How we lead teams has changed immensely over the last few years, with traditional leadership styles no longer cutting it. Simply seeing your employees in the office daily doesn’t equate to good leadership and productivity.
Can you transition to a remote and hybrid leadership style in a meaningful way that builds trust amongst your team?
To master remote leadership and develop a healthy remote work environment, you need to lead with intention. Let’s look at what that means, along with tools, skills, and ideas for effective remote leadership.
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What is remote leadership?
It’s trusting the ability of the people you hired to do the work you employed them to get done without needing to see them working.
Remote leadership in startups
When leading remote teams, whether you’re running a bootstrapped startup or a multinational, there isn’t much difference. Effective leaders need empathy, whatever the size of the business.
Your business’ success, whether it’s a small, medium, or giant organization, relies on building a team of happy employees.
Scott Markovits, Founder Co-Pilot
You make your employees happy; they will make your customers happy.
Startup remote leaders may need to think a bit more outside the box, as they don’t have the budgets of larger organizations. For example, in-person company-wide meetups are more difficult if you have a tighter budget.
Skills of a remote leader
The number one most important thing about remote leadership is intentionality. You need to take the opportunity to be a leader for your team and develop a process for how you check in with them during the week and how you overcome challenges.
Tools and processes for how you check in with your team members are important because you can’t see if people are struggling if you don’t see them every day or week. Daily stand-ups and asking how your team members are doing are great ways to show your team you care on a regular basis.
Empathy and emotional intelligence are so important if you want success as a remote leader. You need to remember the team has lives outside the office, and those lives take priority.
It’s crucial to understand that productivity is based on output, contribution, and deliverables that are required at certain times. Being an effective employee is not the amount of time someone spends in the office.
Related: In case, you want to learn more about successful leaders and their skills, Ammarah has written a post about startup leadership.
Counterexamples of remote leadership
The easiest example is the big return to the office, which shows companies don’t trust their remote employees and try to push them to go back to the office.
Basing productivity on hours also makes no sense and can lead to proximity bias. As more businesses move to a hybrid working model, we’re probably going to see the employees who go to the office or the shared space as the ones who get priority for promotions and opportunities.
Bad managers see those workers, have a relationship with them, and base the promotion on the relationship rather than the contribution the person makes.
Not checking in with remote teams is counterintuitive; transitioning to just checking in once a month with employees won’t cut it if you want to transition to remote first.
Managers were used to seeing their team every day at the office, which can make it difficult to foster trust. Most companies haven’t invested in upskilling their leaders to do remote work in the right way.
Remote vs. hybrid vs. in-person
Both remote and hybrid companies need to operate on a remote first basis so you don’t end up leaving the remote employees behind. Operating on a remote first basis also ensures there aren’t two cultures in a single company.
In the future, a hybrid model will end up getting rid of their headquarters and replacing them with micro spaces and workspaces closer to their employees.
Team communication needs to be designed in a remote-first way to ensure that people who are present don’t get priority. There shouldn’t be a difference in cultural engagement or fun activities’ impact on people, whether in a central or remote office.
Remote leadership best practices
Hiring and onboarding
Culture starts with the job description, so information about the company culture and salary ranges should be available on every job post. Then people can go into applying with as much upfront information as possible.
If you hire in different time zones, you need to be mindful of the time differences and be willing to be flexible with the onboarding.
Giving every new team member an onboarding buddy is a great way to integrate them with the team.
A buddy should be a team member who doesn’t manage the new hire, can check in regularly, and be a supportive sounding board. If new hires need to ask their manager questions directly, they may struggle because they don’t want to give the impression they don’t know something and that they’re the wrong person for the job.
If the new hire has the opportunity to meet as many people across the company, they can get an idea of the wider business and connect with the team better.
Encourage the people who just got onboarded how they would refine the process because everyone has useful feedback.
How to work and lead async
- Understanding that work is about specific deliverables in a specific timeframe and not time spent online will build trust.
