The recent Coronavirus Pandemic has compelled many organisations to let their employees work remotely. Many such companies are also grappling with the dilemmas associated with managing teams who are not physically present at their office.
Fortunately, remote-working has been a growing trend for more than a decade. Angel Investor Naval Ravikant recognised this trend when he stated that the remote workforce recorded a rise of 140% in the last 14 years and it has grown 10 times faster than other types of workforce. A recent report of Global Workplace Analytics pegged the “work-from-home” employees at 3.2% of the global workforce i.e. 4.3 million People. This trend has helped shape many useful leadership practices. Perhaps, you could benefit from these practices in the following manner:
Clarify Your Expectations: Good contracts determine liabilities and deliverables but they do not spell out expectations. A contract can secure you a promise of an error-free performance or a benchmark of excellence, but it cannot guarantee proactive participation or continuous improvement in performance. As a leader, you have to clarify your expectations from a remote worker and make sure that they have got the message.
While flexibility cannot undermine non-negotiable deliverables, tasks should not be used as a reason to e-monitor and police workers and colleagues.
You have to clarify:
1. Availability of each team member for work and group interactions.
2. Deadlines and emergency protocol for the entire team in case deadlines are not met by any team member.
3. Apart from the quantified performance metrics, your expectations from each team member in terms of conduct, communication, collaboration, and cooperation
4. The roles, responsibilities, shared goals and values of the team.
Establish Guidelines: It is possible that remote workers work across different time zones. It is highly probable that working remotely can result in added personal responsibilities that have to be honoured by you and other team members. It is best to lay down guidelines of professional conduct within and outside the team. While co-habited workplaces move towards a flat structure, remote teams may initially require some hierarchy that defines the flow of information as well as the accountability of each team member.
Utilise Collaboration Tools: Remote teams need a structured virtual space for collaboration. This is where you can choose from a variety of online collaboration tools. These tools enable each team member to contribute to a common project and also communicate with each other in real-time. These tools also allow the manager to supervise the work and moderate interactions in times of conflict. If you have team members in remote locations with poor connectivity, you could use Google Drive or a social media discussion group due to its easy accessibility or you could try Slack for its interactive features. Figma and Invision are more suited for design teams while GitHub is popular among IT professionals. If you foresee a long-term engagement with your remote team, you can use project management software like Trello.
Streamline the Workflow: You have a clear mandate, unambiguous guidelines, collaborative tools, and remote workers. Now, you have to put it all together and create a high-performance team. Hence, you have to get every team member on the same page and rationalise the flow of work between all members. Therein, it is critical that each team member follows the same documentation practices and they are willing to adjust to each other’s requirements. As a leader, you have to capitalise on this willingness and negotiate priorities as well as list out activities that can be automated.
Ensure Seamless Communication: Communication has to be across multiple channels i.e. collaboration tool, organisation’s intranet, chat, video conference, and e-mail, on-phone, and social media. While being considerate of each other’s time, a team member must feel confident enough to reach out to any team member (including you) in times of professional or personal need.
Build a Community: Apart from the scheduled Video conference meetings of the entire team, Socialise with your team and use every feasible opportunity to have face to face interactions with every member of your team. Motivate them for impromptu interactions with each other and get to know each other personally. In a time when bots and virtual assistants may appear more human than people, it is critical that team members connect with you and each other at a human level. They have to enjoy what they do, how they do it and who they do it with. Maybe it is difficult for all team members to meet personally, but it is not impossible. It could be liked to a reward mechanism or you could be a pro-active leader visiting different team members from time to time. Sharing a picture or a video-call while enjoying a local cafe with your team members can really boost the morale of the entire team.
Foster Their Individual Ambition: Every remote worker has an underlying ambition that motivates their choice to work remotely. If they want to spend more time with their family, it is often linked to a financial goal that services an important need for their family. If they want more freedom in their time, it is often linked to their desire to learn or experience something without wasting time on physically commuting to the office. It is also possible that they carry an entrepreneurial dream where they can build their own team and seek you as a prized client. You have to engage them in conversations and align their goals with your objectives. They must get convinced that the best and quickest way to realise their ambition is to be a team member and contribute to the common goals.
By Richard R