Do’s and Don’ts of Remote Leadership
If remote work is the future of work, how do you stack up? I have been working with a virtual team since I founded Social Impact Architects 11 years ago. It isn’t easy, but like anything new, it can be rewarding — both for leaders and employees — if you have the right culture, norms, rules and tools. To help you better navigate the world of remote leadership, we have put together our do’s and don’ts within each of these areas.
CULTURE: We have covered culture extensively in past blogs. My favorite definition of culture is from Debra Thorsen — she defines culture as “an energy force.” You know a culture of an organization as soon as you walk in the door and interact with folks. Is it helpful or not? Is it open to new ideas or not? Based on our informal study, our clients with strong cultures have weathered the past few months better than those without an intentional culture. For virtual businesses, written values are even more important — we have a great blog post that helps you create values from the bottom up. If your culture is working, employees should say, “I like where I work, and I can be myself.”
Have shared values — and update them as the culture changes.
Evaluate how you are doing on your values annually or with each strategic plan and focus on continuous improvement over time.
Showcase your organization’s values on a regular basis through staff meetings, trainings or retreats.
Assume that everyone has the same definition for every value. Communicate their meanings through shared definitions and give awards or commendations to employees who exhibit each of your organization’s values.
NORMS: In 2019, we covered mindset as our trend for the year. Within it, we covered the iceberg effect, which shows that we spend most of our time reacting to things above the water and not below. Norms fall into this category — they are the unwritten rules of behavior. If you have norms that are well-understood, employees should say, “I understand how to behave.”
Have norms around online meetings and other remote working environments. We have a great blog post that discusses how to set norms, but companies have also published their own (e.g., Basecamp, GitLab).
Have norms around regular check-ins with direct reports and stick to them.
Have checklists and establish patterns to ensure that workflow is consistent and standards are followed. We have “cheat sheets” for every routine exercise, and they make all our processes more efficient.
Require employees to complete a project in only one way — give them discretion on how to do something if the end results are the same. This doesn’t mean that you cannot share examples or checklists to ensure that expectations are clear.
Use check-ins as update sessions — they are supposed to be used for individualized coaching. Ask employees what they need to perform at their best and respond accordingly. Don’t assume a one-size-fits-all solution will work for everyone.
Underestimate the real feelings of isolation employees are experiencing. Whether they are introverts or extroverts, employees are feeling more cut off from resources, information or relationships. Be sure to check in with them, not just on projects, but also on how they are doing in each of these areas and help them create solutions that will help them feel more connected.
Forget about teambuilding. You can do many things to bring fun into a virtual setting, including icebreakers and chit-chat at the beginning of calls. Hold an office virtual happy hour. Host a “Secret Santa” any time of the year.
RULES: In addition to norms, we also need to set rules in order to promote fairness, ensure safety, and create uniformity. If you have clear rules, employees should say, “I know what’s expected.”
Set expectations early and clearly. According to Gallup as well as our client surveys, most employees don’t know what is expected of them. This is even harder when working from home. I use the following project management formula — X + Y + Z = A Successful Project where X is the work to be completed, Y is the quality expected and Z is the timeline needed.
Establish and enforce safety protocols to protect the organization’s physical and technological assets.
Designate 2–3 hours of time during which everyone works in order to have joint meetings and a good cadence of project management through emails and calls.
Assume everyone is working 8:00 am — 5:00 pm. With remote work, the focus is less about normal hours and more about flexible hours to complete the work.
Assume everyone is available 24/7 by sending emails or texts outside of office hours. Respect their private lives and have established boundaries with every employee based on your work schedule and their preferences.
Communicate the same way you did when you worked in the office. Remote leadership requires that your communications are more intentional — think about the best timing, method and approach to convey information and ensure it is understood and acted upon.
Be controlling and micromanage. It is your job to set the expectations and let your employee make their own choices about how to best accomplish the task.
TOOLS: Similar to the office setting, the remote working environment needs to be optimized and have the tools needed to for individuals and teams to have a productive workday (e.g., Wi-Fi, laptop, phone, online project management tools). If you have the right tools for employees, they should say, “I feel equipped to do my job.”
Give an allowance to work from home, so they can buy technology and productivity tools to help them stay on task.
Assume everyone has the same technology IQ. Some people may need outside training to get up to speed on tools. Be sure to provide that added training so everyone is using technology with the same confidence.
Adopt a tool, such as a project management software, for your team and then not use it yourself. Your engagement (or lack thereof) sends a strong message.
In February, TIME Magazine called the last few months “the World’s Largest Work-From-Home Experiment.” We have seen the shift and believe that social sector organizations are rising to the challenge. If you have additional thoughts and ideas about how to make remote working easier as a leader, please share your thoughts with us.