You’re a great leader. You and your team click. You’ve reached the point where they instinctively understand what you want from a project’s execution, while you have a handle on the little things you can do to motivate them. You look in each other’s eyes and know you’re on the same page.
But so much of this is about being physically present to one another. It’s about body language and tone of voice. How do you replace the little asides, the knowing eye contact, the in-the-moment comment, the do-you-have-a-moment? moment, the oh-I-nearly-forgot reminder, the gee-up in response to tired-looking faces?
Quite simply, you can’t. There are no like-for-like substitutes here.
As a leader of a remote workforce, you will not have access to lots of information and normal human dynamics that come naturally in the real world. And so much of what we understand about good leadership is predicated on working with real-life people. Here are my do’s and don’ts for leading remote teams.
Don’t try to force rapport
We have to be honest with our remote teams. Let’s acknowledge from the get-go that this situation isn’t normal, that things may seem ‘off’. Because they won’t seem as ‘off’ as they would if you start trying to create that fabled virtual water cooler. To even try is inauthentic. It might bubble up organically, but don’t force it. Bring this up from the beginning and invite a ‘feeling things out’ culture.
Messaging: clear, frequent and honest
Remote teams cannot vent their frustrations as easily as real teams can. The upside of that, of course, is the absence of a griping culture. All you can do is make it as plain as possible that you invite feedback in both directions. In terms of feedback and messaging in general, remember that nuance and tone of voice is impossible to replicate in remote work. Instead, give clear and frequent messaging. Don’t let the team think you’ve forgotten about them (and the quality of their work), even if it’s a case of periodically saying ‘I haven’t forgotten about you’.
Give a thought to the introverts
Remember that certain team members may have been attracted to remote working because they’re introverts. They might not want that phone catch-up you’re offering in a bid to mitigate against remoteness. Don’t foist it on them.
At the same time, don’t use the natural limitations of remote management as an excuse to disappear. Certain things have to be communicated as personally as possible, news of pay reviews being a major one. Always try to look into each other’s (digital) eyes in such situations.