How to Motivate and Manage a Remote Team

Mobility, Agility and Flexibility are words that are commonly associated with today’s workforce that include all different styles of working from flexible hours, job-sharing and remote working options. This is a stark contrast from workplaces in the ’70s and ’80s. Undoubtedly the explosion of the internet and globalisation have had much influence on the ability to work from anywhere and at any time.  As many as 7 out of 10 professionals work remotely once a week and 53% chose to spend half of their week working remotely.

The rise of the remote workforce

What exactly is a remote worker or team member?

  • Physically work alone
  • Work separately from others
  • Work at home
  • Travel as part of work
  • Work in geographical isolation

Being a remote worker and an isolated worker is not necessarily one in the same thing. Remote workers elect to work in a location other than the standard office environment be it at home, a coffee shop or in transit around the world, remote workers are producing work in a location other than the workplace.

Benefits of having a remote working employee:

  • Opens up the talent pool. No longer are leaders and managers constrained by geographic locations to employ the best talent.
  • Commuting time no longer dents productivity.
  • The optimal environment for some people is one that they can control. From noise levels to snack times, some individuals thrive and are most productive when they are in their own space.
  • Employee retention improves when people are custodians of their own work-life balance.
  • In unexpected circumstances, people can still work and maintain employment without being constrained to one environment

Risks of having remote employees

  • People can feel left out of the loop and isolated. Out of sight out of mind. People in a team can feel they are included in selected activities or communications an omitted from others and likely in the dark either way. Being a remote worker can also mean being none the wiser and leaves room for assumptions and vulnerable to back door communication channels.
  • Communication is slow, minimal or lacking. Not all members of a team are fans of digital communication, digitally competent or share the same dialect. This can present a challenge when the modes of communication are more limited and need to be streamlined.
  • Lack of team culture and spirit. Workplace and team culture is a feeling and an attitude shared between members of an organisation. Remote workers can feel removed from the pulse of the larger organisation.
  • Building trust can be a challenge when there is a lack of face-to-face relationships
  • Managing and evaluating performance can be difficult

Management 101 doesn’t always include how to manage a remote workforce

Managing a remote workforce may feel like a spyhole into the Chaos Theory. Summarised by Eduard Lourenz, the theory of determined chaos involves multiple systems working together, all connected, relying on feedback and offering signals and information. However, the whole system itself appears rather random and chaotic.

Is this how managing and leading a team of remote employees can feel? Multiple moving parts that need to be monitored, people who need to be lead and developed, performance optimised and culture embedded but this is required to all happen from a fair distance or from different time zones. Some teams are a combination of remote and office-based employees. Leading and driving performance in a team of remote employees is certainly possible, with the benefits of technology, increased collaboration, compromise and an acute awareness of group communication remote teams can be highly successful and they can have fun too.

Tips to successfully lead and manage a remote team:

  • Be yourselfTechnology is purely a vector that enables work flexibility but it won’t replace what you add to the team or your leadership style. Actively promote individual personalities and opinions to be shared and offer yours as well
  • Use your time wisely. Whether a manager or employee use technology as a catalyst to deliver on performances and objectives. Use technology to your  to meet objectives. If a chosen method is cumbersome be open to change, a one size fits all approach doesn’t work in the office and it is unlikely to be suitable for remote workers
  • Be available. As a manager be available to your team and be flexible to explore all forms of communication that optimise your availability within reason-voice calls, video chats, e-mail, telephonic and chat groups. Establish early on in each relationship what an individual member’s preferred forms of communication are and try to balance the group’s communication to include a level of comfort for everyone. Remember that technology may be well-established today but many people grew up and have worked for a fair time in a predominantly analogue era, therefore, digital forms of communication will come easier to some than others
  • Maintain connections. Be mindful to maintain regular individual connections and catch ups with people. Even a brief and informal sessions are good. Out of sight out of mind feelings can easily creep in when there are long intervals of silence and geographic distances between teammates or the direct reporting line. Something as simple as morning team check-in’s, end-of-week de-briefs and best practice sharing sessions can go a long way towards keeping the team feeling engaged, connected and sharing
  • Prioritise collaboration. Microsoft Teams is just one platform that offers an environment where team members can collaborate by sharing opinions, GIF’s, word documents and excel files in real-time. This eliminates the feelings of isolation and promotes best practice, team learning and development even when each person is working remotely. It also keeps the manager abreast of where the team is at with work progress and project collaboration
  • Prioritise reward and recognition. Celebrate and reward good work as a manager and promote recognition between colleagues. Good work may look a little different to when working in a traditional office setting but rewarding work becomes a source of motivation and it’s great for maintaining team spirits
  • Micromanagement is a no-go. Accept that office hours are no longer traditional (for many roles) and outcomes matter more than the traditional 8 to 5. Remote work comes with the benefits of each person being in control of their own schedule. Managers will need to trust and motivate employees to perform and produce outcomes that run independently of set office hours
  • Physical meeting still matter. When possible, create opportunities for physical meetings and conversations for the whole team and one-on-one meetings with each team members

Creating team values and embedding organisational culture through a remote relationship

Organisational culture is largely dependent on values that manifest themselves in people’s behaviours. With a remote workforce, evaluating and measuring behaviour can be more challenging. Communication and a lot of it are steps one, two and three when establishing a culture with a remote team! Communication becomes a key driver for embedding the behaviours that will cement the values and desired culture within the team. Communication will change its form from traditional frequent physical displays of behaviours to shared actions and deliberate gestures set out initially by the manager as a daily requirement.

Video calls and group meetings are a great way to create a personal feeling during team discussions and to gauge body language. Let’s say a value of learning is desired by the team, therefore, a behaviour expectation of sharing daily industry-focused tips with the group by each team member can become a regular way to implement a culture of learning or best practice sharing can be a weekly 30-minute video meeting where team attendance and sharing are required. Setting clear expectations and sticking to them is a good way for the team to know what type of behaviours are desired and turning them into habits even from their couch in pyjamas!

Use tools available to enhance collaboration and easy participation. The leader or manager is the driving force behind the team’s culture and the one who sets the benchmark of how things should be done, what tools and technology are available and the expected level of communication and engagement when working remotely.

Out of sight does not mean out of mind. Team spirit and culture can be intangible when working remotely but it can still be made to feel very real and impactful and a motivating force for participation and performance even when working remotely.

Kylie De Klerk
Workplace Culture and Team Dynamics

If you are interested in learning more about Kylie and her Culture and Team Building Training Workshops on Essemy, please visit this link.