It is likely you are already leading some or all of a team remotely. Creating the most successful environment possible for your team requires intentionality and thoughtfulness — much more intentionality than when you are physically in the same office as your team. How can you remain a supportive, helpful, communicative leader even when you do not see people physically each day? Here are some ideas to facilitate success:
- Clearly communicate team goals and priorities to ensure everyone is on the same page. Build a routine for regularly sending out these types of messages. Even if you discuss current projects and upcoming needs during virtual team meetings, send a follow-up message summarizing key points shared, to provide clarity that everyone can reference.
- Schedule time to regularly connect with your employees. Schedule recurring one-on-ones and team meetings. Since you will not be spontaneously chatting in the hallway as you would in a physical office, you have to plan ahead and be intentional about when you will connect and create a sense of teamwork. Establish a routine of calls.
- Take time for relationship building to catch up on each other’s lives. This helps continually build trust and connection, which will lead to even better collaboration.
- Ask key questions to learn how people are doing:
o What are some recent high points and successes for you?
o What are you enjoying most at work and in your life at the moment?
o How can I help?
- Recognize that you will not be able to rely on non-verbal cues as you would if you were having an in-person conversation. This means you need to ensure you are listening carefully and asking probing questions to draw people out and understand things better if you sense that there is hesitation or confusion from an employee.
- Communicate expectations. Ask that employees be in a distraction free and quiet place when they join the call, as this will enable more effective communication and outcomes. Encourage the use of webcams whenever possible — seeing people’s faces helps build camaraderie and improves communication.
- Strive to assume positive intent. In the absence of non-verbals and voice inflection, at times email messages can be misinterpreted. Strive to not overreact and encourage your team to do the same. However, if a topic seems touchy, pick up the phone and call the person to continue discussing the issue, rather than getting pulled into a chain of e-mails and replies that are non-productive.
- Recognize your employees for their successes and contributions. Take time to reflect on what you are observing and write a note expressing your gratitude to each person when they accomplish something meaningful.
- Encourage spontaneous communication. Your employees will reach out to you with questions sometimes, when a scheduled call is not on the calendar. Be approachable. Encourage them to message you if they need to chat and call them back when you have a moment. Hold open “office hours” on your calendar as a time during which you are free to take spontaneous calls from team members to help them.
- Host weekly virtual “hangouts” for the team, so people can informally chat and connect. Team members can even take turns initiating these calls and hosting them.
- Encourage team members to reach out to one another to collaborate and regularly connect.
Of course, this list does not include all the things you can do as a leader. Remember that many factors will be unique to your team’s situation, and that the best policy is constant communication.
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-Abby Christensen is the Leadership Consulting Team Lead at Talent Plus.