How to Lead a Remote Team for the First Time

With almost every business having to operate remotely due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, everybody is under pressure to adjust their usual work habits to the new normal. Business leaders, in particular, have a unique challenge, having to figure out how to motivate and lead a remote team that usually operates through in-person meetings and collaboration.

If you’re a manager, executive, or founder feeling unsure about how to adjust your leadership style and approach to be effective for teams working from home, here are some tips that will help you.

Embrace the Change

No matter what industry your business is in, how long you’ve been around, or how successful you are, there is one thing for certain – you are experiencing a change in this time period. While the uncertainty may feel uncomfortable for you and your team members, it’s important to accept it and try to make it work rather than fighting against it. Because no matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to succeed in trying to make everything be exactly like how it was before, and misguided attempts to do so will only frustrate you and cause your team to lose faith in your leadership.

Instead, do your best to go with the flow. Be honest and vulnerable with your team members about the impact of these changes. Let people share their own experiences and listen actively. You don’t have to pretend to have all the answers. When you authentically accept and talk about how different things feel, you build trust within your team. If you can see this as an opportunity rather than a hindrance, you may even be able to get something positive as a result.

Keep Up the Communication

One of the biggest challenges of remote work that you’ve surely noticed by now is that it eliminates a team’s ability to communicate constantly throughout the day through interactions both big (formal meetings) and small (running into each other in the break room). Losing this consistent communication can potentially lead to a loss of teamwork and creative ideas.

But just because you can’t communicate as you did before doesn’t mean that you can’t communicate at all. In fact, we recommend using this time to communicate more than ever. Utilize the powerful technology that we have available to us to keep your team in close contact. And this goes beyond just having your usual meetings over Zoom.
If your team isn’t already using an instant messenger, get one. And make sure it’s active throughout the day, stimulating the conversation yourself if it isn’t flowing naturally. Have multiple chat channels for different topics, including less serious and work-related ones. That way, people won’t lose all of the joking and story swapping that make working on a team fun, but you don’t have to worry about chatter interfering with important work-related conversations.
Beyond that, try to check in with your team members at least once a day, giving them the opportunity to ask for any help they might need, express their feelings, and feel that they have your support. And when it comes to Zoom meetings (or whatever video conferencing software you prefer), take things seriously. Encourage everybody to be on time and to turn their cameras on so you can have some face time. Plan and execute icebreakers to ease people into the meeting. And keep things organized and concise so that people don’t get all Zoom-ed out.

Don’t Micromanage

Without being able to see your team members, you might be worried that they’re not actually working as much as they used to and, consequently, not getting things done. After all, how much work can people really complete when they’re at home in their pajamas with the temptation of cute pets and the distraction of loud children running around?

First, don’t underestimate your workers. After all, you hired them (and didn’t fire them!) for a reason. These are competent, motivated people. Plus, it’s not like the office environment doesn’t have plenty of its own distractions. Most likely, your team members already know how to focus when things get noisy.
Further, give people a little bit of a break. Your instincts are right: working at home is different from working from an office. It requires an adjustment period, especially for those who have children or dependents at home to take care of. You may have to adjust your expectations, at least for a little while, and perhaps be a little bit more flexible with deadlines for now.
Finally, we want to caution you against falling into the trap of micromanaging remote work. Pinging your team dozens of times throughout the day to make sure that they’re focused and on track is only going to stress them out and make them start to dislike their work experience. Instead, focus on creating a culture of trust and transparency in which your team members feel comfortable enough to come to talk to you if they’re encountering challenges in their workflow or ability to focus.

Offer Resources

The best thing that you can do to make sure that your team continues to be effective as they work remotely is to assure that they have everything that they need to succeed. From doing your research and finding the best remote work tools to offering emotional and mental support to making sure team members have access to the technology and information they need, focus on supporting your team. If you can create the right environment and culture and offer the necessary tools, your team members will do their part, too.

Remember, this is a challenge for everybody – you included. So don’t forget to give yourself the space to learn and adjust. Solicit and be open to feedback so that you can improve as a team leader. You and your team are in this together, and as long as you stay flexible, empathetic, and transparent, you’ll figure it out.


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