As a leader, your job is to elicit optimal performance from your staff in a way that benefits them and the organisation. This function remains the same whether you and your team share office space or work remotely.
The way you perform your leadership role, however, will differ if you lead a remote workforce.
I’ve been both a remote worker and a remote manager and here are my seven tips for leading remotely.
#1 Be familiar with the work environment of your staff
It is a leaders job to ensure staff work in a safe space that is conducive to positive and productive output. As you cannot control the physical environment of remote workers, you must find other ways to show your staff that you care about their wellbeing.
- Talk to your staff about their workspace. Enquire about any difficulties they may face such as; the lack of a quiet space, inadequate equipment, family commitments and distractions.
- Help them to find creative solutions and workarounds to these problems.
#2 Make time for your staff.
When your staff work remotely, you lose those moments of unscheduled and incidental chats before and after meetings; in the kitchen; as you pass each other’s office or desk.
Getting to know your staff allows you to identify their unique skills, their knowledge skills and gaps and their individual passions. This understanding will help you help your staff deliver at their optimal level.
- Schedule regular catch-ups by video conference. Ensure the camera is on so that communication is as personal as possible.
- Make an effort to create a culture of regular short check-ins through instant chat tools such as Skype for Business or WhatsApp or SMS.
- Ensure that your staff know that you are thinking about them and that you are available to them should they need you.
#3 Listen attentively
Genuine and undivided listening is the basis of healthy relationships. Listening is fundamental to connecting with other human beings. Without it, we cannot build rapport, trust or demonstrate that we are interested.
When physically separated, communication usually occurs by phone, email or video call. Given the lack of face to face contact, leaders may find that themselves distracted with their own issues when they should be listening to their staff.
- Practice the skill of silence by resisting the urge to interrupt.
- Ask questions to demonstrate your curiosity; stimulate conversation and encourage more productive thinking. Ask at least three questions before responding.
- Effective leadership relies on your ability to understand staff so look, listen and ask for the emotion that sits behind the words.
# 4 Act with integrity – ALWAYS
Acting with integrity is less stressful than having to justify overriding one’s values for short term gain. Furthermore, when leaders behave in ways consistent with their core values, they are seen as reliable and engender trust.
It may be tempting to ignore one’s values when working in isolation. However, integrity is about acting in line with one’s values, regardless of who is watching.
- Make a list of your 6 most important values. E.g., honesty, work ethic, family, humour, adherence to the law, transparency, growth, trustworthiness etc.
- Identify the behaviours you must exhibit to act with integrity towards these values.
- Identify behaviours are inconsistent with your values and resolve not to engage in them.
# 5 Aim to inspire
Staff who feel inspired want to advance their organisation’s mission for personal satisfaction rather than for a wage, external recognition, or to avoid a negative consequence. Motivation derived from one’s own pleasure is significantly more effective than motivation derived from an external reward or to avoid punishment.
Enthusiasm is derived from an understanding of, and a personal connection with, the mission. However, remote staff are removed from the branding, ethos and culture of the business and therefore may feel separated from the organisation’s core mission.
- Ensure staff understand and empathise with the organisation’s mission by finding ways to regularly and naturally weave it into conversations
- Human beings want to succeed and feel proud of their achievements; therefore take the time to recognise good ideas and successes. This will also encourage staff to believe they are capable of contributing to the successful delivery of the organisation’s mission.
# 6 Empower staff
When we are allowed to set and achieve our own goals, we are more motivated to meet them, and when we do so, we are rewarded with a greater sense of accomplishment. This is important for self-esteem and expanding our sense of purpose. In many ways, this is a natural consequence of remote working.
A sense of control and independence is an essential part of human dignity. Our ability to express ourselves is central to our understanding of self. Our ability to make decisions about different aspects of daily life is important to most of us.
- Do not micro-manage
- Encourage your staff to set and report on their own goals
- Empower exploratory thinking by asking questions
- Empower staff to be creative by demonstrating that it is OK to make mistakes
- Empower staff to report bad news
# 7 Address underperformance quickly
It is not necessary to physically see someone work to know if they are performing well. It is an individual’s output that determines the quality of their conduct and accomplishments.
Allowing under performance to go unchallenged is harmful to the esteem of the staff member not working to capacity; and to the other staff who are picking up the additional load.
Address poor performance with compassion by
- Discussing your concern with a genuine desire to understand the underlying reason for the poor outcomes; and
- Work with the person to find constructive and mutually beneficial ways to move forward.
Do this quickly. The longer you leave it the more entrenched the behaviour will have become and the more frustrated the other team members will be. Furthermore, having allowed the behaviour to persist, you may find it difficult to justify the need for change.