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5 Best Practices for Leading a Remote Team

For many organizations, instead of getting the opportunity to dip your toes into the deep waters of becoming a remote team, you were thrown into the sea and forced to swim or drown. These 5 simple best practices will help ensure your team stays focused and continues to deliver impact.

Headshot of Amanda Bocik smiling

by Amanda Bocik

Change is hard. A lot of change all at once is really hard. Your organization has been forced to make big changes and at a rapid pace. For many of you, the change to working remotely has not been easy. Instead of getting the opportunity to dip your toes into the deep waters of the digital company landscape, you were thrown into the sea and forced to swim or drown. 

We want to see you thriving on the other side of this season. And that means learning how to embrace these changes and make them work for you. Our team is completely remote. We have clients all over the country, team members in different states, and contractors in different states and even countries. So we thought one way we could serve you during this time is by sharing some of what we know about when it comes to leading a team remotely. These are 5 best practices for leading your team right now.

But, before I dig into the 5 best practices, I just want to comment on how culture plays a role here. Whether your team is digital or not, team culture is always bubbling under the surface. It is present whether you like it or not, whether you’re proud of it or not. Your values have to be crystal clear and lived out – prescriptive and descriptive. Think about what you are known for and what you want to be known for.

If you have not made your culture a priority yet, if you have not paid attention to it and made a conscious decision to be intentional about creating a culture you are proud of, do it now. Do it first. Culture eats strategy for lunch.

Now, let’s talk about 5 effective ways to lead your team digitally.

Create a communication and workflow triage system
This is establishing a system for what channel to use when. Do you ever feel like your days are just responding to email? Do you feel reactive instead of proactive when this happens? Creating a workflow triage system will help minimize disruptions for not only yourself but also your team.

For example, if you have a weekly team meeting then ask your team to hold all questions that can wait for the weekly team meeting instead of emailing. Create a “parking lot” list for weekly meeting topics and questions that can be addressed at that time. If there is something important that cannot wait for the meeting, you can use a tool like Slack or Asana or Trello. After that option, then email. Then text. And most urgent is a phone call.

Whatever system you create though, lead by example and follow through on using it yourself first. Hold yourself and others accountable to using it, especially as everyone adjusts. Clearly communicate it with everyone and then implement it and be accountable to one another.
1
Make trust and communication a top priority
Trust and communication should be a priority all of the time, but it is essential when working remotely. Everyone on the team needs to be receptive to giving and receiving feedback. When you are not with someone physically, you need to trust their character, work ethic, and competency even more than when you can see them at work. Be careful about the way you communicate to ensure you are building trust, while also holding team members accountable.

One way to do this is by never handling conflict over written communication. This can come across as passive-aggressive and you can communicate something you didn’t intend to. Handle conflict personally. If you wouldn’t have it that way when your team was together, then don’t do it now.
2
Manage outcomes, not process
This is huge when it comes to leading a remote team. You need to give crystal clear objectives WITH deadlines to every team member. Don’t get caught up in monitoring when they are working versus whether or not the job gets done on time. If it doesn’t matter, don’t pretend that it does. And if it does matter, don’t pretend that it doesn’t. You have to hold everyone, including yourself, accountable to outcomes. Clarity & accountability are essential here. From our experience though, a little bit of freedom creates a sense of empowerment and greater responsibility which yields so much more in return. We are adults. Treat your team members like responsible adults.
3
Silence all notifications
Focus is a superpower. But like all other great things, it takes intentionality and practice to tap into focus. The constant distraction of your phone text messages, imessages on your desktop, emails coming in, etc, etc, etc….. Keeps us from getting our best work done. This is especially important right now when you may be switching on and off from watching your kids to working. If you only have a window at a time throughout the day, then you need those windows to be focused and productive. Turn off the notifications. It will make a huge difference.
4
Default to video
For meetings, default to video over email or phone or text. Being able to give and receive nonverbal and verbal messages is always better. And, it’s possible to do virtually.
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BONUS: Lead yourself
Yeah, I’m going to throw in a 6th one because we all need this reminder. You have to lead yourself first.

Make sleep, diet & exercise a non-negotiable right now. There is a direct correlation between mind and body. Be careful not to get caught up in watching Netflix into the wee hours of the morning, eating a lot of sugar, and drinking too much during this quarantine. While all of this is ok in moderation, too much of it takes away from our ability to be productive. Ultimately, this impacts our ability to make a difference and come out thriving on the other side.

Get dressed every day. Even if you are with your kids the majority of the day, you will be more alert and productive when you are working.

Set three goals each day. If you take just a few minutes each morning to set only 3 priorities for your workday, you will gain momentum as you accomplish them. It will give you confidence and focus.
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You can do this.

You can do this. You really can. AND you can be even more productive and successful because of it. Can you do me a favor? Try incorporating some of these practices into leading your team this week and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you.

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