By John Ellmore, UK Operations Director at NerdWallet
A different kind of leadership is needed to manage a team that is working entirely from home.
Things that you may take for granted in an office environment need to be adapted for remote working, so remote business leaders will have new priorities and challenges to consider.
The first step you need to take if your business is new to remote working is to acknowledge that the situation has changed. If you try to carry on with your usual office processes, then you are likely to find the transition to home working more difficult. Instead, you should look at what elements of office-working will be most impacted by working from home, and try to come up with new solutions to make sure that your employees’ work and wellbeing aren’t negatively affected.
Despite the challenges, businesses shouldn’t view working from home as only creating obstacles that need to be overcome. In fact, remote working has many benefits as it gives employees the opportunity to strike a better work-life balance and allows you to find the best people possible for a job, not just the best people that are within commuting distance of the office.
So, if your business is moving towards a long-term remote working policy, here are some ways to help you effectively manage and lead a remote team.
Listen to your team
Two-way discussions between team members and leaders are crucial to creating an effective remote workforce. By listening to what each member of a team needs and responding to their feedback, you can make sure they have the technology, support and resources they require to complete their work from home.
Because each employee will have different work environments and challenges at home, leading a remote workforce will often require you to be more understanding and flexible about their situations, so it’s important to listen and offer help where you can.
Make the most of technology
Working in an office you will have used plenty of apps and online systems to support your work processes. However, remote working may require you to invest in different systems to help your team work together more effectively.
For example, video conferencing software will almost certainly become integral to your business operations, but this may not be the only change that’s needed. Apps, such as project management apps, that worked well when people saw each other face-to-face may not be as effective when working from home, so you may need to find new software that is better suited to remote working.
Schedule regular 1:1 meetings
It’s crucial for leaders to schedule regular check-ins with individual members of their team.
Home working can be isolating and lonely, so setting aside some time each week for a catch up, both about work and life in general, will be beneficial for everyone. Managers and team members can discuss work and provide updates on different projects, as well as raise any concerns or worries that either person may have.
It’s important to schedule in these regular meetings, even if you think there isn’t a lot to discuss. Individuals may be reluctant to organise a meeting themselves if they have any questions or problems, but having these regular meetings gives them a space to say anything that might be on their mind.
Furthermore, these meetings will allow you to see how team members are coping, as it’s harder to tell if people are struggling when you don’t see them in-person regularly.
Be proactive about offering support
Without a fully-equipped and furnished office to work from, employees will have different working environments and requirements. As a team leader, it would be your responsibility to make sure they have everything they need to work effectively from home, whether that’s computer equipment, ergonomic chairs, online apps, flexible working hours, or something else.
Managers should take the lead on making sure their team has the necessary resources to work from home; they shouldn’t just rely on individuals coming forward with any questions or problems. Being proactive on this matter will resolve any issues or concerns sooner and help team members to work more productively, whatever their home set-up is.
Schedule team and company meetings
Remote working can make it more difficult for everyone to stay up-to-date on the progress of certain projects and any company news. Although you might think an email update will suffice to send out information, this is a one-sided communication that won’t help employees to feel engaged or part of a team. Emails will be useful for most situations, but it is also good to schedule regular online meetings to promote transparency and allow more discussion to take place.
Smaller team meetings allow individuals to give updates on the progress of their particular tasks, discuss future plans, and more, helping people to understand the bigger picture of what they’re working on. Similarly, company-wide calls are an opportunity for people to get together and collaborate as a team.
Team culture and a feeling of working towards a common goal typically happens with little effort if everyone works in the same building. However, with a remote team, it requires more work to be inclusive and make sure everyone is working with the same values and goals in mind. Company-wide video meetings can help address this and make people feel united and engaged with the business as a whole.
Clarify your expectations
Sometimes working remotely can blur the boundaries between work and home. It can be harder to switch off at the end of the day and some team members may feel pressure to work longer hours and respond to emails late into the evening.
Because of this, it’s important to make sure employees know what is expected of them. Everyone should know how long they are expected to work and leaders should emphasise the importance of taking breaks throughout the day.
It is likely some team members will need more flexible working arrangements, which means they may be working different hours to others. Particularly in these cases, it is important that everyone knows the times that people are available to contact and whether email, instant message, or a call would be most suitable.
Encourage communication between team members
In an office, it is easy to ask a colleague a quick question or have a chat with someone while you make a coffee. Because remote working removes this social element, which can be particularly difficult for employees that live on their own, business leaders should encourage team members to regularly communicate and collaborate with each other about non-work matters as well as work.
This could involve setting aside some time to chat at the start or end of meetings, or organising separate events like a video chat over lunch or a virtual team social. Especially if you start hiring new employees to your remote workforce, these kinds of socials will help new hires get to know everybody so they feel included as part of the team.
Don’t forget about career development
When employees are no longer working in the office with their managers, some may become concerned that their training and career progression will be forgotten about. So, it’s important for team leaders to inform their workforce about training and the process regarding promotions to make sure employees don’t feel like they are missing out on any opportunities that could help advance their career.
Trust your team
In an office, leaders may feel some control over their workforce as they know who is currently working on projects at what times. This isn’t possible when people work from home, but if you keep channels of communication flowing, as described above, and have trust that your team will do what is required, you are likely to get better results than if you try to micromanage everything each employee does.