How to Lead a Remote Team

The 3 Most Important Aspects

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You did it. You built your remote team. If you ask us, that’s a powerful move. With all the tech tools and apps at your disposal, you’re able to secure around-the-clock access. Your distributed team is heterogeneous, flexible and mobile, and you’re starting to get a feel for how it works. Now you know that it can become a source of innovation. But what’s next? You’re aware there’s a difference between a manager and a leader. How do you lead the team wisely? How do you surface all its positive aspects?

Unimpeded communication

The smooth flow of information is significant in any business, however, when your team is scattered around the globe it becomes vital. Letting them all sit like Robinson Crusoe on their working desert islands, having no clue of what’s going on with the rest of the company, will most likely undermine your success. So use all the Slacks, Trellos, Skypes, Google Hangouts and whatever communication tool you can think of to keep everyone connected.

Lead a Remote Team

Matt Mullenweg said, “I will communicate as much as possible because it’s the oxygen of a distributed company.” He’s one of the founders of Automattic—the distributed team that created WordPress.com—so his words are worth considering. Social media company Buffer is also working with a remote team model. They promote a policy of over-communication, meaning that they repeat everything twice when working at a distance.

Communication is the oxygen of a distributed company.

At Buffer, they believe that emails, notes or Skype messages can be lost in piles of daily correspondence, so it’s better to repeat your request twice to get it noticed. These two companies have built a benchmark for remote teams and they both praise communication.

 Distance is a trust killer

People, who talk face-to-face every day, subconsciously rely on non-verbal communication—whether it’s a genuine smile of a colleague, confident behavior of a boss or calm gestures of a partner. Working in a remote team you might receive none of these clues. Whenever you see a “No video” sign during a skype meeting, your inner distrust radar starts towering suspicions around that unknown person behind the screen. This is when a remote team starts to fall apart at the seams.

There is a good Italian proverb “far from your eyes, far from your heart”. Indeed, sincere, hearty relations can cool down in a remote team. Distance is a serious obstacle for a trustful atmosphere within a company and sometimes turning Skype video on all you need to survive.

Lead a Remote Team

A good example of trustful long-distance relations is demonstrated by Zapier, the company that builds software tools for connecting different apps. They are true experts in remote team building, they even have the textbook guide on it. They say “we build trust by sharing status updates each Friday to make sure that everyone knows what’s going on; we also hold face-to-face informal meetings and have fun together”. Whatever method you choose to build trust, make sure it really works, because this is one of the cornerstones of your remote team.

Every team member is equally valuable

Remote team equality means that all team members should be treated identically. Whenever remote squads feel that an in-house team receives more attention or privileges, they became frustrated and demotivated. Anyone would feel so and the task of a team leader is to ground working relationships on equality, trust and mutual respect.

All team members should be treated identically.

Don’t let your team feel that they are missing something while not being physically present in the office. The successful path of your company starts with building transparent relations and fair judgement. Here are three things that can serve as a fundament for equal, trustful relations:

  1. Appreciate your team’s work, listen to them carefully and react fairly.
  2. Bear in mind time differences when scheduling meetings, don’t hesitate to let your distributed team get the better time of day.
  3. Let them know that you’re concerned with their issues and defend their position on a higher level

Our experience in building long-distance working relationships have taught us an important lesson—a distributed team is a litmus test of your management. Good leaders can handle both in-house and remote teams. If you have a problem with your distributed team, endeavor to concentrate your efforts on those three important words—communication, trust and equality—and then sit back and watch them blossom.

 

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