The significant momentum of cloud computing over the past decade has transformed the modern workplace from a static environment contained within four walls to a dynamic entity, bringing employees together across cities, time zones and even cultures. And amid the current coronavirus crisis, the shift to remote work has increased drastically, as millions find themselves working from home for the foreseeable future.
From a practical standpoint, utilizing remote workers helps startups reduce overhead costs such as office space, electricity and equipment. But the true advantages aren’t in what companies minimize with a remote team, but in what they gain.
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Harnessing the power of remote work is invaluable for startups looking to improve productivity and encourage high-performance teams. Remote workers are often more productive and engaged. Even a partially remote workforce, when appropriate, enables organizations to expand their talent search to a more diverse and highly skilled pool of professionals.
However, the increasingly remote nature of work poses a new set of challenges. Remote workers may experience feelings of isolation, loneliness and difficulty collaborating and communicating with their coworkers, leading to a decrease in performance.
How effectively founders engage their remote workforce affects both company culture and the bottom line.
But how are you supposed to promote engagement among your team when conventional leadership principles for on-site employees no longer apply?
Here are three critical elements to successfully lead a remote team
Trust not only powers successful teams across the board, it’s an essential aspect of a healthy, productive relationship between a founder and his or her employees, remote or otherwise.
Employees who trust organizational leadership are likely to be six times more engaged than those who do not, a pivotal factor in keeping remote workers engaged and reaching their full potential.
To build trust in your remote team, get personal!
Try to regularly check in on each of your team members (whether by phone or video) to connect on a human level and give an opportunity to share details about goals or concerns. Don’t be afraid to express a little vulnerability of your own, as well. Modeling this behavior will not only further build trust among your team members, but also encourage them to follow suit.
These personal touch points will make your team members more comfortable, and thus more likely to share ideas and participate in discussions. When conducted in a group setting, it also allows remote workers to learn more about each other and build relationships and strengthen their connection across the distance.
Related: 8 Ways to Inspire a Virtual Team
A common productivity roadblock for remote teams is dealing with miscommunication or misconstrued expectations. Without face-to-face contact with coworkers, sometimes the unspoken social cues that usually guide our interactions can get lost.
Strive to provide remote workers with greater clarity around their interactions by establishing communication guidelines and expectations upfront. To ensure employee buy-in, work with the team as a whole to identify guidelines that everyone agrees on. For example, should phone calls be reserved for urgent matters? Do some team members find texts intrusive?
Once you gain clarity on how your remote team prefers to work together, proactively communicate your expectations as a leader. For example, is your team expected to answer emails outside of business hours or on weekends? By having the guidelines clear and agreed upon, your remote workers can confidently engage others without feeling unheard or disruptive, enabling them to collaborate as a team without the frustration that comes with miscommunication.
While having autonomy improves employee job satisfaction, an absence of expectations or goals can lead to decreased motivation and performance. Leaders of remote teams must strike a careful balance between flexibility and accountability.
In addition to setting parameters for how your remote team communicates, meet with each individual (again by phone or video conference) to clearly define the expectations for his or her job performance, as well.
How will you measure success, both on a project basis and across the board? What results do they need to deliver each week, month or quarter?
Once you’ve defined an accountability structure, schedule weekly check-ins with your remote employees to ensure they stay engaged, motivated and on track to achieve their goals (and yours).
Try utilizing video conferencing instead of just phone calls to improve the effectiveness and productivity of these one-on-one meetings. Even just a few minutes of this personal connection can go a long way toward supporting a cohesive, engaged remote team.
Now more than ever, businesses are embracing the benefits of a remote workforce. It’s increasingly clear that remote work is the future of business, big or small. It’s imperative for entrepreneurs to positively engage their remote team members in order to remain competitive, innovative and successful.
Originally published April 8, 2020.