourage your team to do the same. It will let you gauge the body language of the person you’re meeting with, increase engagement and prevent multi-tasking, ultimately enabling a closer connection with your team and stakeholders alike.
Empower your team
You’re expected to lead, not to do everything yourself. This means helping your team deliver and building an environment in which your team members can thrive. If you lead a team, but are used to being across every minute detail, you’re in for a rough time in the remote world. It’s time to loosen the reigns and empower your team.
- Don’t attend every meeting your team members attend
Some leaders feel the need to be in every meeting. If this is you, begin by asking yourself why. Does your team lack a specific skill set? Are they lacking confidence? Do you not know what’s going on unless you’re in the meeting? Whatever the reason, every meeting you needlessly attend deducts time from another conversation you could be having to improve your team’s standing or get results. Think about ways you can assist your team to deliver when you’re not available. This may be spending time deconstructing a meeting after the fact, discussing what worked well or what didn’t. Providing insight into what was said and why helps your team understand how to facilitate meetings more effectively without your presence.
- Make roles and responsibilities clear
If there’s one thing that’s constant in business, it’s change. If your operations have changed, make sure to spend the time outlining everyone’s roles, how they interlink with one another, and who is accountable for what within the team. When working remotely, your team won’t have an opportunity to overhear each other working, potentially leading to duplicate work – or worse still, gaps in delivery. By having clear and concise roles and responsibilities, you will create a more efficient working environment with less friction among team members.
- Encourage teamwork and communication
When working in an office, team members will more naturally communicate with each other regarding their work and partner together to achieve outcomes. Remember that the same gaps you experience above will also be experienced by your team. Encourage them to communicate with each other regularly, especially when you’re not present. You don’t want to be the ‘eye of the needle’ for every interaction, as you will become a bottleneck to productivity. It’s a delicate balance, however the most effective teams have members that understand the strategic direction and work together to plug gaps and deliver outcomes in their own creative ways.
Use collaboration technology
This may be a given for some, however savvy leaders use technology to their advantage. If your company has access to document, note-sharing or task management tools, USE THEM! For example, keep team meeting notes and agendas in OneNote or a similar note sharing app. This allows the team to update the shared document with items for the next agenda, and keeps an ongoing record that can be easily viewed by all.
With these 5 tips for leading remote teams up your sleeve, you can expect better outcomes not only for yourself, but also for your team and business as a whole.