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How To Lead Your Team Well… From a Distance

In light of the current Covid-19 Global Pandemic, we are all doing a whole lot of working (and managing)… from a distance. And while in Bette Midler’s world, there’s harmony and peace from a distance, in our world, things can be a bit messier.

Bette Midler, Some People Save Lives

In fact, working from a distance can be really hard. Especially if you are a leader (like me) who isn’t used to working remotely, let alone managing a remote team. In the last week, I’ve found myself not only missing my teammates but I’ve also found myself struggling to communicate in the ways that were formerly so simple (goodbye ability to drop by someone’s desk/office), struggling to prioritize in the ways that used to work so well (so long in-person whiteboard brainstorm sessions) and struggling to stay connected to my team. 

So how can we as leaders and employees lead well… from a distance? We’ve got you covered with seven tips.

7 Rules to Live By When Managing a Remote Team

#1: Discuss Expectations with Your Team & Recap Those Expectations

Discuss Expectations with Your Team & Recap Those Expectations

As a manager, you play a pivotal role in preparing your remote team for success. To get started, set aside some time to have an open and honest dialogue about the work-from-home plan with your team.

This conversation should outline what is expected of each team member, proactively address potential challenges, and highlight opportunities. When reviewing expectations, clearly identify the tools that will be used for communication and task/project management, establish regular cadences for sharing status updates (DO stress that overcommunication is GOOD), set parameters for check-ins and meetings, review your plan to foster a strong team culture, and provide team members with a regularly monitored channel where they can ask for help at anytime.

Once you’ve outlined the plan, provide ample time to answer questions (jot down all Q&A), and send a written recap of the discussion to everyone so they can reference later. Follow-up individually with team members over the coming weeks to check-in and refine the plan.

#2: Overcommunicate…Strategically

Overcommunicate...Strategically

As stated in Tip #1, overcommunication is key when working remotely, but should still involve strategy otherwise your communication becomes noise. This simply means, you don’t need to post the same message across every possible communication channel available to you if it’s not necessary.

Your team will begin to tune you out if your communication isn’t relevant or thoughtful. Instead, determine which channels serve what purpose for your team.

For example, a Slack direct message is a great way to ask a quick, one-off question, whereas a team Slack channel provides a great space to ask a quick question whose answer may benefit the whole team. A video call may be a better option for a question or topic that requires a more intricate response, and an email may be the method to recap that conversation.

Determine the best communications strategy that works for your team, implement it, and continue to refine that strategy so that it remains effective.

#3: Set Up Your Designated Workspace

Set Up Your Designated Workspace

Speaking of effective, while working from the comfort of your bed sounds like a great idea, it is actually a surefire way to obliterate your workday. There is comfortable, and then there is I’m-just-going-to-curl-up-with-Netflix comfortable.

Tell your team.

When it comes to ranking your team’s work-from-home action items, “designating a defined workspace” is item #1 because it helps to establish this defined boundary between work/home life. Whether your workspace is a desk in your living room, a section of the kitchen table, or a true home office, this space should be setup to enable productivity.

For starters, DO select a quiet space that doesn’t include a lot of foot traffic within view of your webcam. Check your WiFi connection, and then add the basics like a monitor, laptop stand, and a sturdy chair. Feel free to customize from there! Perhaps you’re a parent (of plants, pets, kiddos…we don’t judge) and want to feature a photo or plant in your workspace.

To make it even more fun, share a photo of your workspace with your team in Slack (or other chat platform) and encourage them to do so as well, or consider having everyone provide a mini virtual tour during your first team video meeting.

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#4: Get Dressed Every Day

Get Dressed Every Day

You’ve designated your workspace (and hopefully added some character to it). Now let’s talk about getting dreassed in the morning!

When I say “get dressed,” I don’t simply mean putting on clothes. I sincerely hope I don’t have to tell you to put on clothes. I mean “getting dressed up.”

