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Published on August 19, 2021

How To Lead And Manage a Remote Team

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How To Lead And Manage a Remote Team

Leaders of today have their work cut out for them. The corporate landscape of the 21st century demands resilience in their pursuit of excellence but also patience with their decisions. Modern-day business leaders need to embrace the freedom of individuality while balancing company initiatives and accomplishing key objectives. And most of all, they must be flexible in their ability to lead and manage a remote team.

Remote work is no longer a potential option or wishful thinking for busy parents, as COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape of the modern-day workplace as we know it.

In 2020, Growmotely conducted a survey and found that 74% of respondents expected working from home to become a standard in the business world.[1] Although inevitably, there will be companies that mandate their employees back into the workplace once the pandemic is over, it’s safe to say that the corporate world will never be the same ever again.

Keeping this in mind, company leaders must ask: how can we lead and manage a remote team? Is it possible? And more importantly, is it worth it?

While there may be multiple correct answers to these questions, we need to place these questions into context to establish some foundational skills and communication lines to truly maximize our chances of actually surviving a permanent work-from-home culture. Regardless of your preference on whether or not working from home makes sense, some people will be left in the dust if they don’t adapt to the new demands placed on their plate.

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True leaders evolve with their problems to stay ahead with innovative solutions, which is why future leaders will focus on prioritizing people over their individual preferences. Here are five tips on how to effectively lead and manage a remote team.

1. Focus on the “What,” Not the “How”

Managing a remote team shouldn’t equate to adult babysitting, yet this is how most leaders feel about it. Yes, people will do what they want while at home, but that doesn’t mean they’re constantly taking naps or playing video games.

We all function at different rates, hours, and times throughout the day, so allowing your employees to do the same may increase their work output while improving their quality of life. Interestingly enough, Stanford published a study documenting a 13% increase in workplace productivity while working from home, which also yielded greater satisfaction at work and a nearly 50% decrease in attrition rates.[2]

For the early risers, this may mean allowing them to start their day early and end their day early. For the late adopters, it may mean that their workday may take them into the later hours of the evening. And to be honest, it shouldn’t matter what time someone is on the clock, as long as they get their work done and meet their deadlines. This is important because it allows individuals to choose their day, which can facilitate trust, have honest conversations about struggles, and provide people greater fulfillment with their work.

Most of all, focusing on the “what” is far more critical than the “how” for the company’s bottom line. At the end of the day, results are the only thing that matter. Ask yourself: do you really care how someone does their job as long as they get the job done?

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2. Ask for Feedback, Don’t Just Give It

Influential leaders don’t tell their employees how to solve problems; they ask them how to solve problems. Asking for feedback about a problem is how continuous innovation is created because it cultivates a problem-solving mindset by the entire company, not just the leadership team.

If the leadership team had all the answers to their problems, why would they need other employees working for them? A leader’s role is to state problems to facilitate innovative thinking and problem solving, especially if this problem solving isn’t a strength of the leader at hand.

In Simon Sinek’s book, The Infinite Game, he discussed how great leaders are usually the last ones to speak on a topic or problem because they actively choose to hear a collective effort from their peers before taking a stab at solving it. They utilize their team and resources to come up with the best ideas, not those that come from the talking heads of the corporate ladder. In turn, these simple steps facilitate growth, innovation, and connectivity between team members and their peers.

Asking employees for their feedback makes them feel valued and a part of the team, significantly affecting team culture and morale. When people feel connected to a group, they’re willing to go above and beyond to show their loyalty. More importantly, their motivations become intrinsic instead of extrinsic, significantly changing their emotional buffer for stress, tension, and uncertainty.

Even if the feedback provided can’t be used or implemented, it is still essential to growth and development. And in many situations, leaders will be surprised by the brilliant answers posed to them once they work up enough courage to ask the questions and be vulnerable by stating they don’t have the answers.

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3. Be Vulnerable

On the surface, vulnerability may seem like a weakness, but it’s a sign of strength. Those willing to show their vulnerabilities will win over their peers and employees because they are not above everyone else. Humans are vulnerable beings, yet, in the workplace, vulnerability has been brushed under the rug due to the overwhelming toxicity that masculinity has placed our modern-day workplace into.

