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Five Tips for Leading Remote Teams

We’ve replaced commutes with walks through the house, meetings with video calls, and coworkers with family, roommates, and pets. As leaders of newly virtual teams, you may feel stuck, unable to lead your teams in a way that you did just a few weeks ago. Here are five tips to help you navigate this new normal.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve rapidly replaced commutes with walks through the house, meetings with video calls, and coworkers with family, roommates, and pets. Though it certainly doesn’t feel normal, there’s work to be done for all of us. As leaders of newly virtual teams, you may find yourself feeling stuck, not being able to lead your teams in a way that you did just a few weeks ago. We’ve come up with five tips to help get you get unstuck as you navigate this new normal.

1. Figure out what works for your team.

Before it’s too late, get your team together to align on where, when, and how your team members are planning to work. If you have expectations for the team on any of these items, this is a great opportunity to be clear and share those expectations with your team. Depending on your company culture, it may make sense to provide a shifted work schedule option—where parents and caretakers especially can manage newly complicated working environments.

Try this: Set some guidelines that you expect will be manageable for all of your team members to achieve. This may include ensuring accessibility by cell phone between 9 and 5 or providing a weekly status update to you via email on key projects. On a call with the full team ask, “What would be wrong with these few standards?” Then, spend time generating ideas as a group for other “team rules of engagement.” By generating these ideas as a team, rather than imposing your own list of rules, you’ll likely achieve greater buy-in.

2. Increase your engagement.

While in the office, you likely see your reports often—walking through halls, grabbing coffee in the kitchen, or even saying a quick “Hello!” as you pass their desks. We tend to minimize the impact of those small moments of interaction; now many of us are seeking out that engagement from our home desks. To simulate some of that interaction, get comfortable engaging in video calls to see your teammates. Start your video calls with a few minutes of non-work-related chatter before diving into content. Even consider scheduling casual meetings or happy hours for the single purpose of getting to interact as a team.

Try this: Set up 15-minute standing meetings on a couple of days each week. Invite your whole team to “stop by” for a few minutes each day (if they have time and interest) and use this time for a pulse check on how your team is managing and feeling during this time.

3. Reprioritize professional development.

It’s incredibly easy to move PD to the back burner in times of change. Depending on your industry, your reports may have new corporate strategic initiatives to work towards, or they may have more flexibility as priorities shift during this time. So, don’t wait until you’re back in the office—use this moment of change to your advantage! Take time to have curious conversations about career development. Maybe doing so requires you to ask new questions, rather than assuming goals you talked about in January still hold true (or are even achievable) today. Increased flexibility may mean that your reports have time to take on a new project type, learn a new set of skills, or engage in an activity that will stretch them professionally.

Try this: Set up a 15-minute coffee break with each of your reports. Come up with three questions you hope to ask them related to their professional development goals. Then, over the next few weeks, send a few emails to check in on those specific goals and see how you can be supportive.

4. Identify some of your company’s experts—and leverage them!

Nearly all firms have (at least) a handful of folks who have been remote employees for some extended period of time over the course of their careers. Tap these experts for their best advice and share that out with your team. You may consider generating a list of best practices or asking some experts to speak to your team.

Try this: Ask a few remote-working-veterans to record a three-minute video on their computer or phone sharing their best tips and tricks for managing a remote-working lifestyle. Then, send out these to your team over a period of time as a video series. The team will appreciate seeing the faces of their co-workers and learning from their experience.

5. Accept, and learn from, this “Storming” phase.

At some point over the course of your career, you’ve likely come across Bruce Tuckman’s “Forming—Storming—Norming—Performing” model for team development. Tuckman argues that teams move through different phases as they learn from and work together. What we tend to forget is that we can move back and forth across these four phases frequently within a given time period. Many teams impacted by new remote working policies find themselves in the Storming phase, where they may have been Performing just two weeks ago. There’s plenty to be learned—about our working styles, our own needs as team members, and our ability to adapt—in this new environment. Many teams are all just starting to figure out this new normal.

Try this: Send out a message to your team that includes the three biggest challenges you’ve faced in the past few weeks that are related to a newly remote working environment. Maybe some are silly (I only walked 1,856 steps on Tuesday!) and some are more work related (I’m having trouble logging off at 5 p.m.). But they will all demonstrate a willingness to learn and grow—even when things feel chaotic and uncertain.

Think about these five tips as you commute from your breakfast table to your office space. Where can you start today? Is there one action you can take to bring your team a step closer to your current goals? Create a plan for yourself—outlining the things you can do and drive so that your team can find a bit more comfort, consistency, and guidance through such an uncertain time.

For more on this topic, please visit our Leadership page.