I’ve spent 10 years managing remote teams; often up to 30 direct reports at a time. Over 200 teams in all I reckon, as my regions changed most years. I travelled 35-40,000 miles a year, swapped cars with alarming regularity, and can now navigate most of the UK without sat nav! I have learned a lot about leadership development and how teams evolve through my work as a trainer, but as a manager I learned the hard way – what does and doesn’t work with remote teams.
So here are my top tips: combining theory, experience and trial & error!
1. Agree Team Goals
Defining the purpose of your team, your vision for the future and your key goals is vital. Ideally get your team involved when you do this, so it is agreed jointly, and everyone contributes. At the same time agree how your will work as a team, your roles and team rules – hold each other to account!
2. Set expectations
We assume people know what is expected of them, then wonder why they don’t do what we want? Have an expectations meeting with the team and the individuals: agree what you want to see from them daily, monthly, weekly and what can they expect from you. Explain why this is important to you, and how it will make a difference. Agree these around how you communicate, when you’ll meet, how you will deliver – everything that matters to you as a team.
3. Meet Face to Face
Email isn’t enough – you need to talk to your teams as a group and individually:
- Speak weekly – you aren’t in the office and once a month isn’t enough. You simply won’t know what is going on, and if something is going to go wrong, you can’t stop it.
- Meet monthly if you can: this may be on an individual basis only, and may be every 6 weeks or 2 months. What it should not be is once a year – you have to do these people’s reviews! Get to know them!
- Meet as a team: this is crucial and could be virtually or face to face. It may be only twice a year, but you need to get the team to think they are a team, and encourage team networks.
4. Spend time with your best people
Often we get pre-occupied with those team members who aren’t performing, and spend all our time and energy trying to get them up to standard. And we forget about the stars, our best people who deliver day after day. If we do that for too long, they can get bored, go off the boil, leave – so spend time with them instead. Nurture them and stretch them, and they can help you develop the underperformers – and develop themselves at the same time. Just remember – Don’t have favourites!
5. Celebrate success
Feedback is crucial to individuals and teams. So share success stories, get people talking about what has worked, and give praise. That way teams support each other, share best practice, and start working together rather than in isolation. And the power of positive feedback is immense!
How you behave is as important as your team’s behaviours. If you have asked for information, a report, or an action to be completed – follow up on that. And do what you say you will do! This makes you a credible leader, builds trust and commands loyalty. Don’t do it – and you’ll be the talk of the region, in a bad way.
7. Be a good human being
This final message is simple. Treat people with respect! They are working on their own, often in tough conditions, and if they call you they want to talk to you for a reason, so don’t ignore them. Be polite, respond and listen, or simply reply to their email when you get it.
And above all – get off your phone when you are with them! You may only see this person for 1 hour in 12 weeks, so have the decency to be there. Ignore your phone, tablet and laptop, and pay attention to them – make them feel special, heard and appreciated. I promise you; it will repay you ten-fold!