Thanks to Dittoe PR’s professional development stipend, part of my annual reading list includes a variety of digital marketing, social media and leadership books to keep me at the top of my game. As a leader within the company, it’s important to remain up to date with the latest teachings and theories, both in the social media field and for leadership as a whole.
Most recently, I read “Leading from Anywhere: The Essential Guide to Managing Remote Teams” by David Burkus, and I cannot recommend it enough. Each chapter shares real-life examples of companies that are working remotely and have been for several years, if not decades. And following the pandemic, the success they’ve discovered has trickled down to a majority of corporate jobs (including my own, as I write this from the comfort of my couch), proving that remote work is indeed working.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you, too, are a remote worker or leader or are, at the very least, considering how the transition to a remote work environment could impact your business. I’ve pulled from some of my favorite chapters and combined them with my own experiences as a remote leader to share four key takeaways on finding success when leading a remote team.
Building and Maintaining Culture
Regardless of having a remote or in-person work setting, to build a strong culture your team must feel psychologically safe. This means they should feel comfortable speaking up honestly or making mistakes without fear of being judged, punished or humiliated. As a remote leader, it is your job to ensure your team feels trusted and respected by you even when they are on the other side of a computer screen. You set the example of how your remote team is treated. This includes being present on video calls with your camera on, listening first and allowing your team to voice their ideas and concerns, and trusting them to get the job done without micromanaging them into oblivion.
Once you have a well-developed culture that represents your vision and values, you’ll want to do anything you can to maintain it. Doing so in a remote environment can be a challenge, however, scheduling specific times during work hours that allow your team to commune and converse virtually about topics unrelated to their daily tasks can lead to higher productivity and satisfaction.
A few of these opportunities (and the way we’ve implemented them at DPR) include:
- Co-working sessions (60 to 90-minute video calls all working in tandem on the same account).
- Team rituals (staff meeting icebreakers unrelated to the workplace).
- Virtual water cooler (#random Slack channel to discuss any and everything unrelated to DPR).
- In-person gatherings (quarterly all-team outings and the infamous DPR Holiday Party).
- Volunteer outings (group volunteer opportunities during work hours with local organizations).
A commonly cited argument against virtual teams is having issues with communication. Back in the office, we could walk over to someone’s desk to ask a question or see that they were away for lunch, but now we send messages and expect instant responses which just aren’t feasible for anyone.
Burkus broke down the differences between synchronous and asynchronous communication and how each should be used in the workplace. “Asynchronous” meaning that it happens at random, unaligned times, and “synchronous” being that it happens in real time. In reality, synchronous communication is the exception and asynchronous communication is the rule. Just look at the most popular form of corporate communication: email. No one sends an email expecting a response within 30 seconds, and in a virtual work environment, Slack messages should be the same. Remember the co-working sessions I mentioned above? Those are built-in opportunities for synchronous communication, allowing our team to work efficiently and build/maintain relationships with one another all at the same time. Otherwise, we’re working on separate parts of projects and coming together as needed to get them client ready.
Another big problem with virtual communication is the assumption that periods at the end of a sentence mean you’re mad and exclamation points mean you’re happy. I haven’t used a single “!” in this blog post – did you think I was mad at you this whole time? (Quite the opposite, I assure you!) Instead, a good rule of thumb is to always assume positive intent. This alone will help to avoid many misunderstandings among your team.
In a virtual setting, giving your team time to perform is often met with the unnecessary requirement to host a meeting every time something needs to be discussed and invite everyone involved to join. Instead, be intentional about when you meet, how often, and who you invite to those meetings. When you do have them, come prepared with a meeting agenda to keep track of the effectiveness of the meeting, outstanding and follow-up items, and any action that needs to be taken as a result of the meeting.
Reviewing your team’s performance can be a challenge, especially for remote leaders who can only communicate and interpret body language through a computer screen. Vice versa, receiving performance feedback in a virtual setting can feel cold and harsh if leaders are not mindful.
Giving regular feedback to your team, both positive and constructive, will help to keep them on the best path while working toward the common goal. If things get off track or an issue arises, instead of reprimanding them, demonstrate the impact their actions have on the team and help them work toward a solution. This will require you to keep a pulse on your team’s performance, but you should also make sure they know they can come to you if they are struggling (remember “psychological safety”?) and ask for guidance.
Openly celebrate team wins and recognize employees for their contributions. When employees feel they’ve contributed to the success of the team or company, they are more likely to continue to put in maximum effort moving forward. At Dittoe PR, we have a #killingit Slack channel where anyone can call out the success of another team member. This includes big coverage wins, impressive design work and embodying our company’s values.
This combination of tactics will keep your team focused on achieving success – together – and make giving feedback and praise more common.
It’s no surprise that remote work can lead to blurred lines between work and home life. Many remote employees report working longer hours than their in-office counterparts, partially because:
- They want to make sure their leaders recognize the effort they’re putting in when they can’t be seen across the office, and
- What’s stopping them from opening their computer in the evening while they’re watching TV if they already work from the couch anyway?
Setting work/life boundaries as a leader and encouraging your team to do the same shows them that you take that balance seriously. Because remote teams tend to work at all hours of the day, you should encourage them to turn off notifications when they’re not working, schedule direct messages and emails for “normal” work hours, and also be available to one another in case of emergency. Additionally, making working hours known through the use of setting statuses or communicating directly to the team members you work most closely with will also help contain work-related conversations to work hours and reduce the feeling of burnout or needing to always be plugged in.
Being intentional about how you spend those working hours can also help you avoid feeling burnt out. I’ve found that blocking off time in my calendar and turning off my notifications to focus on work allows me to be both more productive and more available to my team outside of that focus time. On the flip side, holding open office hours also shows your team that they can come to you with questions, for guidance, or just to catch up and contribute to the culture you’ve worked so hard to maintain in this new virtual setting.
Remote work is not for everyone, and remote leadership even less so. But committing to being a good leader is half the battle, and I hope these takeaways will help get you closer, if not the rest of the way. And if you’re still looking for insight and guidance, I highly recommend reading David Burkus’ “Leading from Anywhere: The Essential Guide to Managing Remote Teams.”