Remote Leadership

Michael Kogutek, nonprofit management coach
Michael Kogutek

As you navigate the the uncharted waters of the COVID-19 storm and its impact on your organization, it is essential that you develop remote leadership skills

My colleague, Dr. Alex Abramin, Leadership coach and an Organizational Psychologist from LA writes a terrific article on remote leading. “With everyone transitioning current business processes into the virtual world, managing teams virtually can be relatively new and challenging for some leaders.

For those with experience managing teams virtually, this is a nice refresher and reminder. Through my research, I’m pulling information that could shed some light and provide guidance for those who may be experiencing challenges engaging and managing their teams virtually.

We are aware that virtual teams can be more challenging to lead, so keep in mind that in order to effectively lead your team, you’re going to have to spend more time and effort toward these recommendations below. The time you use to implement these will immediately be noticed, recognized, and appreciated by your team. 

1. Embody Respect

Through the midst of challenging times, we must remember to respect one another and still hear the voice of your team members. Try to make some time in your virtual meetings to ask questions and gather opinions from the people on your team. Expressing their opinion is a way for them to stay engaged and be heard. This creates a form a of mutual respect. Take more time than you used to to hear your team’s opinions.

2. Engage in Positive Predictable Behavior

As individuals, we tend to have some level of resistance to change. In order to reduce some of that resistance, it’s important to institute some predictable behavior so that there’s some sense of structure or norm in the midst of change. When working virtually, this can mean being early or on time when leading your meetings; checking in with your team on a personal level before every meeting; asking each person to share gratitude moments before the meeting begins; or honoring the commitments you’ve made or at least addressing them. 

3. Apply Positive Intent

There are times that our judgment and bias can kick in while working with others, and when working virtually, this can enhance those challenges. There’s a lot more room for misinterpretation when working virtually, so here’s what you can do to alleviate those judgements and biases. For example, when reading an email, notice your emotional and physical reaction. Take a step back to see the perspective they are coming from. Take a deep breath or even walk away for a minute to drink a glass of water. Come back with a fresh perspective and ask for clarification through phone or video-chat. It’s better to hear from the individual rather than misinterpret an email or message with assumptions.

4. Be Present

When working from home or remotely, there are constant reminders and distractions among us. It’s important to model the behavior of being present during virtual meetings. This means being off your cellphone and disregarding other notifications and emails that are coming in. Notice and mention facial expressions on camera or tones of voice through audio. Show your team that you are just as engaged as you were while working in the office. 

5. Contribution

Be clear on what the team’s goal is at the beginning of the meeting so that your team knows what you are all working towards. After establishing the team’s goal, build clarity throughout the meeting on everyone’s role and expectations that contribute to the success of the team’s goal. Your team wants to know that they are taking part in contributing to the whole rather than just feeling like a cog in the machine. 

6. Establish Regular Meeting Times

During times of change, establishing routine is important. As much as employees appreciate autonomy, we tend to like some form of structure when it comes to our teams and work we produce. With working virtually, meetings need to be more established so that employees know what’s expected of them. To enhance this further, asking your team for input on the agenda of the meeting can create more engagement. This way you’re creating an open forum space while also setting the tone for the meeting to come. 

7. Revive Engagement Rules 

Being clear about the “ground rules” might seem obvious, but when working virtually it can be a helpful reminder of what to expect from your team. Be clear and concise, whether it’s being dressed appropriately; waiting to share your opinion; being respectful of everyone in the room; or asking for honest feedback. 

8. Use Visual Forms of Communication

Technology has improved drastically over the years to help us with making virtual interactions more engaging and effective. Meaning that we can utilize more visual forms of communication rather than just video conferencing. We can share documents, screens, videos, use polling features, create breakout rooms, and more. When working on projects that require some ideation and collaboration, try using breakout rooms so have team members engage in smaller groups and come back with options for an even greater solution. Using different forms of communication during virtual times keeps the team engaged and interested in what’s to come next.

9. Agree on use of technology and platforms for collaboration

With having many forms to technology around us, we tend to have access to multiple communication platforms. Bring this up to your team and ask for input on what platform options would be most effective for efficient communication and collaboration. Examples of platforms consist of Slack, WhatsApp, Jabber, WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeeting, and others. Gather opinions from the team, assess the pros and cons, and commit to specific platforms so there’s more clarity and less confusion.  

10. Ask for Feedback

As leaders, we feel as though we need to have all the answers. In reality, that’s not the case. Some of us are not familiar with leading virtual teams or meetings. It’s okay to admit that. This is a time where we are all learning to appreciate and utilize technology. Be open, transparent and honest about it. Ask your team for feedback on how we can improve working virtually. Ask your team what support they need. It creates a sense of vulnerability and comfort know that they can come to you with their thoughts or ideas. 

11. Be Available and Share it

It’s hard to establish an open-door policy when there’s no actual door. Be more clear about when you’re available and how. Your team wants to know when they can reach you. Leaving your availability vague or up in the air can create discomfort and uncertainty for some employees. Employees want to be able to know how to reach you when they need support. In your next meeting, share some ways you’re available to them and how.

12. Follow-up

After every meeting, I highly recommend a follow-up email that shows what was discussed in the conversation as a way to show that you were present and engaged. As a leader, your employees want to know you are engaged. A follow-up email will provide them with clarity on expectations moving forward and your modeling positive predictable behavior by being present. Although follow-up emails can be time consuming, the benefits outweigh the effort. 

13. Encourage Informal Off-Line Conversations 

We need human interaction. When entering a virtual world, it can be a challenge for those who have never experienced it. We took our interactions with team members for granted. Now that we don’t have physical access to our team members like we used to, encourage your team to connect with one another outside of the regular meetings that are scheduled. Just because the team is working virtually doesn’t meant that you can’t have informal conversations like you used to. 

Just a reminder, these are all different practices of making virtual work more convenient and effective for all. Take this one step at a time and try a new method every week. You are not going to become a guru virtual leader overnight. These are options on how to improve and collaborate more effectively, virtually. 

Author: Michael Kogutek, Executive Coaches of Orange County, www.ECofOC.org