How to lead remote teams

My first post in awhile, this is because a slow summer (and much appreciated pace) allowed me to choose to take time to recharge, regroup and reflect. Now that fall is here again, fresh projects and another trip to the UK and Europe are filling my inspiration banks. Here is some of what I had a chance to reflect on in London last week.

This post is by no means finished, and I think this is a topic I will certainly continue as my trip continues and I work with the Sea Salt Learning team in different ways, from co-working, to videoconferencing to coliving.

A question that was posted to the Creative Zone at Learning Live inspired this post. What do leaders need to know to effectively manage remote workers?

In the moment, my answers were a bit superficial, but the question has stayed with me, causing me to reflect and come up with these points (so far!):

Rethink productivity: Leaders who manage remote workers should rethink what their definition of productivity is. Does it mean sitting behind a desk for 7 hours, cut off from outside ‘distractions’ like Twitter or blogging? What I have found during my 10+ years of remote working is: productivity is tied to lifestyle and work ethics, rather than location. I have, through critical self reflection, discovered that I am most productive at certain times and under certain conditions. For example, I am at my most creative first thing in the morning, in a carefully curated workspace. The rest of the day I reserve for meetings and activities that require less energy, different kind of thinking. And I don’t stay behind my desk all day. My best ideas and most creative thinking happen when I am moving, walking or paddle boarding in the summer, cross country skiing and downhill skiing in the winter. These times give me space for reflection, for my subconscious to get to work and allow things to bubble to the surface. And they do! It’s not uncommon to find my furiously writing on my phone in the middle of a trail.

Rethink meetings: Online meetings are different than in person meetings. Encourage people to use ritual for these types of meetings, a ‘dance’ that everyone recognizes. For example, use video at the beginning, to say hi and see faces. Take some time for chit chat. For some remote workers, this is the most professional contact they will have all day. It’s important to foster relationships between employees, so that working together remotely is a matter of course rather than a special case. Also take time to catch up with your employees individually. I have worked on some projects where the only contact I had with my colleagues was in client meetings. There was no time allotted to get in sync with my team, to prepare and present a united front.

Take time to meet in person periodically. While technology is a beautiful thing and allows us to live and work in the locations we choose, nothing fills the trust bank like meeting in person. Mannerisms, preferences and ways of working all come to light this way, and gives a little freedom to vent. There’s something about meeting online, the online space is thought of as the professional, workspace, that inhibits venting, expressing concerns. Meeting in person is a good way to celebrate as well and meet new team members, it builds trust between teammates, something essential for remote workers.

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