Leaders are expected to add value by inspiring and motivating remote teams, but the traditional role of the leader as a supervisor is no longer relevant. As team members are capable of solving their own problems, they need a leader who is a mentor. Simply put, leaders of remote teams have to make things smoother for their colleagues to achieve their targets and stay engaged with the organization.
Embrace structure: As a leader, create a structure that allows a smoother flow of information. Spend time both at an individual level as well as at the group level, getting to know your team members better. Get answers for critical questions: What are the work timings of each member? What is each member currently working on? How can you contribute toward their goals?
Focus on enhanced communication: We have to make changes in our methods of communication to be more accessible to our colleagues. Communicating through technology requires a little more enthusiasm, speaking assertively, using a few extra gestures, and spending a little more time setting the context. Monologues will make remote teams switch off.
Encourage participation: To encourage participation, assign and allocate agenda items to team members. Ask specific questions to individuals, e.g. ‘What was the highlight of last week’s project?’, ‘What more did you learn about this problem after speaking with the client?’ Do set a few ground rules at the start of the call. Everyone should be on mute and only the assigned speaker will share his/her views.
Redefine trust: Managers will have to learn to trust their remote teams by focusing on the deliverables, a major shift from the old order which gave credit to the number of hours spent at the desk.
Micromanaging is passé: Check-in regularly but resist micromanaging. Maintain clarity of communication, track the deliverables, and let your teams take ownership of their work. Be accessible in case they need help and have a clear understanding of what you expect from each other.
Promote a culture of sharing: Plan the levels of escalation and communicate them to your team. For example, use mobile-enabled individual messaging for an instant response and use the same tool for group interactions to quickly get multiple responses. Pick up the phone for an urgent need, use emails for documenting details, and video calls for longer, difficult conversations. Managers who schedule one-on-one chats only when things go bad instil fear in the minds of their team members.
Maintain transparency: Create a culture of being non- judgemental and learn to manage biases. In the virtual world, it’s easier to create subgroups and alienate others. As a leader, you have to be sensitive to this and nip it in the bud.
Create a sense of togetherness: Like a traditional business meeting, start remote interactions with small talk. Ask pointed questions to individual members, e.g. ‘How was your weekend?’, ‘What is the news from your city?’ Small talk creates a bridge, works as an icebreaker, and helps build relationships. Scheduling a Zoom coffee for one-on-one interactions or a happy hour for team drinks is an excellent way to bond.
Civility remains non-negotiable: Some members will be comfortable using technology, while others may feel awkward as they view it as a physical barrier, leading to aggressiveness, rudeness, and offhand comments. As a leader, be firm about accepted behaviour and set the boundaries.