Council Post: How To Lead A Remote Team From Anywhere

By Jon Clark, managing partner at Moving Traffic Media, a New York digital agency offering PPC and SEO services.

Over two decades of seeing the growth of computer technology, management guru Peter Drucker declared commuting to the office “obsolete.” However, many companies — including telecommunication companies — dithered. As recently as 2015, Facebook moved to its new physical offices in California, with the “largest open floor plan in the world.”

Only five years later, Facebook has shifted half of its workforce to remote working, permanently. Other companies have blazed the same trail and are following suit, but many frustrating challenges abound. Recruitment and onboarding of new workers, monitoring of performance, forging a distinct company culture and ensuring effective communication are some of the issues that leaders in the remote era are grappling with.

To undertake these tasks remotely and successfully, leaders of remote workforces should consider the following:

Effectively Recruiting Remote Workers

How can you get the best talent for your company in the virtual world where there are no physical interactions and face-to-face assessments? And even if you get the best worker, how do you onboard them and help them quickly blend in?

The first step is to elevate your online presence and image. A serious worker will evaluate and ultimately apply for a position with a company that has a good online brand. Your online image should also give a sneak peek into the life and culture of the company. You could do this by creating public birthday messages for your workers or by posting pictures of employee awards. Companies can likewise assess potential employees by evaluating their virtual persona through their social media pages.

Before you come to the interview, you should familiarize yourself fully with tools like Teams and Zoom. But you may also want to use software that can help evaluate body language or scan eye contact for useful feedback. A good example is HireVue, a virtual recruiting company that uses a system that evaluates your employee’s face, words and voice to rank for employability.

Finally, before you onboard new hires, you may want to consider engaging two or more remote workers than you needed for a paid trial period. The best fit for your team will likely emerge from that trial period.

Onboard Global Remote Talent

On blending in, new remote workers may initially feel lost. Likely, they come from different cultural contexts. There’s bound to be misunderstanding and confusion. As a new hire, it can be challenging to navigate uncharted territory, while having no idea about the work plan or their new work environment. Whether you are leading a remote or hybrid team, one idea is to schedule opt-in virtual tours of workers’ remote workspaces.

Training remote teams on the online work technological infrastructure is an obvious necessity, as is information about everyone’s role, and who can assist with what. In his book Leading From Anywhere, business and leadership author David Burkus makes a strong pitch for creating shared identity through the intentional use of such terms as “team” or “crew,” which can help build strong connections.

Monitoring Your Remote Team’s Performance

It’s almost a dictum that to lead virtual teams and make them productive, managers should monitor the performance of remote workers. The idea, therefore, that leaders may not even need to monitor performance in the virtual workplace — in the traditional output sense — is almost revolutionary. To many managers, performance means output: the number of hours worked and so on. However, there’s a persuasive argument among business thought leaders that managers should discard output monitoring in favor of outcome monitoring.

Consider the insight of HR expert Tara Bethell who, according to HR Daily Advisor, says, “I don’t care about these things [hours and schedules]. What I do care about are results.”

Effectively Communicating With Remote Workers

Author and former presidential speechwriter James Humes is credited with saying, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” Yet when you are a leader and you’re managing a team from anywhere, few tasks are as important and as difficult as communication in the remote work ecosystem. Clearly, communicating expectations is especially critical.

Entrepreneur Mark Watson III offers the following smart suggestions:

“Make synchronous time valuable”: In remote work, finding the time that simultaneously fits employees’ and managers’ schedules is hard. It’s, therefore, unwise to waste time on aimless chatter and things of no business value.

“Virtual meetings need to be focused and short”: Short, crisp meetings that help teams identify their goals are advisable and effective. The leader should leave it to the team on how they are going to achieve their goals. Subsequent meetings should not focus on “What have you done today?” but rather “Are you on target?” or “Are you experiencing any challenges?”

“Use a phone call when you need to”: Instead of waiting for a Zoom meeting or writing up long emails, leaders should know when to just pick a phone and make inquiries or follow up.

Culture, Commitment And Turnover On Remote Teams

Culture is one hard nut to crack with remote working. That’s because culture often depends on shared activities. However, there are ways in which company culture can be forged or maintained even in the remote work environment. Once-in-a-while physical meetings or team gatherings may be an option for your remote team. Also, companies can create chat channels where anything formal and informal can be freely shared, and leaders should explore the various ideas and options for joint virtual team-building activities as well.

Commitment is fostered when leaders practice humility and engage understandingly with employees to build strong teams. Build teams that are committed by:

• Equipping employees with the necessary infrastructure to get the job done.

• Promoting both vertical and horizontal dialogues. 

• Increasing employee recognition initiatives.

Finally, I agree with David Burkus’ argument that turnover isn’t always a bad thing, and it shouldn’t leave leaders feeling betrayed. It’s all part of change and growth.

As we embrace the new dispersed global economy, these remote leadership tips could mean a lot where your business growth is concerned.

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