By showing your vulnerability, you become one of the tribe. You show others that it’s normal to express emotion and inherently set the tone to prioritize your peers’ mental and physical well-being. We all have good days and bad days, so celebrate the good days and be open about the struggles of the bad days. You will be surprised to see how people respond positively to your efforts.

Brene Brown is a renowned expert in leadership and vulnerability and has discovered just how powerful being vulnerable can be in a workplace. Through her research, she has found that men and women differ in their abilities to be vulnerable based on gender expectations and roles, which is why it is so difficult to make this transition in the office.[3]

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways around this barrier. It takes intention and continuous practice to achieve greatness in any field of study, so prioritize vulnerability like the muscle. The more you use it, the easier it becomes to carry a heavy load.

4. Immediately Confront Conflict

Being away from the office can provide greater flexibility and comfort, but it can also allow petty issues to become significant problems down the road. If there are fewer touchpoints of contact between leaders and their team members, there may also be fewer opportunities to bring up conflicts and issues throughout the day. This is a slippery slope because minor problems quickly turn into big ones without much effort, causing a cascade of problems that may eventually lead to employee burnout or the failure of meeting deadlines.

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The classic “watercooler” discussions that happen throughout the office are still a factor in company culture online, as conversations and group text messages can become burdensome for company growth and team morale. Be sure to stay on top of these conversations to avoid any underlying pitfalls or employee conflicts that will inevitably happen.

5. Be Willing to Learn Everyday

Lastly, leaders of the future must be willing to unlearn, relearn, and breakthrough old thoughts with new information daily. In his blockbuster book, Unlearn: Let Go of Past Success to Achieve Extraordinary Results, elite Silicon Valley consultant Barry O’Reilly discusses the cycle of how transformative leaders use this adaptive model to innovate new ways of improving business and thought processes continuously.

Highly effective leaders are constantly searching for new and innovative ideas. Yet, many go about it wrong, which can stifle ingenuity and creative thinking. By utilizing the unlearn, relearn, and breakthroughs, future leaders can vastly change how they innovate with their teams and provide the structural framework to change how they do business.

Final Thoughts

Leading and managing remote teams doesn’t have to be difficult as long as you are willing to put in the time, energy, and resources to be transparent with your problems and execute. It is your job to ensure the highest levels of trust with your team, which will take you and your people to the next level, providing fuel to the fire towards your future success.

When leaders lead with their hearts, they also create loyal followers and future leaders. Be willing to do what it takes to put your people first, even when they’re working from home in their PJs.

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More Remote Team Management Tips

Featured photo credit: Surface via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Erik Reis

Peak-Performance Leadership Consultant

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Published on September 21, 2021

How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

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How Remote Work Affects Your Productivity And Wellbeing (Backed By Data)

The internet is flooded with articles about remote work and its benefits or drawbacks. But in reality, the remote work experience is so subjective that it’s impossible to draw general conclusions and issue one-size-fits-all advice about it. However, one thing that’s universal and rock-solid is data. Data-backed findings and research about remote work productivity give us a clear picture of how our workdays have changed and how work from home affects us—because data doesn’t lie.

In this article, we’ll look at three decisive findings from a recent data study and two survey reports concerning remote work productivity and worker well-being.

1. We Take Less Frequent Breaks

Your home can be a peaceful or a distracting place depending on your living and family conditions. While some of us might find it hard to focus amidst the sounds of our everyday life, other people will tell you that the peace and quiet while working from home (WFH) is a major productivity booster. Then there are those who find it hard to take proper breaks at home and switch off at the end of the workday.

But what does data say about remote work productivity? Do we work more or less in a remote setting?

Let’s take a step back to pre-pandemic times (2014, to be exact) when a time tracking application called DeskTime discovered that 10% of most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a break for 17 minutes.

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Recently, the same time tracking app repeated that study to reveal working and breaking patterns during the pandemic. They found that remote work has caused an increase in time worked, with the most productive people now working for 112 minutes and breaking for 26 minutes.[1]

Now, this may seem rather innocent at first—so what if we work for extended periods of time as long as we also take longer breaks? But let’s take a closer look at this proportion.

