Remote Work Is No Longer Optional: The Ability to Hire and Develop Successful Remote Teams Just Became a Requirement
So I’m on a conference call with one of my client’s training coordinators who is being furloughed for four months as a result of the Coronavirus and we’re discussing how to transition the second half of a mid-level leadership training program that usually takes place onsite to an online course. I’ve always advocated leadership training needs to be in person and highly interactive because leadership is all about interpersonal effectiveness. And yet, businesses have been subtly transitioning to leading remotely for quite a while now and I sense the coronavirus is pushing all of us to face the reality of a future that embraces the technology within our grasp and encourages far more remote work. So how can I adapt not only my training platform, but my content to support remote leadership?
During my research on the topic of remote leadership, I found numerous articles on characteristics or behaviors which make for a successful remote worker or managing a remote worker, but not on true leadership of a remote worker. To me, managing is tactical, operational whereas leadership is strategic, developmental and employees need both from their boss, albeit when necessary. In CCL’s Maximizing Your Leadership Potential program that I teach in Chicago and addressed by authors McKenna and Mehta in this article, you can find more information on the four roles of a leader which support my point-of-view.
Tips for Recruiting Effective Remote Workers
But for a manager to be able to lead a remote worker, she’ll still need to know successful traits of a remote worker in order to coach the employee toward those preferences. And to lead remote workers along the strategic path that leads to the end goal, the manager will need to provide direction and operational parameters. So what do the top business publications tell us about successful remote workers?
The common traits to look for when placing a remote worker based on Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc., HBR, CCL include:
- Self-starter. Remote workers need to be intrinsically-motivated, resourceful and take initiative, not waiting on others to direct them in what needs to be done.
- Independent, big-picture problem-solvers. Successful remote workers have the confidence to solve and execute on issues to keep the initiative moving forward.
- Goal-driven, organized & focused. Effective remote workers use calendars, project plans and other tracking applications to keep them driving toward the end goal. They also need to be able to manage distractions to stay on task.
- Open-minded and flexible. Remote workers have an entrepreneurial frame of mind. They are not punching a clock but creating something that serves a bigger cause.
- Written and Verbal Skills. Since we may not always be able to read a remote worker’s body language, their communication skills must be clear and concise AND they need to be able to listen with probing inquiry to understand the meaning of others. They must also be highly responsive.
Managing Remote Workers
With successful traits of a remote worker in mind, let’s split how to manage and then how to lead a remote worker based on the above need for a manager to be operational, focused on the day-to-day actions sometimes and more developmental or focused on the skill of the employee to get him or her to the finish line at other times.
I really liked CCL’s article: How to Lead from a Distance because it addresses the research regarding a manager ensuring the team has direction, alignment and commitment. Tips that this article and others provided on managing a remote worker to keep them on task included:
- Define the Purpose of the Team.
- Clarify roles and responsibilities.
- Establish procedures for working together and getting the work done.
- Invest in trust to get commitment by holding virtual “face-to-face” meetings, informing them of larger organizational direction, asking for input, and celebrating the team’s shared successes.
Leading Successful Remote Teams
Now let’s add the leadership component as it relates to developing the skills of our remote workers. Yes they will be gaining experience and skills through the work that is assigned, but how does a manager help remote workers with their careers? How do you coach self-motivation, organization, goal-driven, open-minded, and written/verbal skills? Let me suggest the following:
- Schedule regular one-on-one sessions. One-on-ones let you display interest by asking probing questions about how the employee is doing, what challenges them, what they want to learn, where they want to grow and go in their career.
- Require skills training. Once you know where they struggle, training is there to help them develop.
- Include the above mentioned competencies on the performance appraisal form. I once knew a leader that required and evaluated his employees on their ability to start (on their own volition) a minimum of two new initiatives per year.
- Encourage flexible work hours. Encourage remote workers to work around their life and to respect their natural productivity rhythms.
In closing, leading remote workers takes increased individual time with your employees, whether they are on or off-site, which will also increase employee commitment and engagement.