Many teams that were once centralized are now spread out across town and even across the country. But that doesn’t mean that your newly distributed reports have to be any less motivated, engaged, or productive. Whether they’re working from home or coming into a different location — or a mixture of both — here are five tips on how to lead them more effectively.
Variances in performance evaluation are one of the many challenges leaders face in managing hybrid teams according to Tammy Bjelland, CEO and founder of Workplaceless, which supports companies that have embraced flexible work environments. That’s why it’s important to align expectations across team members — both remote and in-office — so you can set a transparent and level playing field.
“The first step is establishing and communicating a framework, such as your remote work policy,” she says. “Then it’s important to follow that up with the appropriate infrastructure of tools that allow you to set and measure performance based on outputs, not based on face time.”
Check in regularly.
On an individual level, you should set up a structure that allows you to check in with your direct reports on a one-on-one basis, weekly or bi-weekly, and at least once a month with the entire team. Are they clear on what their KPIs are? Do they need feedback? Or additional resources?
Too much or too little supervision can sabotage success, according to Laurel Farrer, CEO of Distribute Consulting and founder of the Remote Work Association. Make sure you strike the right balance and use your meetings to get in touch with your employees’ needs. Organizations run best when everyone is clear on their responsibilities and there’s no confusion over who is accountable for what.
Keep communication clear.
If you think misunderstandings can happen face-to-face, imagine what can happen when you have a combination of virtual and in-office employees. “The remote half of the team is most frequently not filled in on conversations that happen in the room after meetings or decisions made via casual chats in the hallway,” Bjelland notes.
Streamline your correspondence by setting up protocols for the frequency, method, and timing of communications. It also helps to establish guidelines for what should be documented. Video calls may be best for sensitive or complex discussions while messaging platforms may be preferable for urgent matters. When everyone’s on the same page, communications gaps are less likely to happen.
When you’re in an office setting, it’s easy to drop by a colleague’s desk and put your heads together, but working together requires more forethought when your team is spread out. Fortunately, there’s an entire market of tech tools designed to facilitate collaboration — such as interactive white boards that allow you to drop in images and notes or software that allows you to run meetings with real-time polls, quizzes, and Q&As. Meanwhile, tools that specialize in project or task management, such as Asana, Proofhub, and Klaxoon, can act as centralized hubs to keep your team organized and on track with features for assigning tasks, charting workflows, sharing documents, and starting discussions.
Plan team-building activities.
“When operating as a remote company, it’s critical to build trust, accountability, discipline, self-motivation, and empathy to create true connection within a team,” Farrer says. With distributed teams, she adds that it can take a little more effort to build that rapport since “nonverbal communication, environmental context, or spontaneous interactions all help develop a feeling of unity.”
Managers can remedy the problem by providing opportunities to connect, such as themed trivia nights, online puzzles, crazy contests, or virtual happy hours. Effective collaboration is built on mutual understanding, both professionally and personally. These planned interactions can prevent social isolation and nurture a sense of belonging, which can help with employee retention and workplace happiness.