Remote Employees

Ripple Effect of Employee Engagement

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” Patrick Lencioni

I recently had the opportunity to participate in Wiley’s annual partner conference where I was able to see hundreds of best practices for the 5 Behaviors of a Cohesive Team in action.  I heard lots of success stories and was also able to share some of my own.  This solution has the power to be a real game changer for organizations who need stronger more unified teams.  I have seen the power of teams when they are in sync with each other. When a group of people work together cohesively, towards a common goal, creating a positive working atmosphere, and supporting each other to combine individual strengths to enhance team performance, greater results can be expected; Businesses can scale and individuals have learning and development opportunities.

Here is the story of one organization, King County, who needed some help.  They made an investment, took the time to develop as a team and received huge dividends in return.  Take a look at the video and download the whitepaper.

Leading Remote Teams

With the increase in globalization and more telecommuters than ever before, leading remote teams is a skill that is increasing in necessity.   

Societal trends with Millennial’s and Gen Z are pushing more businesses towards adopting more flexible working policies allowing at least partial telecommuting.  Gen Z, in particular, doesn’t know a society without an internet.  They are very comfortable with newer technology and are seeking remote and/or flexible working arrangements.   

Leading them the same way you lead an in-person team will not retain and engage them in the long run.  A recent study with E&Y discovered that less than 50% of global professionals trust their current boss, team and organization.  Additionally, a lack of learning and progression opportunities leads to high turnover rates. 

Transitioning from an old school style of leadership will be essential in order to retain and build this new team.  Leaders of virtual teams need to be intentional in how they engage their widely dispersed teams.  They need to realize the incremental benefits of nurturing and re-engaging existing teams.   

Here are a few tips to get you started:

The highest-performing virtual teams make an effort to have face-to-face meetings with new team members within the first 90 days.

Create a team operational rhythm.  Schedule meetings for the same day, time and share agendas in advance.  Remember your 1 to 1’s and ensure that you don’t cancel them.  Cancelling leads to a lack of trust and a feeling of non-importance with your team.  Consider quick 5-minute check-ins calls daily.  A team of 6 only takes 30 minutes. 

Find opportunities for the team to engage.  Surveys have found that a lack of social interaction leads to lower productivity and a lack of engagement.  Keep an online open communication, such as a chat room, open all the time for team members to just hang out.  Declare, “break times,” ”lunch,” ”game time,” “check-in times,” etc.  It’s a modern-day version of a water cooler.

Run effective virtual team meetings.  No monologues.  Ask a lot of questions and opinions.  Validate that participants have been heard.  Call everyone by name.  Start and end on time.  Be concise.  Long, detailed information should be sent in advance.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  In an office setting, the hallway chatter reinforces organizational and team messages.  Remote employees need to hear those same important messages repeatedly.  Share how and when you like to be contacted for the ordinary and the urgent.    

Set expectations and hold them accountable.  Share what you expect the output to look and feel like.  Determine any processes or tasks needed.  Establish milestones to track progress and create a “deliverables dashboard” visible to all on whatever collaborative hub you are using.  Check in, without micromanaging, to lend support or provide opportunities for clarification. 
 
Establish team norms.  Create a charter to establish behavior when participating in a virtual meeting, such as limiting background noise and side conversations, listening attentively, not dominating the conversation, talking clearly and at a reasonable pace and no side work being done during the meeting.  Also establish which communication modes to use in which circumstances, for example when to reply via email vs. picking up the phone or webcam.

Personalize the team.  You don’t have to become best friends, but you should get to know everyone professionally.  What motivates them?  What stresses them?  (Consider DiSC as one tool.) What’s going on in their personal life at the moment.  Take time during meetings to ensure some socialization and fun as well.

Long-Distance Leadership

Businesses everywhere are becoming larger and more global.  This inherently increases the number of employees working remotely and the urgency to know how to lead them. 

Common Remote Challenges
When I speak with leaders across the U.S., I often hear about their challenges of leading remote employees: 

  • What are “they” doing?

  • How are “they” doing?

  • Not enough communication

  • Unclear expectations

  • What and how work is being done

  • Less opportunity to “check in”

  • I need to be connected 24/7/365

  • A lack of trust

Do any of these ring true for you?  If so, you’re not alone.  As leaders we have the responsibility to overcome these challenges.  We have to take responsibility to fix it. 

We Need To Be Intentional
When employees are working remotely we can still have great interaction and communication.  We just have to work harder at it and do it differently than we did before. 

When we work together in the same building—or down the same hallway, the communication happens serendipitously.  We walk by and we say something.  The next thing you know a problem is being asked about, or a problem is being solved.  Trust is getting built with these small interactions over time.  Relationships are improved and productivity is grown. The same can happen with remote teams.  We just do it with more intentionality.

5 Skills To Sharpen
Here are some traits of Long-Distance Leaders that I found in the book the Long-Distance Leader.

Communication-  Our ability and need to communicate grows as our teams become remote.  I’ve never worked in an organization (even without remote teams) that ever said we communicate too much.  All organizations need more communication.  When you add the remote piece in, it gets even more important. And necessary.  We can’t just assume it’s happening.  We need to work on it.

Relationship building skills—People want to follow people that they know, like, and trust.  If we don’t have a relationship with the people who lead us, we will be less engaged and less satisfied. It’s important for leaders to have strong relationships with their teams.  At a distance it’s even more important.  There are specific things we need to think about doing and specific times we need to think about doing it.  We can’t take it for granted.

Higher EQ- All of the things you think that might be called ‘soft skills’ take on a greater meaning because we have fewer interactions when our employees work remotely.  Each of those interactions take on a greater importance and role.  A lot of it is being mediated by technology.  We need to work on our Emotional Intelligence skills because they play a bigger role. 

Technology skills - If I’m leading at a distance there are some technology skills I better have.  No one wants to be on a phone or a laptop when a meeting is supposed to begin and not be connected to the group.  Or think about the time that is wasted when the leader is fumbling during a meeting to open a document or find something and the team is just waiting. 

Greater intentionality –This is probably the most important on the list.  Leaders must be more intentional.  We allow more room for error when we see people in the hallway or see them 4-5 times during the day.  When we see people casually we are building trust.  It’s easier to engage our team and easier to know if they’re not engaged when we see them, are around them, or we walk in from the parking lot with them. 

So when our folks are remote, either part of the time or all of the time, we’ve got to be more intentional.  We need to be thinking about what we need to do, planning it out, making the other skills on this list a part of our day.  We can’t walk through the day the way we used to do and try to get the same results.  Even if we’re an excellent leader.  We’ve got to do some things differently.

There are probably more traits that could be on the list, but if you do these 5 well, you will be in better shape than most.  When we do these better, we will lead at a distance better.