Top tips when leading a remote team

A remote workforce has become the norm now and many businesses have adopted this flexible way of work, we have taken the opportunity to speak with Andrew Deighton on the topic and provide some top tips for managing a remote team. We start with communication…

Communication and remote teams

Communication underpins everything when you’re leading a remote team.

We all have our own preferred styles and ways of working. Some people will be very comfortable working as part of a remote team, and others will hate it. None of those styles is right or wrong, good or bad, they’re just different.

It’s really important to understand the individual preferences of people in your team. If you don’t know how people like to work and the level of communication and interaction they’re comfortable with, ask them. You need to recognise that some of your team members’ preferences will be different to yours. If that’s the case, how can you adapt your style to help them? It might feel uncomfortable for you, but it’s a key thing to do.

Keep in contact with your team members. Set a regular time with each individual for a formal one-to-one catch up. Make sure they know you’re available between sessions as needed, but be aware of your own personal circumstances and commitments.

Don’t always insist on using video for catch up calls. Go old school and use the phone sometimes. Don’t email your team members unnecessarily and don’t expect an immediate response when you do email them.

When you allocate tasks and activities remotely it’s even more critical to follow good delegation practices. Be very clear on what you are asking your team member to do and what their deliverables are. Check their understanding and make sure they have the skills, knowledge and resources needed to do the task. If they rely on other people to deliver their activity, make sure they know how they will communicate and work together. Use coaching techniques and approaches to engage and involve employees. Tell them what you want them to do rather than how to do it. Set clear boundaries and trust people to make their own decisions within those boundaries. Review progress regularly and be available for any questions or issues they may have.

Hold regular online full team catch up sessions at a frequency that’s appropriate to your working environment. Make sure these sessions focus on the personal and social relationships between team members as well as the work they are doing. Share positive news, stories, lessons learned and focus on improvement ideas and opportunities during full team meetings.

Encourage team members to connect with each other between sessions. They could meet up for virtual coffees and lunches – but don’t put pressure on people if they’re not comfortable doing that.

Try out ideas such as virtual office hours. These aren’t meetings but are intended to be an opportunity to create some spontaneous interaction but on a virtual session. Get all your team members on a video conference call, but muted. They can then work on their own tasks, but if they need to bounce any ideas around, or share any information they can ask an appropriate member of the team to join them in a breakout room instantaneously. Just like they would have walked over to someone’s office desk.

We waste a lot of time in physical meetings and there is the potential to waste a lot of time in remote meetings. They must be well planned, well structured and well managed. Each meeting should have a clear purpose, frequency and length. Only people who need to be there should be invited and there should be a structured agenda.

Identify the best times when the attendees can all be available. Set some groundrules for behaviours during the meeting and encourage people to have their video cameras on if possible to help with engagement and interaction. Decide who will take the action notes from the meeting and publish them within 24 hours.

If you used to hold team away days or events, virtual away events can be just as effective as physical ones, provided they are well designed and professionally facilitated. They need to include a high level of interaction to keep the participants engaged. The content and activities must appeal to the different styles and working preferences of the attendees.

Technology and remote teams

When it comes to technology, I think there are two considerations.

1. The communication platform
2. Collaboration tools

For both aspects there are many, many options available, all with differing features, advantages and disadvantages. There are also different price points depending on the features you need and the number of users you have.

From a platform perspective, probably the most well-known are MS Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, Skype, GoToMeeting, and WebEx.

Many of the platforms above have tools to help with collaboration. However there’s a massive range of other tools that can be used standalone or linked to your use of a communication platform. A few of the more popular tools are Slido, Mural, Miro, Jamboard, Trello, Google Drive, Asana, Dropbox, and Inknoe ClassPoint.

Collaboration tools usually have a free version so you can try them out to see which are most suitable and useful to your situation.

The selection of your communication platform and collaboration for your remote teams very much depends on the purpose you want to use it for. Is it communication, training, co-working, collaboration or project management? Or a combination of these?

Your business may have a preferred platform to use. That may also depend on your client base. For example, many public sector organisations and academic institutions will only allow the use of MS Teams and Blackboard.

KPIs and remote teams

You’ll need to define a set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure your team’s progress and performance. Base the KPIs on the team’s deliverables, outputs and goals. Make sure they’re relevant, clear and can be measured easily. By definition they are key performance indicators so don’t have too many. Ask yourself these questions.

– What KPIs should we measure so we know we’re making progress?
– How do the KPIs link to our deliverables?
– What data will need to be collected to report the KPIs?
– Who will capture the data?
– How often will we capture the data?
– Where and how will we share and report the KPIs so they’re visible to all our team members?
– What will the team do if the KPIs show we’re off course and may not deliver our goals?

Balance of remote and face-to-face meetings
If you can meet face-to-face as a full team on a regular basis then that would supplement your online meetings. The frequency of your face-to-face sessions will depend on your business context and environment. It may be that you need to meet weekly, monthly or quarterly to operate as effectively as possible.

Be clear on the purpose of each face-to-face meeting. Different meetings, at different frequencies, can have different purposes. Use everyone’s time effectively.

Don’t use face-to-face meetings to simply share information. There will be a strong social aspect as well as work in face-to-face meetings. Use the time for creativity, ideas generation, improvement and sharing lessons and best practices.

Other things to consider

Finally, don’t forget your broader responsibilities as the leader of a remote team. Consider the following areas as much as the task and direct team leadership aspects.

– Heath and Safety (particularly around Display Screen Equipment for home workers)
– HR policies – do they need updating to reflect the new way of working?
– IT kit, set up and cybersecurity
– Data protection issues

If you were leading your team well before the pandemic, it’s likely that you did most of the above already. Therefore, it may not necessarily be what you do when leading your remote team, but rather how you do it that you need to think about.

Once again we thank Andrew Deighton for his views on how to manage a remote workforce, for any more information please do get in touch

Andrew Deighton
07769 726556

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