A few years ago, the concept of leading remotely was foreign and scary to a lot of supervisors and managers. New leaders, in particular struggled with the notion of trying to do all the “leadership stuff,” when people weren’t in the same location. But now there is an entirely new generation of leaders who got their first assignments either just as remote work was booming, or during the pandemic. This means they never knew a world without Zoom calls or having to check in with employees while their schnauzer is losing its mind at the UPS guy.
If you are a relatively new manager, here’s a word that you need to keep in mind. Are you ready?
A little word with a lot of importance for new leaders
The reason this little word is so important is that it helps us remember that all the “leadership stuff” you were talking about still needs to happen, AND you just need to adjust your actions a bit in order to accommodate those who aren’t across the room from you.
For example, you need to have a one-on-one coaching conversation with each member of your team. AND some of them aren’t going to be able to meet you in person on that day. Think about what a “normal” coaching session would look like. You’d take that person somewhere quiet and private, have data and information readily available, get comfortable, probably engage in some small talk, and watch for body language, non-verbal signals, allowing them the freedom to ask questions and say what they want. All of those things still apply to a virtual coaching call, AND you have to adjust for it being done virtually. A webcam call, while not as rich as being nose-to-nose is still more powerful than a scratchy cellphone call.
Go down the list of management responsibilities, and you’ll see how they are largely the same, with some minor, mindful adjustments.
It’s not like there were no meetings when we were all together, right? Just as in-person, the meeting should be short, focused, and stay on time and topic. The goal is to achieve your desired outcome and get on with the work at hand. AND since many of those people won’t be able to make eye contact, or raise a hand to catch your attention, you must think about how best to make sure those not in the office can participate fully and add just as much value as the people right under your nose.
When we delegate, we often choose the person to whom we delegate by proximity. We look up from our desk, see someone who would be a good candidate and just reach out. While this is natural, it often leads to putting more work on the people in the office. Delegating means choosing the right person for the job, while setting them up to succeed. AND, we need to consider every member of the team, and how working remotely might change the metrics, checkins and how we will support that person.
Giving access to team members
While we try to be as fair as we can, and we make ourselves available, the people in the office have a general advantage over the remote folks. They can see when you’re in the office, they can lie in wait as you go to the coffee pot to ask a question, or you can see they are struggling. As a leader with long-distance teammates, it’s important that you make yourself available to them, AND that they know when to reach you if needed. One example might be to block out time for “office hours” so your remote team members will feel comfortable reaching out to you at that time and not sit there wondering if they are interrupting you.
New leaders go first with processes and technology
Whether you are in the office or not, nothing impacts how often, well, or effectively a team follows process and uses technology as whether or not the boss uses it. As a leader, you are expected to model the use of new tools (relax, you don’t have to be the best user in the bunch) AND remember that including remote team members is critical, as is making sure their in-house teammates are including them. You might find yourself asking, “did you include Mary on this?”
Leadership is difficult, regardless of where your team is situated. Leading remotely is more complex requires more conscious thought and effort AND can be just as rewarding.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.