About 40% of the U.S. workforce works remotely at some frequency, and 80% to 90% of the workforce would like to telework at least part-time, according to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com.
Performance expectations and an effective operating system are essential to having a successful remote workforce – and both are beyond the scope of this article. However, equally important are leadership actions that build trust and promote collaboration.
A leader’s interactions with remote team members (even direct reports who are managers) do not easily yield the same trust and collaboration as in-office, organic relationship building.
Three Game-Changing Actions for Leading a Remote Team
While leading managers and professionals who worked full-time from home offices located in geographies across the U.S. (all time zones) and having limited in-person interactions with team members, it was important to build trust, foster collaboration, and create a sense of belonging.
Three intentional leadership actions helped in navigating relational dynamics that are oftentimes naturally addressed in-office, but overlooked when interacting with remote team members:
Leadership Action 1: Create the Virtual Watercooler.
- Meet with each team member one-to-one (videoconference, if feasible), and make it an ongoing touchpoint at an agreed upon frequency. With increased trust, the team member will likely begin initiating this watercooler time.
- Ask thoughtful questions to learn more about what is important to the team member (such as values, interests, and motivators). Also, explore the individual’s strengths and aspirations. Prepare to participate in a mutual information exchange.
- Listen, and be comfortable with silence. Remaining silent is effective as the team member takes time to reflect before engaging in discussion.
- Take notes. Demonstrate authentic interest in details and relating, as appropriate, in future conversations.
- Actively engage the team member in spotlighting and building upon desired knowledge, skills, and experiences.
- Be vulnerable. Ask for feedback about the team member’s assessment of the developing business relationship, including how to continuously make the interactions a meaningful experience.
Leadership Action 2: Consider Non-verbal Signals.
- Manage tone of voice. A pleasant, yet professional tone may create space for open dialogue. Determine an action to do (such as meditation) before the call to create the mindset for a productive, engaging conversation – so your tone will elicit the preferred involvement.
- Resist being the first to disconnect from the call. Hanging up the phone first could give the impression of rushing the team member off the call. Practice allowing the team member to first disconnect the call, giving space to affirm that there is no open point to discuss and the conversation has indeed ended.
Leadership Action 3: Communicate. Communicate Again.
- Err on the side of giving detailed information about business changes and related impacts (within constraints of the situation). Provide opportunity for the team member to process the information, allowing time for questions now and later. When opening the door for questions, honor the commitment to earnestly respond.
- Repeat information. An established marketing strategy, Rule of Seven, indicates that one must hear information at least seven times before buying a product or service. Generalizing this rule, sharing information at least seven times could increase the likelihood of the team member receiving the intended message.
Leaders have vast responsibility for intentionally creating the environment where remote staff can genuinely experience a meaningful connection.
Never underestimate the power of practicing these leadership strategies when interacting with your management team.
Which of these game-changing leadership actions could make a difference in your engagement with remote team members? What one action will you immediately take as a leader?
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