You know the old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? Well, when it comes to remote employees, that’s not true at all. In fact, when you’re managing a team of remote workers, a big hurdle to overcome is the feeling of isolation and all of the negative emotions that come with it. So while making sure your team feels appreciated is a good leadership habit in general, remote leaders have to be extra-sensitive and intentional about letting their team members know their value.
Remote leaders are just like remote employees. You’re removed from the demands that come with daily face-to-face interaction. That means it’s easy to get caught up plugging away at various tasks you’re responsible for and put off or ignore communication from “outside.” When that happens, the questions start popping up in the minds of your employees. “Why isn’t he responding to me?” “Is she upset with something I’ve done.” “I didn’t get any feedback on that last proposal, so that must mean it’s not good.”
When a team member sends you something, whether it’s a text, email or some other communication, they’re reaching out. As the leader, you need to reach back. It doesn’t have to be anything long or time consuming. Maybe just a simple “thumbs up” emoji in a text message, or a “Thank you.” The point is to be consistent. When you respond consistently, it nixes all those negative “What if” thoughts and replaces them with the most important message you can ever send: “I care.”
Set up a Peer Recognition Process
It doesn’t always have to be the leader handing out the pats on the back. Many times the praise from peers is as good or better than anything you can offer. Set up a process where team members can give “shout outs” and “attaboys” for work well done.
At the Kevin Eikenberry Group, Kevin has implemented two such outlets where team members can regularly salute each other. We can recognize each other on Slack, either on in front of the whole team or through a private message. That’s something Kevin models himself and the rest of the team follows suit. We also have weekly reports on the work we accomplish that we share with each other. In addition to being a good check for productivity, it offers the opportunity to publicly recognize team members who helped get the ball across the goal line that week.
Whatever method you choose, have a way where praise is a regular part of the company culture and make sure you lead the way in your example.
Flex into Other Time Zones
If your team spans multiple time zones, don’t make meeting times always dependent on your schedule. If you’re leading from the Eastern time zone but have employees who live in California, those 9 AM ET meetings can be pretty taxing. It’s even more so if you have international team members.
Intentionally schedule some meetings so that it fits best where they live. Move that 3 PM ET meeting to another time that will allow your left-coasters to have lunch and not have to work while hungry. If they’re in another country, get up early on occasion and talk during their regular “work hours” instead of making them log in after their day is supposed to be done.
Your sensitivity to their time schedule is a simple and much appreciated way to show you care.
Offer Professional Development Opportunities
Professional development is an often overlooked area for remote teams. It’s easier for co-located teams to bring people in for training or have “learning lunches” where everyone participates. You need to offer those opportunities for your remote employees, too. Just know that the logistical challenges might be greater.
Budget funds and scheduling to allow team members to go away to get the training they need. Create group learning opportunities by scheduling video conferences where team members can learn about HR matters or how to use the latest software.
Don’t assume your remote team members will be self-directed in their professional development. Show you care about their development and communicate your long-term investment in them by taking the initiative and offering opportunities.
Remember Your ABC’s
Of course the most important development opportunity is your coaching. As a leader the simple rule “Always Be Coaching” is good to follow. When leaders are invested in coaching their team members, it offers opportunity for praise (as well as correction) and raises the bar, not just for the individuals, but for the whole team.
You can learn more about delivering more effective feedback and coaching your remote team with our Effective Remote Coaching and Feedback on demand training.
Don’t let distance be a reason your team doesn’t perform to the level it’s capable of. Be a Remarkable Long-Distance Leader and show them the appreciation and support they need and desire.