Like it or not, remote working is here to stay. It can be a blessing for an employee’s work-life balance and also provides big savings on office space, but it presents a unique challenge for managers, administrators, and anyone else responsible for leading a virtual team.
Sparking engagement, encouraging collaboration, building a culture — elements of leadership like these can be difficult at a distance.
But good leaders rise to the challenge, and CoffeePals is here to help. CoffeePals is an Microsoft Teams app that helps remote and hybrid team members build relationships with one another.
In this post, we share 7 tips for leading remote teams that you can use to become a better leader no matter where in the world your team finds itself.
What is remote management?
Remote management is the process of leading teams from a distance. Just like managing a team in-person, virtual leadership involves assigning tasks, arranging schedules, encouraging communication, building relationships, and providing feedback.
Remote team management requires a different approach to traditional, in-person management.
Whether your team works 100% online or adopts some hybrid structure of remote and in-person work, a remote manager needs to be able to engage with team members and colleagues just as effectively as a traditional team leader.
With apps like CoffeePals you can run virtual coffee chats that help remote employees feel a sense of connection with colleagues, something that is often lost when people work at a distance from one another.
The biggest challenges to leading virtually
Leading remote teams isn’t just different. It’s challenging. In the last few years, remote work has become the norm.
But team managers are still coming to terms with the change brought about by this and hybrid working.
Here are three of the biggest challenges when leading virtually:
- Team building. You can’t bring your remote team to a rope course or escape room to build camaraderie. Traditional professional development and team building exercises need to be reimagined if remote employees are to thrive.
- Combatting distractions. Remote employees have more opportunity to be distracted by social media, video games, and even laundry. This has caused managers of remote teams to shift their focus to performance outcomes over work hours.
- Encouraging socialization. Friday doughnuts and coffee in the break room aren’t a thing if your team is scattered across the globe, but that doesn’t mean you can’t invite team members to get to know each other at random virtual coffee dates.
7 strategies for leading remote teams
Knowing your challenges is one thing. Overcoming them is another thing entirely.
Here are 7 tips that will help you meet the challenges of remote team management.
1. Set clear expectations for remote work
As Spiderman’s old uncle Ben said: “With great power comes great responsibility.” The power of working from home gives your employees increased responsibility to use their time productively.
When a worker is working remotely, they aren’t overseen by a team leader or manager. This can mean that there is an increased temptation for employees to slack off or procrastinate.
This means that remote workers need direction from team leaders on what is expected of them. Team leaders can help by setting clear expectations on all aspects of remote work.
To get the most out of your remote and hybrid colleagues, you should:
- Define employee availability. Make your remote employees aware of when they are expected to be online - the specific times of the day or the general time period. For some jobs, like customer service, these will be regular hours. For creative jobs, you might find that you get better productivity out of your team if you let employees set their own hours.
- Set response target times. Be clear on how quickly your employees are expected to respond to emails, texts, and other notifications from managers and each other. If they communicate directly with customers, let them know what their target response should be.
- Be clear on expectations. Define what each team member is expected to achieve every day and week. Let them know how they are expected to report their progress and how they will receive feedback.
2. Make onboarding more meaningful
In the traditional work environment, new hires will often attend training sessions, shadow experienced employees, and participate in social events to meet and greet the rest of the team.
The importance of these activities is often overlooked by leaders of remote teams. By mindfully planning your virtual onboarding, you can make sure that remote workers still receive a meaningful introduction to the company and feel welcome.
With CoffeePals you can pair new hires with existing employees and introduce company new-joiners with seasoned employees to get them better acquainted with their team.
Try these quick tips and read our best practices for virtual onboarding for more information.
- Schedule question and answer sessions to let new employees learn from more experienced ones.
- Spread informational meetings out in order to avoid meeting fatigue and allow time for new hires to absorb and apply what they’ve learned.
- Develop a virtual onboarding checklist to ensure you cover all of the most important skills, technology, tools, and procedures that new employees require.
- Use an app like CoffeePals to create spontaneous chats between new and experienced employees in Microsoft Teams.
3. Trust in your team
When it comes to leading remote teams, perhaps the most important quality a manager must possess is trust. You can’t pop into offices or roam the cubicles to make sure everyone is on task. You just have to let go of the reins and trust that you have assembled the right team.
You can’t be a pushover, either. If you have set clear expectations and a team member isn’t meeting them, you’ve got to step in, discover why, and try to remedy the situation.
But at the end of the day, if you struggle with trusting your team, you are going to struggle with remote leadership.
4. Celebrate wins big and small
Good leaders celebrate their team’s successes, whether they are gathered in one room or working remotely. Celebration has always been an important way to build morale. It’s more important than ever when it comes to remote workers.
A recent study found that 61% of remote workers reported wanting more interaction with their coworkers. Furthermore, respondents in one survey cited loneliness as the primary reason they wished to return to working in person.
Remotely celebrating occasions like the following is the perfect way to combat isolation and build connections that your team desperately craves:
- Surpassing last month’s metrics.
- Finishing a major project.
- Promotions or changes in position.
- Retirement or movement to another organization.
- A new hire finishes their onboarding.
Looking for ideas on how to celebrate your remote team? Check out our post on the best practices for virtual team celebration.
5. Organize a virtual mentorship program
Workplace mentoring programs lead to a 50% increase in employee retention. Pairing new hires with veterans helps them to integrate with the team, acclimate to the company culture, and feel comfortable asking questions.
But mentoring doesn’t have to be limited to face-to-face interactions. Virtual mentoring can be accomplished with whatever video conferencing software you prefer. If your company uses Microsoft Teams, you can use CoffeePals to make mentorship even more meaningful by matching employees across the different departments of your organization.
The matching process is easy with our app. The bot will ask users to choose their group. Based on their selections, users will then be invited to a virtual coffee chat, which gives the employee the opportunity to meet a new mentor every week.
6. Make meetings count (and make them shorter)
The move to remote work has certainly made it easier to schedule meetings. But this can be a double-edged sword.
You might not have to book meeting space or account for travel time anymore, but unlimited length video calls and the ease of scheduling them is leading to what some researchers refer to as Zoom fatigue.
You can help make your team’s life easier by limiting the length and frequency of meetings.
Use these guidelines to help make every meeting count:
- Never call a meeting if an email would suffice.
- Share a written agenda, and empower a team member to ensure the group sticks to it.
- Don’t try to accomplish too much in a single meeting. Focus on solving one problem at a time.
- Only require team members to attend who are integral to the meeting’s outcomes.
7. Leave time for fun
A good remote leader isn’t all business all the time. Your team will respect you more and perform more productively if they see you as an approachable, relatable human being.
Here are a few ideas of how you can inject some fun into the work day without going overboard or wasting too much time:
- Dedicate an MS Teams channel just for people to share jokes or memes.
- Play a game in which you challenge one group to retell the plot of a movie with nothing but GIFs while the other group tries to guess the film.
- Use our Coffee Maker feature to automatically share fun questions with the team to spark spontaneous conversations asynchronously.
Try CoffeePals for free to engage your remote teams
We hope our tips have given you an insight into how to get the most out of leading a virtual team. Remote management isn’t always easy, but when it’s done right, you will see happier, more productive employees.
If you use Microsoft Teams and you are looking to level up your remote leadership, consider getting started with a free 14-day trial of CoffeePals today.