- Leaders should be clear about their expectations and give ownership to run the task. Providing examples can clarify what you expect even better.
- Get away from time-wasting meetings, it’s possible that all the team meetings can be asynchronous. You can create a video to share information about tasks, walk through the details of the projects, and ask for asynchronous regular feedback through Slack.
- Documentation is important for successful async; your processes and procedures all need to be in an accessible place. The more documentation you have, the easier it is to get away from quick 5-minute calls to clarify questions.
- Synchronous meetings still have a place, but mainly for relationship building and professional development. For a remote workplace, games are an easy and fun way for teams to spend time together, communicate and create relationships.
- Create expectations around response times. Give people essential time to read and understand things and craft a reply. If it’s something you require by a specific time, be clear about when you need it.
How to build trust
Lead from the front; you need to step up and communicate first and be honest about your own struggles if you want respect from your team.
Another example of leading from the front is to be clear with boundaries. If you have vacation time, you need to take it and not check email or Slack. It shows the rest of the team that they can block time out and take a vacation without needing to go online for work.
Take care of your team and if they need an afternoon off, let them have it. Empathy is a big part of building trust with your team and creating deeper relationships with them.
How to take care of your team
Some ideas for showing your remote team you care about them:
- Practice required vacation, taking time off every quarter because your people shouldn’t be heading for burnout.
- Let people know they can ask for a mental health day if they need it.
- Reject the concept of making up time; remember, it’s about the deliverable, not the amount of time people spend at their computers.
- Short, weekly calls with the team to check in, not necessarily talk about work but ask how everything is going.
- Giving the team access to benefits, such as meaningful and personalized gifting, is a great way to show you support and understand them. Not just a generic Amazon gift card but concert tickets to their favorite band or a meal at a restaurant in their area.
How to have fun
Socializing as a remote team and not talking about work is integral to building a remote team and involving everyone. Games or a show and tell like a book club can include everyone and help co workers get to know each other on a deeper level.
Open coworking sessions are another excellent way for people to get to know each other. If people live in the same city and want to meet up, the company should be paying for lunch or train fares.
Company IRLs and retreats are also important. Synchronous time should be about getting to know each other and not about work.
Look to hire globally, which means you can access the best talent wherever it happens to be. Pay people equally because it’s about their contribution, not where they live.
What’s the role of technology in remote leadership
Of course, Slack has become the central operating system of any startup. To get the most out of it and communicate effectively, create processes about how your team uses it. How should people use the status option to show team members they’re available? What’s your policy on replying? How can employees manage their focus time?
Cloud App or Loom
For asynchronous meetings or to provide briefings, encourage remote team members to use video tools like Cloud App and Loom. You can create one-on-one team meetings with documentation so the team can listen to it at 2X to get through it as quickly as possible.
Slite is a documentation-type tool built around async communication. You can create discussions about a document and build a voting process into it.
Butter is great for video calls. There’s more engagement built into the tool than Google or Zoom.
With TLDV you can record, transcribe, and bookmark things, so people don’t need to go to meetings they don’t need to attend and have more focus time.
Verbally removes all the crappy parts of async communication. When you do have a synchronous meeting, it gives you agendas, and an AI moderator keeps people on task and gives you analytics at the end. If you only contributed to a small percentage of the meeting, it will tell you not to attend the next one.
Learn more with a mentor
Learn more about leading a remote working environment and hybrid teams with a mentor who knows how it’s done. Chat about remote leadership for your organization with one of the mentors here.
Remote leadership is leading a team even though you aren’t in the same physical location.
You need to trust your employees will get the tasks done in the time you give them to do them. You need to lead with intention and check in with employees regularly to ensure they are coping with their workload. You need to put more effort into building relationships because you don’t see your team members on a daily basis.
To be a successful remote leader, you need empathy and trust. Setting clear expectations will help build this trust, as well as full transparency to avoid miscommunication. Flexibility and understanding are also crucial traits for a successful remote leader.