5 Keys to Leading Remote Teams

April 8, 2021

5 Keys to Leading Remote Teams (plus a challenge)

When you see your team every day in the office, that’s one type of leadership. When it comes to remote team leadership, it’s less about time clocks, absenteeism, and “where are you going?” Leading remotely, you don’t know what your team is doing, versus office managers who know all day long where their team is and what they are doing. 

Here are 5 Keys to effectively leading remote teams that work for us at HTS:

1. Better Expectation Setting. Talk in terms of results instead of about activity. Since you can’t see the daily effort and can’t observe the behavior easily, do less micromanaging and more micro-clarifying. Try this on the phone, “We just agreed on what needs to be done, would you please play back for me what we have agreed, as I may not have clarified key points effectively?” When team members can play back clearly their planned specific activities aligned with your expectations – you are being clear.

I hear and see some managers say, “So, you got this, right?” Or, “You got any questions?” These yes or no answers do almost nothing for building clear expectations or outcomes. I had team members come to me as projects were not being completed, saying to me, “I told them exactly what to do!” And I may have responded, “I am less interested in what you said, and more interested in what they heard.”

Only when team members can play back to your satisfaction, what they are going to do, are you capable of saying you set clear expectations. And by them replaying what they will do, they are teaching themselves. We learn mostly from what we say, not what we hear.  

2. Better Relationship Building. In those few situations where you are face to face, spend more time asking about Mark and Rachel (their kids names), or their bicycle tour, new house or sick puppy – these are important face to face discussions and trust building opportunities. When remote teams see each other so rarely, we jump hard and fast into business to take advantage of the costs and expenses associated with the face to face meeting. This is the wrong move! We are so focused on achievement; we miss the chance to build trust. Trust leads to engagement and greater team member effort, especially when they are working 95% of the time on their own.

3. Use TechnologyBetter. Get off the email and onto Zoom, Skype, or Facetime. Remote doesn’t have to mean invisible. Body language is 55% of our influence. Email, text, and IM, are the lowest forms of communication as it’s only words, (7%) not the meaning. Miss the meaning, miss the message. Even conference calls with all 10 faces on the screen, are better than conference calls with everyone doing emails while you talk. That has little value.

4. Send More Photos. Send photos of office people having fun in their environment. Remote team members build a real sense of team when they see the office where others work – our cubicles, windows, parking lot, and cafeteria areas. These visuals build confidence in familiarity, as others talk about being in the cafeteria; remote members have a better visual in their mind and feel more connected. Halloween costume day is an opportunity to connect with remote teams, not just for office fun. If we don’t see each other, we forget we are all real people with real feelings, just doing the best we can. We can minimize conflicts with more visuals.

5. Conference calls could start with “What’s everyone’s good news today?” Start with positives. In fact, half the calls could put business as the #2 topic, and personal updates as #1 topic. Why not start every call with personal updates first? Because some people want to get on with things quickly, and only want the business and we need to appeal to all the styles of communication on conference and in presentations.

Remote team challenge.

Q: What would you do? As team leader, an employee tells you they are not able to attend a critical team meeting next month, due to personal reasons. When you press them on the importance to attend, they reiterate “I really need to stay back and spend some time at home.”     Most of us think, before we press and ask ourselves:

1. Are they a top performer?

2. How much we trust them? or

3. Is their excuse valid? 

  • Those questions set us up to judge their values against our values – be careful. 

3 key facts:

·       Family priorities should outweigh business priorities. For their own personal reasons some people are less comfortable sharing the details.

·       Trust is built when leaders lean into family or other personal values obligations, ahead of business.  

·       Trust with other team members is built when they see you leaning into core values of another person, regardless of performance. That is more kind, and expands their trust in you.

Ask the employee to please select someone from the team to takes notes in their absence and to be responsible to updating them, upon their return from the meeting. And wish them well at home.  

You will get back engagement and commitment in the richest ways, from everyone. And BTW will drive greater results in this situation. It’s better than arm-twisting every soul to attend, against critical at-home issues, as that will surely drive lower results.

Remote employees feel detached because physically they are detached. And to recognize this fact intellectually is not enough, or they will also feel detached emotionally. The key to all remote team success is to look for ways the remote teams feel less detached and more connected, emotionally.

“Talent + Engagement = Strength” ~ Marcus Buckingham


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