by Chris Dyer
Leading remote teams requires new ways of thinking about your work and your company. It can feel overwhelming, and at times, it is. However, there are distinct opportunities embedded in implementing or refining an organizational model. If you and your team are already working remote or hybrid, consider the following suggestions in the context of continuous improvement. If you’re just getting ready to go remote, these suggestions can be a guide.
One way or the other, you need to be deliberate about the changes in leading remote teams. As my co-author Kim Shepherd and I detail in Remote Work: Redesign Processes, Practices, and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce (2021), the best sequence to follow, as you evaluate and monitor your model, is people, process, tools, and technology. If you optimize each of these areas, your remote/hybrid model can give you a competitive advantage, promote employee retention and help you attract top talent.
1. Start with People Many people think the first consideration in leading remote teams is the technology, but there are several reasons to start any evaluation by focusing on your people. As you do so, keep in mind that working remotely is a big change and that a home office is a whole different world from an on-site cubicle. Help them focus on the advantages, but also provide support as they deal with any challenges, like having additional responsibilities such as childcare. Some considerations:
If employees need training or coaching, make sure they get it.
If you don’t have the right talent mix, can you train up current employees?
Ask employees what is preventing them from performing well, and brainstorm to overcome those roadblocks.
Assess performance based on output — you can’t monitor input in a remote model without becoming a pathological micromanager. Set targets, ensure people have what they need, and hold them accountable.
Employee mental wellness has emerged as a major concern. Everyone is dealing with a lot these days, from COVID to the economy to politics. Add to that the adjustment to remote and hybrid work, and many people are feeling the considerable strain. Consider training team leaders to identify potential issues and recommend resources. In addition, make sure your benefits package includes access to mental wellness resources.
2. Optimize Processes Processes that worked in an office setting may not translate directly to remote and hybrid work. Of course, processes have to support company goals, but as work to optimize processes, consider how to leverage your teams’ strengths. With fresh eyes and a deliberate approach, you and your team can redesign processes that flow smoothly and make sense from the 30,000-foot view. Well-designed processes free your people from having to wonder what happens next — instead, they can focus on being good at what they do.
I discovered this when I took PeopleG2 remote in 2009, in response to the subprime mortgage crisis. Everyone went home to work, but it soon became apparent that it’s not that simple. A major bottleneck emerged, and it turned out to be me. My employees were asking for my approval on way too many decisions. It hadn’t been so noticeable when we worked on-site, but once these requests started piling up in my email box, the bottleneck was clear. Designing a new decision-making process involved delegating responsibilities and clarifying which decisions needed approval and which could be made by an employee. The biggest change, however, was a cultural one that involved empowering employees. As you reinvent processes, here are some questions to ask:
What is each process intended to accomplish?
Is each new process as streamlined as possible?
How will we work together as a team?
Do we want a flat organization, a top-down one, or some other configuration?
Should we review and revise quotas and KPIs?
3. Choose the Right Tools For Leading Remote Teams Remote and hybrid work requires some unique tools. Some are virtual versions of in-office tools, but some may be completely different. As many companies are finding out, not every employee has a computer or a stable Internet connection at home. You may need to determine who needs what and provide it.
Some tools to consider (if you’re not already using them) include:
Video conferencing platforms like Zoom, GoogleMeet, Skype, etc.
Document-sharing applications, like Microsoft SharePoint, Google Drive, goCanvas, etc.
Communication/collaboration/chat tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Chatwork, etc.
Consider also identifying a champion or super-user for each one. This person would do the research and interface with IT and the vendor to make sure your teams are getting the most out of each tool.
4. Leverage Technology that Facilitates These days there is a significant overlap between tools and technology, as you can see from the list above. In fact, it is Internet-based technology that makes it possible for entire companies to work remotely. But many have found that innovations in technology are not keeping pace with the needs of remote workers.
Some issues are very basic, such as a lack of equipment and reliable Internet access. But there are complex issues as well, such as integrating diverse applications and training employees. Writing on Reworked.com, David Roe suggests that IT teams focus on the employee experience in remote work (2020). In addition to providing and administering the technology, IT teams should pay attention to how well the tools are being used and whether the tools truly promote collaboration.
The remote revolution is a large-scale experiment that will continue to evolve. I strongly encourage you to see it as an opportunity to promote a people-first culture and ensure you have the right processes, tools, and technologies in place. It all starts with a deliberate, intentional approach to being the best you can be.
References Dyer, C (2018) The Power of Company Culture: How any business can build a culture that improves productivity, performance, and profits. Kogan Page, London. Dyer, C, and Shepherd, K (2021) Remote Work: Redesign processes, practices, and strategies to engage a remote workforce. Kogan Page, London. Roe, D (2020) Why Technology Can Still Create Obstacles to Remote Working. Reworked.com, July 16. Available from: https://www.reworked.co/collaboration-productivity/why-technology-can-still-create-obstacles-to-remote-working [last accessed October 9, 2022]
Chris Dyer is the founder of PeopleG2, where he managed 30 full-time remote employees and 3,000 independent contractors. PeopleG2 is routinely ranked as one of the best places to work and has been listed as one of Inc.’s 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies. Having made the transition to remote during the recession in 2009 with stunning success, Chris Dyer is now a world-renowned expert on remote leadership and productive company culture.