Leading a remote workforce

Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.
– WARREN BENNIS

Many people draw a distinction between management and leadership. Leaders dare us to do great things where managers measure and watch you. Leading a remote team requires more of a few key elements to make it successful. One of the biggest elements you need is trust. When the person is not in the next cubicle you need to trust that they will get the work done. Along with setting good expectations and communicating well, you can foster the right environment for a remote team to be led successfully.

How are you leading with trust?
Does everyone know what their expectations are?
Is there a check to make sure the messages are getting through?

Trust

Of course, you also have to trust your team to not take advantage of the privileges that come with the remote work. The right teammates know the issue of trust and individual responsibility come to the forefront. Everyone in the group must take that responsibility very seriously. The individual is responsible for being productive even with all the potential distractions. Basically, you need ways to keep communication lines open and foster a productive working environment.

Don’t Micromanage

As a first time leader, I felt compelled to critique everything my team did. It didn’t take long and I had pestered everyone on my team. Lucky for me, another manager who had been leading awhile knew what to say. “You have a good team Tom, don’t get in their way.” Once he shared that I knew I had been taking it too far. I began to dial it back and observe more and see where I could help.

In the television show MASH, Colonel Potter has to leave temporarily and Hawkeye, who usually is the clown, has to take over. He begins by not being engaged and then soon turns into a micromanager. He second guesses everyone’s work and they become quite frustrated. As leaders, we need to learn how to work with each team member. In a remote setting, this can be more challenging. We need to build the trust and the relationship via many methods.

Expectations

What we want from our team and when we want it needs to be clearly communicated. If someone fails to meet your expectations and you didn’t make it clear to them how can you be mad at them? If anyone is at fault it is you. In our fast paced world we sometimes forget who we have spoken to and what we have said. If in doubt tell them twice or maybe more. Always better to make sure than to leave things to chance.

Measurement

As a Scrum Master, I learned early on we need to measure something. Even if it is something simple like the time it takes a feature to reach production. Leaders need to keep measuring their team and the results they produce. Focus on the value you are creating and how to quantify it. Begin by creating a baseline from which you can measure improvement or if you slide in the wrong direction. Then you can make changes and see where things go from there.

Overcommunicate

Managing a remote team presents a unique challenge. As managers, we’re responsible for making sure our direct reports accomplish their goals and stay on track. That’s much easier to do if everyone’s in the same office; you can just swing by their desk. With our remote mode, I find that managers have to be more thoughtful and organized about checking in with their staff. And, staffers have to be disciplined and over-communicative with their managers.

How do you tell if your micromanaging?
What measurements are you using?
When do you know your expectations are clear?

A few years ago I wrote a book called Leadership Evolution. In the book, I talk about how in the different eras of leadership we see different styles. During the industrial age, leadership was focused on output and efficiency. Then we came into the information age where workers were encouraged to use their creativity to solve problems and develop new ideas. The final age is the Alliance Age where leaders serve the team to help collaboration amongst the whole team.

Delivering results with a remote team requires high levels of collaboration. Thanks to a myriad of new technologies and many new ones every day this possible. Leaders can establish a vision to communicate with the team. They can set expectations and measure the results. Just a few years ago this was unthinkable. Today it is possible and tomorrow we see the bar raised. Here is to the remote team and the great leaders that make it possible.

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