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Top tips on leading and improving your team's efficiency when working remotely

By Adam Skinner, Director of Consulting

26.03.20

Here, at P2 Consulting, we’ve grown very comfortable over the years delivering value for our clients remotely in order to support our global community of clients and partners. To support our consultants in this, we provide a range of training around healthy and productive remote working techniques. Linkedin is awash with advice on staying sane whilst remote working but we thought you might find useful our top tips on leading a team and maintaining, and even improving their efficiency when working from home. We’ve broken these down into the 4 key aspects of team-leadership.

Maintaining cohesion

Easily the biggest challenge for remote working is building and maintaining team culture without the benefit of that face to face dynamic. Some really simple ways to help this are:

Webcams on – sounds simple but the importance of visual cues when we engage with each other is vast. Webcams on allow those visual cues and are also helpful to spot where team members might be ‘going native’.

 

Work in pairs to avoid isolation – a nice trick is to ensure nobody works on a task alone. Similar to extreme programming you ensure all major activities have at least two teammates on it, therefore ‘forcing’ the creation of small teams that will ideally morph into one large team.

 

Don’t fear the webconference – webconferences require a different set of skills and tools to normal conferences and so the temptation is to avoid them and favour lots of one-on-one engagements. This is a mistake and you should try to ensure you’re doing as many, if not more, group sessions as you would when co-located. However – running a successful web conference requires different tools and approaches. Ensure you’ve done your homework and know how to do these, it will pay huge dividends in maintaining your remote team.

Maintaining momentum and energy

Many studies have shown remote working is as effective (and often more so) than co-located working but it does require careful management to ensure a remote team operates with continuous momentum and energy. Some crucial aspects are:

Governance is good: It’s a truism that most of a team-leaders time is spent ‘chatting’ with team members – identifying issues, course-correcting and general keeping the world moving forward. Some of this is done in formal KITs (keep in touch) but a vast majority is done through informal conversations around the office. In a remote working world, these ‘informal’ conversations happen much more infrequently and so the good team leader needs to be much more structured with regular engagements and KITs. Treat your team like your stakeholders, develop a stakeholder engagement plan to allow regular engagement and STICK TO IT!

Create space for happy accidents: So much of innovation is caused by those ‘happy accidents’ where one team-mate overhears another’s challenges and can offer support and advice from an unexpected direction. Creating space for happy accidents in the remote working world is a challenge but not impossible. Having dedicated forums where team-mates can share their challenges and blockers is a key way of enabling this.

Avoiding burn-out: make sure you apply all those sensible advice around staying sane whilst working remotely. Ensure your team respects the boundary between workspace and home space (both in terms of time and literal space in the house). This is considerably easier for the team if you lead by example from the top (i.e. resisting the urge to send late-night messages!).

Maintaining direction

Ensuring everyone knows the direction to travel in is team-management 101. This becomes much harder in a remote-working environment where people can quickly diverge from a shared vision without the daily reminders co-location allows.

Visualise and co-create the future: Have a shared and simple way of visualising the direction your heading in (whether that’s agreed success criteria, a visual roadmap or a rich picture). And make sure this has been co-created with your team – that will help it be remembered and help people to understand its nuances. One nice trick is to ensure whatever visual you used is printed and posted to all the team to be kept nice and clear in their home workspace.

Have an agile roadmap: Stability of end-goal is very helpful, stability of steps to that end-goal can prevent your team from being innovative and creative. In a remote working environment, it can be harder to spot where people are ‘going through the motions’ so demotivating approaches must be avoided at all costs. Ensure your roadmap is pitched at a level that provides direction and guidance without locking down every single step.

Create transparency without micro-management: Linked to the above point the real trick of providing direction whilst remote working is to create a transparent environment that allows you to see the direction your team is moving in (and course-correct where necessary) without micro-managing. Agile tools are your friends here – something like Microsoft Teams or Trello, that allows your team to own, and adjust, the sub-steps that build to overarching goals are a must.

Maintaining visibility and accountability

To truly be a team the members of that team need to know what other team members are doing and what they’re expected to be doing! This is a unique, but an overcomeable challenge, for the remote working team.

Codify the unwritten structures: you’d be amazed how much of a team’s success is driven by that team’s instinctive understanding of who to speak to to get stuff done. Often that sort of knowledge isn’t written down, for co-located teams, as it’s ‘just known’. This is much more challenging for remote teams – to create visibility and avoid misunderstandings the team leader needs to spend some time defining roles, responsibilities and authorities, and communicating those so it’s clear for all.

Performance management is your friend: linked to clarity around responsibilities is clarity around expectations and reward. This is critical in any team but in a remote working team, sensible performance management goals and measures are a key part of building a team, maintaining momentum and accountability.

 

Embrace the future of working: Many people argue that visibility of progress, activity, and direction is easier in a remote working than a co-located team because of the many superb tools that have been created to support remote working (that tend to get ignored when co-locating). Now more than ever there are numerous articles on the best tools for webinars, shared virtual working spaces, remote performance management tools and the like. Pick the areas that matter to you, do your research and use some of the support tools available – once you’ve tried them you’ll wonder why you ever worked in a different way!

And of course, all this advice that applies to how you manage your team also applies as you look up the chain. It’s important to understand how your team fits into the wider organisation and ensure it is aligned with the wider goals and visible and appreciated to the people defining those goals!

So, there you have it 12 tips for leading a remote team. We hope you found these suggestions useful. We’ve also got a range of targeted training around specific remote working challenges (such as running a successful web conference) that we’d be more than happy to share with you if that would prove useful.

To find out how we can help your organisation today, please contact us at [email protected] or call +44 (0) 20 7099 0803 today.


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