How to succeed as the leader of a distributed team?

Successful leaders of distributed teams know that leadership is about more than being a good manager. Read our advice on how to find opportunity in challenging circumstances and how to affect positive change as a leader.

Now is the time to rethink outdated policies and procedures

The world of work has changed. And if you’re the leader of a newly formed distributed team, you’re likely struggling to maintain business as usual and adapt to a post-covid working world. Even established leaders of remote teams are finding change forced upon them at an unprecedented rate.

But welcome surprises can emerge from even the most challenging circumstances. As a leader, you have an opportunity to rethink policies and procedures that may have already been outdated. So take a moment for yourself, breathe deeply, and consider how you can effect positive change at a time when more than ever, your team is in need of compassionate leadership.

Here are just a few examples of how you can establish a ‘new normal’ for your team.

Open the Door

Good communication has always been essential to team leadership. But in a remote or hybrid work setting, it’s of paramount importance. It’s vital to reach out to your team on a regular basis — especially if they’re accustomed to regularly interacting with you face-to-face. When you and your team are likely facing the challenges and distractions associated with working from home, the power of good communication practices becomes even more apparent. It can start by simply letting your team know that you’re there for them.

An open-door policy is easily understood when you’re co-located in an office. But in the realm of remote work, your team doesn’t have the same visual cues. Don’t take it for granted that your team implicitly knows they’re welcome to reach out to you — be explicit about your willingness and availability to talk with them. Actively encourage them to touch base when they have concerns or are facing roadblocks.

Here’s one simple change you can make to bridge that gap: pay attention to your status indicators in the communication and collaboration tools your team depends on. People who are new to remote work may be unfamiliar with the tools that support it. As a result, they may unintentionally leave their status set to ‘unavailable’ or ‘offline’ throughout the workday.

By being mindful of your status, you can model a behavior that facilitates open communication.

Set New Boundaries

In a physical office, your team has the luxury of knowing you and their teammates are available when onsite. If your team doesn’t already have policies for knowing how and when it is okay to contact you (and each other), it’s a good time to make those boundaries explicit.

You also need to ensure that your team is able to navigate a more flexible working day. The parents on your team will need extra time to ensure their children are set up for the day — and depending on their kids’ ages, interruptions are likely to happen from time to time. Consider revisiting your concept of ‘business hours’: the work schedule you previously followed may be too restrictive to currently support a healthy work-life balance.

Check In Early and Often

Your company may have a prearranged cycle to evaluate the performance of individual team members. But this is a time when the already old-fashioned annual review will start to show its age even more. And at a time of increasing uncertainty and growing global unemployment figures, your team is likely experiencing extra anxiety about their job security. As a result, they may be putting an unhealthy amount of pressure on themselves to perform.

So it’s especially important that, no matter what your formal review practices are, you take the opportunity to provide frequent feedback to your team. Let them know how they’re doing. Give them the space to share their concerns. Be generous in offering praise and support. And most importantly: don’t be afraid to let them know if this is a challenging time for you, too.

Break Down Barriers

Remote work can be socially isolating. Working remotely can make it difficult to maintain a neat separation between the ‘personal’ and ‘professional.’ And, as a leader, you can help to ease this burden by reducing or removing that expectation.

Leave some time at the beginning of video meetings for your team to talk about their lives outside of work, and be willing to share your own stories as well. These moments of candor can help reduce the social distance you’re all experiencing. And keep in mind that your team members are, in a very real sense, inviting colleagues, clients, and customers into their homes while on a video conference. You can remove any additional pressure this creates by letting your team know they don’t have to take extreme measures to hide the fact they are people as well as professionals.

Successful leaders of distributed teams know that leadership is about more than being a good manager — it’s about being a good human being.

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