Raise the bar and think outside the pajama drawer, at least for the part of you that is visible on camera (looking at you #BusinessMullet fans).

Do you really want to be remembered for wearing your Harry Potter Quidditch bathrobe in that Zoom meeting (the one that you thought was just audio)?

In making the conscious decision to get dressed, not only do you avoid the endless memes featuring your supercool sleepwear, you communicate to yourself and the world that you are ready to take on the day.

Why not encourage your team members to also show up looking their best so they can feel their best as well (that’s the most important thing!). 

#5: Move Recurring Meetings Online to Create Consistency/Structure

Move Recurring Meetings Online to Create Consistency/Structure

You’ve set up your space, you’re looking sharp from the waist up, you’re feeling excited for your day…you’re ready for your first remote video meeting with your team! It’s time to move your meetings online.

If you haven’t done so previously, now is a great time to take a step back and honestly evaluate your current meeting line-up and decide which meetings to keep, kill, and/or combine.

The rule of thumb here: it’s easier to cancel a scheduled meeting rather than schedule one on the fly. Don’t use working-from-home as a reason to cancel all your meetings. Instead, use your new-normal as a reason to evaluate your current meetings.

To get started: jot down the purpose of each meeting, the key stakeholders, the frequency of the meeting and duration, and your ranking of the meeting’s effectiveness.

Cancel unproductive meetings (DO notify attendees), revise details of necessary but currently ineffective meetings, and move all important meetings online (DO update calendar invites with call-in details and share a flexible agenda).

Maintaining a schedule of recurring (effective) meetings establishes regular opportunity for collaboration, discussion, and check-in for your team, as well as a good framework as they build out their own workweeks and meeting schedules.

#6: Make Contact EVERY Day

Make Contact EVERY Day

Excellent! You’ve done a lot to this point. You’ve identified your team’s communications channels (at least ONE should allow for connecting face-to-face), you’ve helped set some parameters for how to communicate effectively, and you’ve moved all your communication and interaction online.

That said, unless your weeks are frequently meeting-intensive, these actions don’t guarantee that you are going to have as much facetime as you did in-office.

On a normal working day in-office, many of us, at a minimum, see multiple team members every hour. This can drop to zero in a day when you work remotely, if you allow it, and can create a deep sense of loneliness and isolation.

As you go about your day, ask yourself:

Have you had any face-to-face interaction today? Is your team actively interacting via your communications channels? Are there any team members that have been more silent than others?

Use gaps in your schedule to actively check-in with random team members. Video is a great way to check in, but even a quick note over Slack or chat has an impact. Let your team know you’re there for them and looking out for their wellbeing.

#7: Prioritize Mental Health

Prioritize Mental Health

We’ve outlined some ways to combat isolation and connect with your team, but it doesn’t do us well to assume that loneliness won’t creep in despite our best efforts.

This applies to YOU and well as your team.

DO encourage your team members to designate time on their schedules/calendars for regular breaks, just as they would any other meeting.

Treating breaks in this manner will communicate to your team that you prioritize their wellbeing and expect them to do the same. Take it a step further and offer up some suggestions and ideas for maximizing that time.

Meditation, yoga, a walk around the block, a cup of hot tea, a power nap, a podcast episode, a chapter of a book — all of these options are great ways to reset.

Don’t forget to suggest that your team members step away from their workspaces during their break time and silence notifications. While a seemingly minor detail, stepping away from your workspace (even if it is your kitchen table) reinforces the separation of your work/home life. 

I hope these tips helped provide a foundation as you and your team navigate this interesting time together.

As a final bit of advice, be kind.

I’m sure your mind immediately went to your team, because that’s the kind of person you are.

But right now, my advice is that you remember to be kind to yourself.

You’re navigating the new; mistakes are inevitable. Be kind as you make those mistakes, learn from them, and keep going. Your team is looking to you as a guide.

How you respond to our changing world and navigate through the chaos is what they’ll remember most.

And I know you’ve got this!

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