This blog, the second in our series on this topic, takes a unique look at remote leadership from the perspective of a remote worker. From our experience the challenges described below are common for remote teams across our client base. Taken one at a time these challenges aren’t game changers, but collectively they have a huge impact on individual and team productivity.
Our subject is John Smith, one of 10 Business Development Managers for a large bank in Australia. John has been in his role for 2 years and is based in Sydney with 3 other BDM’s while his manager is based in Brisbane. John spends Monday’s in the office when the team have a conference call and then is on the road for the rest of the week meeting customers. Depending on the customer’s locations, John might work from home in between meetings. The team has 10 members and meets together twice a year.
Let’s hear from John:
I would like to declare from the outset that I love my job, I love my customers and I love my team. I am one of those employees that you would describe as “engaged”.
There are some challenges that I face in my role; brace yourself, there’s a few.
- Probably the main one would be my relationship with my manager. There’s no obvious tension or bad blood between us, we just simply don’t see each other enough. She visits my territory 4 times a year on top of us getting together twice as a team during the year. I would describe our relationship as ‘cordial’. We get on OK, our conversations are OK, but we’re just not connected how I would like us to be. It probably doesn’t help when my manager just simply doesn’t do phone very well – she’s way more present when we’re together in person.
- Our team conference calls on a Monday are not adding any real value. We’ve tried a few different approaches in the 2 years I have been in the role but the same problems keep coming up …
- Everyone shares what they’re doing for the week but it feels the same each week.
- People keep talking over one another (or worse, everyone presses mute and you have no idea what other people are thinking).
- We have 1 person in the team that doesn’t speak fluent English and they hardly contribute which is a shame because they probably have the most to offer.
- I am close to my colleagues in the Sydney office that I see every Monday but for those outside of Sydney, I would have to say I don’t know much at all. And we rarely pick up the phone mid-week to share ideas or discuss common problems.
- The solitary nature of my role can be a challenge in maintaining energy, particularly towards the back-end of the week. I have to be disciplined to pick up the phone and celebrate something with others, ask for help, whatever will help me through.
- Important decisions are made during the week and I feel like I am receiving these too late or getting them in between my hundreds of emails each week. Or in some cases, I feel like I should have been consulted with on some decisions but given I’m on the road a lot, this doesn’t happen as much as I would like.
- And the last one would be me. Although we have a very trusting working arrangement with our manager, I feel guilty doing anything of a personal nature during working hours. This could be going out for lunch, going for a run during a lunchbreak or picking up my kids early after school. I work long hours and this isn’t an issue for my manager but I still feel funny about the whole thing.
Sound familiar? Here are our top 7 suggestions that would help a remote employee like John be successful in his role.
- It’s important for leaders to check-in with each of their employees frequently and consistently. It could be a phone call, a text, an email. To be honest, the medium is less relevant than the actual effort to stay connected.
- Teams need to establish their communication norms or rules and then stick to it. This can include response time to emails, set times and protocols for conference calls and other moments across the week that the team need to be accessible to one another. Whilst it might feel too structured, it needs to happen for remote teams.
- When it comes to team conference calls, we have 3 suggestions:
- Start each call with something social. We don’t get to hear about people’s worlds as often as if they were in the same office, so please don’t see this as frivolous or time wasting; it’s key!
- Dial down the dominance of some people on the call. We need them to slow down their pace, refrain from dominating the conversation and listen actively.
- Wrap-up each meeting with a ‘check-in’.
- Check for completion – “Does anyone have anything else to say?”
- Check for alignment – “Is everyone OK with where we’ve ended up in this conversation?”
- Check for next steps – “Are we clear about who will take actions and when those actions will be finished?”
- Check for value – “What value are you taking away from this conversation?”
- Check for acknowledgment – “Is there anyone we should acknowledge?”
- Get your team to complete a personality type assessment such as DiSC or the Gallup StrengthsFinder inventory and unpack the results when the whole team is next together in person. This is a great way to learn more about each other, both similarities and differences, and be better placed to connect, engage and build stronger relationships.
- Create intentional space for virtual celebration. Be as creative as you like. It might be a group emoji or a virtual group scoreboard. It’s important to celebrate the wins along the way and as a group.
- Provide specific training to your leaders on how to lead remote teams. As we’re learning more and more, leading remotely is not the same as leading people in the same office.
- Create an online discussion board as a place for the team to communicate virtually. This board might include problems that need solving, decisions yet to be finalised and needing feedback and brief status updates from the team. This is a great way for people to stay connected and informed.
Research suggests that approximately half of the world’s working population work remote in one way or another and this is no longer a new phenomenon. We still have a long way to go in navigating the challenges of engaging geographically dispersed individuals and building high performing remote teams.
Get in touch if you would like to find out more about Maura Fay Learning’s innovative approach to Leading Remote Teams.
This blog is an extract for our upcoming eBook – Leading Remote Teams. You can pre-register here and get your copy on launch day.