Leading a remote team comes with its fair share of challenges – issues can creep into your team culture if you don’t address them directly. In this blog post, we explore some moments in your day to which you may relate, if you lead a remote team.
Steve and his team have their daily meeting at 10:30 am to coincide with the start of the day in Australia. It’s still early in the Philippines, but one of his team members who is based there starts her day at 6:00am Philippine time, so she regularly joins the call.
One of his team mentions they had an important call with a client yesterday. Steve’s ears prick up. How did they handle the call? He asks a few questions and realises they handled it well, exactly as he would have.
Steve sees autonomy as a strength of his team, but working remotely he has come to depend on his team more than ever, to be able to act and speak in a way that aligns with the business.
The morning continues. Steve is just about to finish up a call with one of his team when they indicate they have a tricky problem to discuss. They mention that they’re not getting the information they need from a colleague. Steve sees this as an issue, because he needs his team to be talking openly – with everyone remote, the conversations happen on electronic platforms and over video, so he doesn’t always see what is happening, or get a feel for the tone and effectiveness of the conversations. He decides to talk to each person separately, and makes a note to touch base with them both later that day.
Steve is focused on a business development project when he receives a message from one of his team members that feels like a red flag. Two of his staff are supposed to be collaborating on a client presentation, yet one of them has taken over three hours to respond to chat messages during the past few days. Steve is worried that she may not be focused on her assignment, instead using work time for her own interests. He sets up a time to chat about what is on their plate, reminding her of their communication protocol and making sure other factors aren’t affecting her work output.
Steve makes a note to bring up accountability at the next check-in. He wants to encourage a sense of trust. By highlighting accountability regularly, he hopes his team will stay focused on their work expectations.
Today at 12:00 is their weekly virtual team social hour, where anyone who is available is encouraged to hang out. This will be a social time to chat about what’s going on in everyone’s lives and take a break from work. Steve knows these times are crucial – this is often when he learns what’s really going on for his team. A teammate mentions that she is dealing with some personal stress and finding it hard to focus this week. After the lunch call, Steve gets in touch with her personally to encourage her to reach out if she is struggling with distractions or needs to request leave time.
Steve wants his team to feel fully supported. He knows that working remotely gives more opportunities for distraction, confusion, and miscommunication as well as more demands on people to be good communicators and strong team members. He manages this by giving them the resources to communicate, providing opportunities to upskill in this area, and modelling the kind of communication he expects.
After lunch, Steve has a management meeting with his senior staff. Some challenges come up – including complaints that information is getting lost, but no one can pinpoint where the issue begins. This reinforces for Steve that they still have work to do to create great remote information flow.
The breakdown seems to be in ‘who is doing what when’, so he plans to re-established his team’s action plan. He sends a message to the team’s Workflows channel in Slack to ask what is working and needs improvement, so each team member can brainstorm before their bi-weekly Workflow Development meeting on Monday.
Later in the afternoon, Steve joins a call with some team members who are focused on marketing and outreach strategy. Every person is working hard, but some of their projects seem to overlap to the point that some clients are getting extra attention, while others have been neglected. It is difficult to know who is doing what and when it needs to be completed. Steve can see this group is working on related tasks, but not actually working together. He asks for someone to take the lead in managing the master planning schedule, where everyone can sign up for client work without overlapping each other.
Steve also observes that one of his team members is going above and beyond their responsibilities by researching industry trends for content development. Steve sends him a private message, thanking him for the hard work and letting him know it isn’t going unnoticed.
By the evening, Steve feels confident that tackling these communication issues directly has helped resolve some of the hurdles of the day and put some points in the bank when it comes to trust. He knows working from home can challenge productivity, but by building a team culture of trust and strong communication, he believes his team can continue becoming more resilient for the road ahead.