Eight Proven Tips for Leading a Remote Workforce

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In the fall of 2017, I spoke at an economic development conference offering my predictions for the biggest disruptors that would change leadership in the next three to five years and the adjustments organizations would need to make if they wanted to retain employees and have an engaged workforce. 

I offered three disruptors:

  1. Leading a multi-generational workforce
  2. Leading a workforce in need of more Leadership EQ
  3. Leading a remote workforce

The audience fully agreed with me as I discussed the first two disruptors, but the mood shifted when I brought up the remote workforce disruption. I gleaned, from the rolled eyes and the knowing smiles, that most of the audience believed remote work would never be ubiquitous enough to warrant having to train leaders how to lead a remote workforce. 

I had no crystal ball back in 2017.  No one was thinking about a global pandemic. But, I did believe that the need for a remote workforce would grow.  And grow it has with many leaders greatly unprepared to lead it.   

There is no question that it will initially be more challenging for leaders to lead in a remote workforce environment, if for no other reason than it is different than how they have previously had to lead. But, different doesn’t mean impossible.  

Eight Proven Tips for Leading a Remote Workforce

 

1.  Fully Commit

All successful change starts with a full commitment to make the change. Some refer to it as adopting a “burning platform.” If leaders lead the current remote workforce as though it is only a blip on the radar, they will at best fail to fully embrace the challenge and learn from the experience, and at worst they will negatively impact employee productivity, engagement, and satisfaction. 

2. Actively Lead

Since the pandemic became a reality to organizations across the world, I’ve spoken with a number of suddenly remote workers. When I ask how their interactions with their boss have been, I get similar feedback: “What boss? I used to have daily or at least every-other-day interaction and now I feel as though I am on some type of island. I can go days without direct, one-on-one, interaction.” 

It’s imperative to remember that leadership requires action.  Between webcams and online meeting software, it’s relatively easy to have face-to-face interactions with employees. A good leader will find a way to have daily or every-other-day, direct interactions with their team. It is critical to continue the good practice of active leadership with a remote workforce.

3. Empower Your Team 

In a traditional office setting it’s easy for decision making to become centralized - by geography.   Remote employees don’t have the luxury to stop by the boss’ office throughout the day and must be empowered to have some level of decision-making authority. Differentiate between big and small decisions and make a conscious choice to share the workload and let others prove themselves.  

4. Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate Some More: 

One issue many remote workers face is the feeling of being isolated and lonely. As previously mentioned, leaders need to check in with their workers, whether they are in the office next door or working from their homes. 

Establish a scheduled check-in with individual employees and with the team and have the same level of discussions you would have if they were in the office or conference room down the hall. Predictable (scheduled) check-ins are more important than frequent ones. Also, it doesn’t have to be all about work! Making small talk can be greatly beneficial as well as having team-oriented virtual events to hang out or even celebrate a coworkers birthday. 

Even more importantly, it is critical that leaders communicate all expectations of being a remote worker. Working remotely doesn’t mean disregarding rules, policies, and procedures. Certainly, some may need to be relaxed due to working remotely, but most will not be impacted. Clear communication is essential – not just verbally, but in written form as well.

5. Focus on Results: 

Working remotely doesn’t excuse a lack of achieving results. Leading a remote workforce still requires focusing on the desired outcomes with precision and conviction. Juggling competing priorities, tackling complex quantities of work, reducing costs, and improving quality remain important to the overall success of the organization. Clear expectations of assignments, leveraging resources and removing or overcoming obstacles that hinder success remain critically important when leading a remote workforce.

6. Value & Acknowledge: 

The practices of valuing and acknowledging require leaders to recognize the potential within others and then letting them know their capabilities, experience, ideas, and contributions are important. 

Giving recognition of performance helps in creating a sense of personal accomplishment.  Effective leaders consistently find ways to acknowledge good performance. Everyone has the need to feel valued, and in times of great uncertainty, even more so. 

7. Follow the Path of Others: 

Other organizations have done this and done it well. Reach out to them via your professional societies and memberships and seek their advice. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when you can learn from them. This will also help inspire and empower you, so you can come from a place of confidence and calm during these uncertain times. 

8. Provide Inspiration

One of the most important attributes of an effective leader is the ability to inspire others. One must earn the hearts and minds of those one leads, and this is essential regardless of where the employee is located. Leaders who inspire lead by example, fully embracing the current circumstances and leading with intention. If you make an effort to empower your team, acknowledge performance, over-communicate, and address your team’s concerns with empathy you will inspire others and connect them to the organization’s purpose. Embracing these eight tips will give you the tools you need to enable you and your remote team to thrive.

 

John Zorbini, Executive Consultant and Coach with Stewart Leadership, has spent his career helping organizations understand the strategic link between effectively managed human capital and business results. He is an in-demand speaker and facilitator as serves an Assistant Professor in the School of Business at Mount Mary University. Connect with him on LinkedIn.