Tips for Handling Remote TeamsFebruary 24, 2022

Be a Better Leader Virtually and Online By
February 24, 2022

Tips for Handling Remote Teams

Be a Better Leader Virtually and Online

IFMM-Col2-Steinberg,Scott-110x140Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the bestselling author of “Think Like a Futurist: How to Plan Around Uncertainty and Future-Proof Your Business”; “Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty”; and “Fast >> Forward: How to Turbo-Charge Business, Sales, and Career Growth.” He is the president and CEO of BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. His website is

From the smallest local businesses to the largest global enterprises, the mass onset of COVID-19 and its continuing array of variants (hello, Delta and Omicron) has impacted the fundamental way in which today’s teams connect and communicate in the workplace. With experts estimating that tens of millions of professionals will be continuing to work remotely in coming years, and predicting periodic returns to virtual and online work as new viral surges ebb and flow, it’s becoming increasingly vital for business executives to master the art of remote leadership. Luckily, as we explain in the new book, “Customer Experience: The Ultimate Guide,” inspiring and motivating your workforce via email, and audio or videoconferencing solutions, doesn’t have to be difficult. Nor, for that matter, does maintaining a reassuring sense of order and presence when you utilize the following strategies to make the most of virtual meetings.

Step 1: Implement and Regularly Revisit Remote Working Guidelines

Lack of face-to-face supervision, support and oversight, as well as lack of access to feedback and information, often threaten to undermine team productivity and engagement. As a remote leader, you can offset these challenges in several ways, such as by setting aside regular, structured daily check-ins with remote workers; making yourself available during preset office hours and providing your team with multiple high-tech ways of getting in touch with you. Similarly, to be more effective when working remotely, it’s also important to preassign different communication methods to different types of exchanges — sensitive or subtle interactions are often best handled via videoconference versus email or instant messages, where personal nuance is often lost. Likewise, as you transition to — or reimplement — a work-from-home setup, teams should also know what are the best ways to reach you and times to reach you during the workday, and how you’d like emergency and high-priority queries to be tackled — say, by calling your home phone or texting if an urgent matter pops up. In addition, to minimize team disruption, it’s also advised that any preexisting meetings you had in place prior to the operating shift remain on the calendar, and that teams maintain the same meeting schedule that they did while working in the office.

Step 2: Take a More Professional Approach to Communicating Online

Although it may be tempting to adopt a more leisurely attitude when working and communicating with employees from home, note that it’s also important to maintain a sense of professionalism in all exchanges. The same rules of conduct and dress codes that you adopt when working at the office should also be applied when working remotely. Likewise, be mindful of what’s visible in the background of any given scene when you’re presenting via video or web camera — several providers offer free virtual backdrops that can dress up any garage or spare bedroom. In addition, when presenting, make a point to look into the camera directly, and avoid typing or checking emails and instant messages while others are talking. Giving others your full attention is vital when engaging in remote one-on-ones, as is actively making a point to take time to listen to and properly absorb the information they’re sharing before jumping ahead to a quick response. As you switch to a remote setup, be sure to let workers know that you’re available if they have questions or concerns, and set predetermined points to check in and follow-up with them as well. Also be sure to take the lead on setting remote meetings yourself too, especially one-on-one exchanges — doing so helps let others know that these gatherings are a priority to you.

Step 3: Promote Individual and Team Interaction

Many remote leaders make a point to set 50% of the topics to be discussed during remote meetings and let direct reports determine the other 50% of topics that will be explored. In addition to making sure that everyone’s concerns are addressed, schedules are being maintained, and projects are staying on task, adopting this approach also allows you to create healthy forums for dialogue and social interaction. Consider that remote work can often be isolating and create a sense of removal from one’s team, visio and purpose. Noting this, even taking a few minutes at the start of a conversation just to get colleagues’ feedback and input, or simply catch up and see how others are doing, can go a long way toward helping rekindle empathy and a sense of connection. Similarly, from a team-building standpoint, be sure to set aside times for workday gatherings, such as virtual happy hours and office catch-ups — participants can bring their own beverages and food — that your colleagues can engage in. Doing so helps keep familiar faces front and center and can help increase employees’ sense of belonging while offsetting the isolating effects of social distancing.

Step 4: Be Helpful and Informative

During times of uncertainty, it’s especially important to keep peers abreast of current events, maintain a firm sense of direction and help minimize colleagues’ sense of disruption. You can put anxious workers at ease by keeping them informed and up-to-date on the latest happenings that impact your employer and workplace. During remote one-on-ones, make a point to regularly check in with direct reports and explicitly state what your company action plan is for dealing with current events, and how the actions that you’re taking are helping create positive outcomes. Similarly, if you have to convey bad news, be short, be straightforward and be empathetic. While furloughs, project delays and other changes in plan aren’t always easy to break the news about, being honest and respectful with co-workers is the best policy. Whatever the nature of your remote one-on-ones, or group events, prepare for possible questions that employees may ask, have any supporting information ready to go in advance and take time to walk through how any impending changes impact your team, and next steps to take with colleagues as well. Whatever the future brings — and it’s worth remembering that many companies are well-poised to ride out temporary disruptions — it pays to be on the level with your peers. In uncertain times, people want to know what’s happening, so be sure to take the lead and let them know where things stand and what’s coming next.

Step 5: Prioritize Workers’ Health and Provide Continuing Support

Like senior managers, employees are often left stressed and anxious in the wake of unexpected events. During these tough times, leaders are encouraged to acknowledge these concerns, set aside time to listen to others’ worries, and actively seek ways to empathize. Especially when working remotely, it’s important to regularly drop-in and ask others how they’re doing. Similarly, you might also pose other questions to them — “Interesting times we live in … how are you guys adjusting to the work from home routine?” — that may help provide insight into the state of their thoughts, and ways you can lend a hand. Remember: Exercising emotional intelligence, and providing others with comfortable contexts in which to air their feelings and opinions, is a crucial part of modern leadership. In addition, making others’ concerns an area of focus — as opposed to your own — during times of disruption is also crucial, as is projecting a sense of reassurance at every turn. The more you acknowledge colleagues’ feelings and make serving others a top priority, while simultaneously projecting an air of calm and control, the more successful you’ll be. Top leaders not only inspire confidence in their peers, they provide a sense of encouragement at every turn.    I&FMM

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