Nearly all companies across the globe are now working remotely. Even if you have had prior experience in this, given the unprecedented and extremely volatile situation we are currently facing, managing remote teams has become more challenging than ever. All of a sudden, the face to face interactions that you very much relied on, have now been replaced by virtual connections requiring twice the effort in delegating, motivating, communicating and appraising. Not only is the right technology a prerequisite, leading the team efficiently is equally important too. It’s important for leaders to be a source of calm and stability so that team members can be inspired to do the same. Leaders also need to be available and empathetic. Here are a few tips to consider when managing remote teams.
Establish goals, expectations and boundaries
It would be useful to set boundaries and establish clear expectations regarding work hours, availability, communications, meetings and deadlines since the very start. Since we are facing an exceptional crises, wherein other family members may also be working from home including children that need to be home-schooled, bear in mind that the usual dynamics of remote working may not fully apply. Hence be prepared to give leverage and flexibility where possible.
When staff members are already undergoing stressful situations, even normal tasks may seem overwhelming and they may experience what is called learned helplessness where they believe they cannot control or change their situation, even when the power for positive change is available to them.
In light of the fast evolving situation we find ourselves in, it is advisable to break down intangible wider team goals into weekly or daily goals that can be measured and delivered against, on a controlled basis. This gives the team traction towards goals. Setting unrealistic goals and establishing any stringently imposed deadlines will add unnecessary pressure and must be avoided give the current uncertainty.
In order to best achieve team goals, daily and weekly to-do lists may prove to be better in moving your team towards these goals. As the team becomes more adept and dedicated to the remote working process, you can consider expanding short-term goals per week. Examine the process for achieving the team outcome (how, when, what, why). The following questions can be helpful: What do you wish to achieve this week? Why do you want the outcome? What values does it serve? What, where, when and with whom will you achieve this outcome? What are the internal and external resources required to realize this outcome? What specifically indicates you have achieved the outcome? What is the evidence? What will you gain or lose by achieving this outcome? What is your action plan? How will your monitor progress or deal with interference?
Rewarding the team after each step helps them stay motivated and on track. Physical celebrations may not be possible but virtual shout outs are still very much doable and should be encouraged to buck up the team
Given the dramatic and fast paced changes happening globally, it will be important to keep reassessing current priorities. Complete a prioritization exercise every week to help plan for the following week. Ask yourself: What is urgent? What is important? What needs to be delegated? What decisions need to be made? What is pending? What can be put on hold for a week? The Pareto principle, a concept originated with Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, is often very helpful in prioritising and can be achieved by frequently evaluating your tasks, continually assessing your goals, determining your prime time, and identifying as well as eliminating barriers.
Implement & Review Goals
Once you have established goals and sub-goals, you are now ready to move on to the next stage – achieving them. You can improve the likelihood of achieving those goals by constantly checking in with your teams on a regular or frequent basis. Depending on the nature of your business and it’s needs as well as team dynamics, check-ins could be daily or weekly to ensure everyone is on track. Research has evidenced that popular times to institute these check-ins include morning check-in at 8 a.m. followed by an afternoon check-in at 3 p.m. The need for daily check-in may gradually recede with time once the team has acclimatized to this new way of working.
Nevertheless, in the beginning, these frequent touch points can ensure team is connected and no one slides off the track during the initial transition period. As time goes on, you may need to avoid micro managing and over communicating. Make sure you have a list of people you are managing, review that list frequently to see that no one is left behind when catching up in these virtual meetings.
Keep the personal touch
Most teams that are working virtually during the COVID-19 crises may already have that in person connection and bonding but now that they are unable to meet face to face, leaders need to keep those connections going and foster team cohesion. Encourage those working with you to take time to engage in self-care and undertake whatever other activities invigorates them in this stressful time. Begin meetings by open-ended questions, allow people to vent and exchange their thoughts and feelings. It’s very important to nurture and strengthen team morale. Introducing Water-coolers may also be helpful to get past this turbulent time and can help maintain the sense that everyone is in this together.
Eventually, remote working may prove to be a valuable practice, opening doors for endless possibilities and positively expediting a shift in the work from home revolution. Henceforth, organisations would undoubtedly and increasingly see the advantages of remote working even after normality resumes and that in itself is one of the very positive outcomes of this pandemic.
Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker and executive coach focused on women’s & ethnic leadership development, closing the gender gap and breaking the glass ceiling. She is the Founder of Advancing Your Potential & International Women Empowerment Events and Co-Founder of Career Excel and The Grey Area. Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook or email You can buy her book here: Her Way To The Top: A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling.