But high-performing virtual teams don’t just grow on trees. There are a lot of dynamics at play, including managing different work styles, a lack of direct supervision, and a significant amount of trust. From the perspective of an executive with a decade of experience working remotely and managing remote teams, here are some key lessons that have led to a highly engaged, finely-tuned, high-performing remote team.
Understand who your remote employees are.
As a remote leader, you likely don’t get a chance to spend a lot of time interacting with your employees and discovering what makes them tick. While it’s possible to learn what drives your employees over time, what about a shortcut? A workplace behavioral assessment—such as the PI Behavioral Assessment™—can give you a wealth of information about your employees’ drives, needs, and natural work style. It will help you understand how they like to work and be rewarded. For example, if you know someone has a low degree of extraversion, it might be OK to contact them infrequently. On the other hand, if an employee has high extraversion, you might want to spend more time interacting with them and providing face time.
Manage for substance, not style.
One of the top reasons employees enjoy remote work is they can fit work into their lifestyle. And people have a lot of different lifestyles! Whether they have morning children duties, like to workout midday, or serve as a caregiver for a family member, working from home can offer flexibility that allows them to live their life while still making a living. Don’t judge your employee based on their adherence to a 9-to-5 schedule. Instead, evaluate remote performance on what they’re able to produce—not how they produce it.
Each person on your team has a different rhythm and workflow. Don’t micromanage it. A huge key to the success of remote teams is trust—trust that your employees are doing their job, even if their workflow isn’t the same as yours. (Of course, if an employee has abused that trust, a different conversation must take place.)
This means not using little check-in tricks to see if they’re working or not early in the morning or throughout the day. These types of “gotchas” destroy trust and create ambiguity.
Build a communication rhythm.
Remote employees still need clarity, communication, and connectedness. To keep them engaged, it’s important to build in frequent weekly meetings, including one-on-ones, team check-ins, and more. Encourage your remote team members to also have one-on-ones with each other at least every couple of weeks. This will help keep them “in the know,” as well as build rapport.
Set clear expectations for remote workers.
Many of the steps above require a healthy dose of trust that your remote employees are doing the right things—even if they’re doing it their way. However, this doesn’t mean they’re running the show. It’s important to set and communicate clear expectations about how you’ll judge their work performance and any practices, guidelines, or updates you, as a manager, need to see. For example, if starting working by 8 a.m. is a non-negotiable for you—or if you really need people to tell you when they’ll be away from their desks longer than an hour—these need to be communicated clearly from the outset.
Invest in collaboration tools.
As frustrating as technology can be at times, it’s amazing how well technology can keep employees connected and engaged. Social tools like Slack, Facebook Workplace, and Microsoft Teams allow for everyday interactions and communication. Real-time collaboration tools like Google Docs, Asana, Trello, and Basecamp allow teams to collaborate across time zones and manage projects in one easy-to-access place.
Find the technology that will work for you—then make it central to your team’s functioning. Not only does it increase collaboration and connectedness, but there are opportunities to build cohesiveness and fun. Don’t underestimate the power of things like emojis, random GIFs, and off-topic channels like music, books, and even cats.
Bring the team together in-person.
As the evidence suggests, remote work can work really well. But it’s also important to bring your team together and create lasting, in-person relationships and memories. There’s something special about bringing a group of people together who only know each other through video conference, emails, and internal social network chats.
Budget for trips to headquarters.
If possible, set aside money to get your remote employees—including yourself—to HQ. There’s some truth to the saying “out of sight, out of mind.” In today’s cross-functional organizations, there’s great value in face-to-face interactions with in-office counterparts.
During these trips, challenge your remote employees to set up meetings not only with those they work frequently with, but also those they don’t know well. This will help them build stronger relationships, while also raising the visibility of your own department across the broader organization.
Remember your remote employees.
Finally, while there’s a lot you can do to manage your own team of remote employees, remote will only work well if non-remote people do their fair share. Be sure to push others in your organization to be more aware and responsive to the needs of remote employees. This might include setting standards for meetings (e.g., starting on time, including video conference links in meeting invites, etc.), being thoughtful about the remote experience for company meetings and training, and monitoring engagement levels of remote employees to make sure their experience is being considered.
The real key to successful remote teams is to create trust.
Being a remote leader can be awesome—especially when your team is remote! Ultimately, many of the tips are about creating trust between you and your remote employees. Know who they are and let them flourish in their own way, but keep them connected, communicating, and aligned.