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Leading Remote Teams – One Year On

By Ben Baker

March 22, 2021

We all remember that day in our company’s life when we sent our teams home in the spring of 2020. Most of us assumed, hoped, and planned for this to be a short-term exercise. “A couple of weeks of inconvenience,” and therefore, not much thought went into things beyond making sure people took their laptops and cellphones home with them.

Weeks turned into months, and for many of us, bringing everyone back to the office full time may never happen again. Teams have grown accustomed to working remotely, leaders have adjusted—some well, some not—and in the vast majority of cases, this has not been as horrible an exercise as we have thought it would be. Or has it?

The challenge is, we sent our teams home with Band-Aid and duct tape solutions. There were no new policies, very few procedures, and leadership teams who had never managed remote workers before. Some innovative companies have realized this and have taken the time, made the effort, and invested capital in making sure that this shift has happened not only efficiently but effectively; but unfortunately, many have not.

Many companies are stuck relying on antiquated ways of doing business and leading their people, hoping that things will eventually go back to the way they were; but they might not! The ways we work and how we lead people have evolved and must continue to change. If we do not, we will be left behind as businesses. We will become inefficient and ineffective, and we will lose our best people and possibly our livelihoods.

Every company must evaluate how they are communicating with, setting expectations for, and supporting remote teams. This is vital to ongoing success.

If we are not communicating with our teams effectively, we have failed right off the bat. When people are remote, we do not have the same opportunity to check in as frequently, and therefore clear and concise communication is critical in isolated situations. The more you can get people to acknowledge, communicate back, and verify, the more effective you will be. It is imperative to have people listen, understand what is expected of them, and know why those expectations exist—to have them engage and be productive members of the team.

Expectations are critical. People need to understand what is required, when, by whom, and why, in order to prioritize tasks efficiently. We are no longer in the Henry Ford assembly line mentality world. We live in a world where our goal is to have our people solve problems and help the company and its clients achieve their objectives. Leaders must focus expectations on results and not time-based activity. The more we micromanage, the more we focus on time spent instead of outcomes, the more frustrated our teams will become, the less engaged and productive they will become.

Supporting teams requires different thinking and active leadership. Command-and-control management styles need no longer apply. We need to realize that, for every worker, working from home is unique and has different needs and challenges. Do they have a quiet, well-lit space where they can work effectively? Do they have the technology they need to be effective and efficient? Do they have a desk and a chair that enable them to be comfortable? Are they safe from physical or mental harm working from home? Are they a single parent juggling three kids while trying to live up to work expectations? All of these could be realities for your teams. It is up to each leader to assess what individual workers require to be effective and to coach, lead, and mentor them accordingly. The goal must be to work with members, both individually and collectively, to communicate objectives, motivate them, and be successful and productive team members.

None of this is easy. All of this takes effort, but the long-term return is well worth the investment.


width=115Ben Baker is president and CEO of Your Brand Marketing, an employee engagement consultancy designed to help you communicate the value of your brand effectively. He is the author of two books: Powerful Personal Brands: A Hands-On Guide to Understanding Yours and Leading Beyond a Crisis: A Conversation About What’s Next. Ben also hosts the iHeart- and Spotify-syndicated YourLIVINGBrand.live show, with more than 180 episodes.