The Challenges of Leading a Remote Team – and how to meet them

#communication #leadership #remoteworking

Leading a remote working team is not a new concept. Indeed, there was a time in my career when I led a team of around 500 people, stretched through the length and breadth of the country. However, leading a team that has now being forced into working at home 24/7, or where some are furloughed or on sick leave, presents far bigger challenges.

I’ve recently spoken to numerous employees from various companies who are currently in this position, and many feel alone, cut-off, disheartened and are now seriously considering their future with their current employer.

Given the current and potential future employment issues in many sectors, it seems particularly crazy that employers are showing such little professional care and thought for their people. And yet, a few simple measures would go such a long way to ensuring their people feel involved, included and needed, as well as ensuring talented folk stay loyal to the business.

The need in these extraordinary times to increase engagement and build trust has never been higher. So, what can leaders do to build this in their remote team?

In a word, COMMUNICATE! Simple as. However, the devil is in the detail. Specifically, what and how we communicate is the real issue.

What should you communicate?

To build engagement, employees need to feel valued. Period. But there are various ways in which we can do this. For example:

  • Highlight the mutual commitment both employer and employee have to the organisation. Explain what it stands for, what you’re both trying to achieve and the aims and objectives of the company. In other words, all those things the employee spoke about so passionately when you recruited them!
  • Keep them up to date. What’s happening right now in the company, what plans does the company have and how does the employee fit into those plans?
  • Sustain relationships. Keep working relationships healthy. Could video conferencing be arranged? Other ways of socialising or group communication? What else can be shared between colleagues?

How should you communicate?

Curiously, in a world where it’s never been easier to communicate, it’s surprising just how many times employers pick the most inappropriate ways. For me, I use the following methodology:

  • Don’t text if you can email
  • Don’t email if you can Zoom
  • Don’t Zoom if you can phone

Why that rationale? Well, let’s look at texting for a moment. The real beauty of texting is along the lines of “I’ll be home in 20 minutes”. And that’s pretty much it! Using texting to have any kind of meaningful dialogue is fraught with difficulty (it also results in sore fingers!) and frequently leads to misunderstandings.

Emails are better, but generally should be used for more formal, official or policy communication. Asking someone how they’re doing by email is not particularly personal or sensitive.

Zoom can be a great way of keeping in touch, you get to actually see real human beings! Video conferencing has taken off in a big way during the recent lockdown, but even Zoom has its drawbacks. For some, it can feel a little intrusive, particularly with the current embargo on haircuts! It can also be quite draining as you’re still staring at a computer screen, something which many employees are having to do more of anyway.

For me, the best way of keeping in touch is the good old phone. People are often more relaxed on the phone, you can’t see them, so it doesn’t matter if the house is a mess (or they are). You can walk around on the phone, stay in your pj’s if you want, it really doesn’t matter.

Whichever form of communication you choose, however, the most important is to choose one, and to do it regularly. I know from experience that it’s eminently feasible to keep your people happy and engaged while they’re working remotely, you just have to work harder at it.

This lockdown has placed untold stress and pressure on so many of our people. But leaders who step up to the plate will likely find they can build loyalty, trust and get added value from their team. However, failing to grasp the nettle will only add to the disconnect that many employees are feeling right now and that may mean losing our best talent. Over to you, leaders!