While breaks have become only nine minutes longer, work sprints have more than doubled. That’s nearly two hours of work, meaning that the most hard-working people only take three to four breaks per 8-hour workday. This discovery makes us question if working from home (WFH) really is as good a thing for our well-being as we thought it was. In addition, in the WFH format, breaks are no longer a treat but rather a time to squeeze in a chore or help children with schoolwork.

Online meetings are among the main reasons for less frequent breaks. Pre-pandemic meetings meant going to another room, stretching your legs, and giving your eyes a rest from the computer. In a remote setting, all meetings happen on screen, sometimes back-to-back, which could be one of the main factors explaining the longer work hours recorded.

2. We Face a Higher Risk of Burnout

At first, many were optimistic about remote work’s benefits in terms of work-life balance as we save time on commuting and have more time to spend with family—at least in theory. But for many people, this was quickly counterbalanced by a struggle to separate their work and personal lives. Buffer’s 2021 survey for the State of Remote Work report found that the biggest struggle of remote workers is not being able to unplug, with collaboration difficulties and loneliness sharing second place.[2]

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Buffer’s respondents were also asked if they are working more or less since their shift to remote work, and 45 percent admitted to working more. Forty-two percent said they are working the same amount, while 13 percent responded that they are working less.

Longer work hours and fewer quality breaks can dramatically affect our health, as long-term sitting and computer use can cause eye strain, mental fatigue, and other issues. These, in turn, can lead to more severe consequences, such as burnout and heart disease.

Let’s have a closer look at the connection between burnout and remote work.

McKinsey’s report about the Future of work states that 49% of people say they’re feeling some symptoms of burnout.[3] And that may be an understatement since employees experiencing burnout are less likely to respond to survey requests and may have even left the workforce.

From the viewpoint of the employer, remote workers may seem like they are more productive and working longer hours. However, managers must be aware of the risks associated with increased employee anxiety. Otherwise, the productivity gains won’t be long-lasting. It’s no secret that prolonged anxiety can reduce job satisfaction, decrease work performance, and negatively affect interpersonal relationships with colleagues.[4]

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3. Despite everything, We Love Remote Work

An overwhelming majority—97 percent—of Buffer report’s survey respondents say they would like to continue working remotely to some extent. The two main benefits mentioned by the respondents are the ability to have a flexible schedule and the flexibility to work from anywhere.

McKinsey’s report found that more than half of employees would like their workplace to adopt a more flexible hybrid virtual-working model, with some days of work on-premises and some days working remotely. To be more exact, more than half of employees report that they would like at least three work-from-home days a week once the pandemic is over.

Companies will increasingly be forced to find ways to satisfy these workforce demands while implementing policies to minimize the risks associated with overworking and burnout. Smart companies will embrace this new trend and realize that adopting hybrid models can also be a win for them—for example, for accessing talent in different locations and at a lower cost.

Remote Work: Blessing or Plight?

Understandably, workers worldwide are tempted to keep the good work-life aspects that have come out of the pandemic—professional flexibility, fewer commutes, and extra time with family. But with the once strict boundaries between work and life fading, we must remain cautious. We try to squeeze in house chores during breaks. We do online meetings from the kitchen or the same couch we watch TV shows from, and many of us report difficulties switching off after work.

So, how do we keep our private and professional lives from hopelessly blending together?

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The answer is that we try to replicate the physical and virtual boundaries that come naturally in an office setting. This doesn’t only mean having a dedicated workspace but also tracking your work time and stopping when your working hours are finished. In addition, it means working breaks into your schedule because watercooler chats don’t just naturally happen at home.

If necessary, we need to introduce new rituals that resemble a normal office day—for example, going for a walk around the block in the morning to simulate “arriving at work.” Remote work is here to stay. If we want to enjoy the advantages it offers, then we need to learn how to cope with the personal challenges that come with it.

Learn how to stay productive while working remotely with these tips: How to Work From Home: 10 Tips to Stay Productive

Featured photo credit: Jenny Ueberberg via unsplash.com

Reference

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