Leading remote teams

PIN remote management rafael ferraz product management @rzarref

Remote leading is not entirely different from leading on-site.

I worked with remote teams for some years in several contexts, but for now, working remotely is the current reality for many of us. I’m still learning and trying different approaches, and of course, I’m making some mistakes along the way. However, I would like to share a few things that I’ve been learning and can be applied in any context.

  1. Practice empathy

Before I start, let me make clear that my intention here is not to explain in detail what empathy is. My goal here is to share some insights that I’ve been learning along the way. If you want to go deeper into this subject, I recommend the book ‘Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership’ from Michael Ventura and watch Kristin Neff, Ph.D., author of Self-Compassion.

What I’ve been learning working as a product manager for years, and leading remote and on-site teams, is that empathy builds an essential thing in any human connection: trust. For me, the trust allows the team to see each other as partners rather than competitors. But practicing empathy is not easy at all. You need to be patient, you need to be curious, and the most important, you need to pay attention to the present moment when you are talking with someone.

Do not genuinely pay attention to the other people is talking during a meeting, can create a lot of communication problems in any conversation. Also, you have to ask yourself: How would we want the other to react if we were sharing these same feelings?

We’re are aways looking for connection and empathy. We need to share with someone who embraces us for our strengths and struggles.

  1. Promote social interactions

Without the social interactions that enrich our workdays and make our workday more enjoyable, it’s easy to become disconnected and demotivated. Many times, the little chats and laughs we share in the workplace are what help us together to get hard things done smoothly or get through a troublesome shift.

Some teams take breaks to do yoga together over video calls or meet at the end of the day for a happy hour. Get creative, and with your team, think for fun ideas to keep everyone connected and engaged.

Explore new ways to keep the team engaged, in particular now, as the world remains in quarantine. We all can use a bit of good old social interaction.

  1. Prioritize outcomes than activities

Yeah, I know. It is tempting to monitor folks on your team to check if they are logged in and doing their work, but a step of the process of learning to remotely manage means, understanding that outcomes should speak for themselves.

To help you prioritize outcomes than activities, you should keep your focus on questions like, where do we want to go? What are the results that we need to achieve to get there? Trust that your team will put their heads together to figure out what activities they need to do to achieve those results. As long as the outcomes are achievement, there’s no reason to stipulate how the work must be completed. It applies outside of remote work, but it’s especially critical for leading a remote team.

Another valuable insight that I learned is that you always should be available for your team members, in case they need help or have questions. However, it’s equally critical to appreciate that they have their way of completing work.

Unfortunately this is a trial and error learning process, but over time you will start to see trends in how your team members operate remotely, and you will learn how each one acts to deliver ideals outcomes for the team.

  1. Conduct one-on-one meetings.

You, as a leader, probably know that one-on-one meetings offer an excellent opportunity to delve into a topic in-depth with a single person. Like any one-on-one meeting on-site, on a remote one-on-one meeting, we should follow the best practices like set an agenda before the meeting, set a time limit, and the most important thing, listen actively.

However, in my experience managing remote teams, I learned that talking about life outside of work is an important key to help you stay connected to your team despite being out of the office. Always when possible, I’m available for the team, outside of business time if anything comes up.

I always trying to figure out a way do not be intrusive or boring the team with unnecessary meetings, and it takes some trial and error to figure out the frequency of communication that works for you and your team members remotely.

Like any meeting, a one on one meeting can turn into a useless social visit if both parties don’t pay attention to one another and to they are working on.

Do you have any other tips that can be applied in any context?

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