Giorgia Li Vigni: team Leadership da remoto: 7 tecniche efficaci per guidare il tuo team a distanza

Remote team leadership: 7 effective techniques to guide your team

Smart working, remote work, home working. However we decline it and beyond all its different meanings, remote work has been the most disruptive variable of the last two years from a professional point of view. We do not know if it will stay and for how long. I am a big supporter for reasons that I have explained in this post on LinkedIn.

It is indisputable that we have all been faced with something radically different that has raised concerns about performance and work-life balance, but also benefits and positive transformations.

Data is significant: according to the latest LinkedIn “Future of work 2021” (Italia), more than one in 2 Italians favourably consider the possibilities of remote work or hybrid work (alternation between the office and smart working). In detail:

  • 47% say they prefer a hybrid model
  • 30% prefer to work full-time on-site
  • 23% would like to work full-time from home

The research also shows that women (52.9%) are more inclined (52.9%) than men (41.9%) to the hybrid model of work.

However, according to Hubspot’s 2020 Remote Work Report, most respondents say they need more support from managers and better technologies to do their work remotely.

Particularly:

  • Time management: 55% of respondents believe that constant online presence is expected to show that you are working
  • Meeting: 43% have more difficulty attending meetings when the team is 100% remote
  • Technology: 40% reported that to improve their performance they need more suitable technologies and tools
  • Management: Another 40% say they feel a lack of support from managers

Change the perspective on leadership

One of the constant elements that I have seen during the past years 2020-2021 is what is leadership in online mode. How has it changed? What was the impact of remote work on the team management style? What are the obstacles? How to overcome them?

To tackle the subject, the point of view of team members comes to our aid.

Also according to Hubspot, there are 7 major challenges that teams have faced in the presence of a leader with remote management difficulties:

  • Lack of communication
  • More difficult collaboration
  • Sectoral communication
  • “Hidden” information
  • Poor technology (or too many tools to do simple tasks)
  • Fewer career opportunities (and more room for more aggressive techniques)
  • Reduced moments of share with colleagues

Based on direct experience, I have collected 7 tips to make remote team leadership effective and sustainable.

1. Clear Goals and Well-Formed Expectations

Your existence as a leader does not speak for itself, let alone online!

So don’t expect the team to know what you want. Before 2020, you would probably have crossed your collaborators on the corridor and quickly communicated to them what you needed and then formalized it with setting KPIs via specific tools. It doesn’t work like that anymore. Now that the space is reduced, you need to give them more guidance than you would in the office.

As far as goal setting is concerned, one could imagine that setting KPIs for certain areas, such as those in creative roles, is more difficult in remote mode. Compared to other roles, when it comes to creativity there may not always be a direct link between goal and generated leads at a time when the workflow appears to be more rarefied. But by identifying specific campaign objectives, it is possible to ensure that everyone involved in the project has a solid sense of purpose. The use of good technology to support the team can make a difference.

The reference to the mission is crucial: fostering a mentality that considers the point of view of the team will improve general communication and bond the team.

2. Explicit even when it seems self-explanatory

Less is more. True, as long as that “less” is clear. The speed at which online communication goes, the success of instant messaging, the expressive power of an emoticon could make you think that in remote working you can save time on how to communicate.

The opposite is true.

The essentiality of online communication forces good leaders to explain self-explanatory messages even when that seems to be redundant.

For example, the smiley 😊. What do I mean by that? Am I satisfied? Is the result mediocre but I don’t dare to tell you? Or am I too busy to answer you at that moment but I expect you to get on with the work? In all cases, the other person can be confused or induced to think something different from what I originally meant.

To fight against these risks, whether it is to set goals or ask for an update, communicate abundantly and explicitly about what you need to be done and what you expect from your team.

Instead of the smiley, for example, you could say: “Thank you, message received. At first sight everything seems okay but give me half a day and I’ll send you more in-depth feedback. In the meantime, go ahead with the rest of the business”. Yes, it took me longer to formulate the answer, but the result can make a difference.

That also applies to communication in online meetings (here are some tips on effective communication).

Instead of vaguely agreeing on activities, you can use a collaboration or project management tool (see point 6) to collect actions to be taken and set deadlines. For each task, provide as much information as possible and state the specific results you hope to achieve.

At first, it will take longer, but once it becomes a routine you will save a lot of problems!

3. Focus on the output, not on the time spent to achieve it

Here is the real difference between working from the office and remote working!

They say that those who go home last are considered the best workers. But is it so? Well, if there is one positive thing about the Covid19 post-earthquake, it is this: it has proven that to achieve the best, you don’t need long and devastating office hours. You need the chance to choose where to work from, when and how. Purpose and motivation are required. If someone in your team needs to pick up their kids in the middle of the day, that won’t negatively affect their job. They will organize their time differently to achieve the best outcome. And you will have to support them. How?

Schedule key shared moments with your team within the week or, if necessary, the working day. Those will be the fixed appointments around which to organize the activity. All the rest of the time is the responsibility of the individual team members, not of the leader.

Remember that time is a means, not a goal. Although it is important to set time indicators (for example the organization of meetings, deadlines and appointments with customers), what makes work effective is the sense of belonging and a shared mission. If those elements are there, there is no need for the leader. The boat can go by itself. Rather than how long a colleague has been connected on Slack or Teams, the success indicator is the quality of the contribution he/she has given.

After all, a good leader doesn’t need to know what time the team member logged in this morning or how long he stayed at his desk tonight. If that is not the case, then there is a leadership problem that will not be solved by returning to the office.

4. Give constructive feedback

That is an important topic: how to give and receive feedback. One entirely dedicated blog wouldn’t be enough to address all the variables and dynamics that come into play when you want to express an opinion on the work done. (Together with my colleague Ornella Di Martino we have a series of in-depth studies on the subject in the pipeline. Stay tuned!).

Here I want to reiterate that giving feedback to a collaborator is an art to be learned and trained: the quality of the work and the relationship that will influence the activity depends on it.

In remote work, the matter becomes even more complicated. When meeting someone in person, body language can help communicate kindly despite the content being critical. Opposite to that, in online mode, the communication can appear colder or even improvised. Choose the words carefully, avoid phrases such as “You are always late”. Instead, limit your opinion to facts and make it free of judgment. For example, the sentence “I noticed that in the last month you have often delivered late” will contribute to improving the quality of the relationship and the work.

As we said before, the smart working mode requires you to shift the focus on the outcomes rather than on the amount of time spent. We must ask ourselves new questions in the face of unfulfilled goals: what factors could have caused the failure? For remote teams, there might be obstacles different from those we had in the office: is it a problem of the organization? Is it technology? Is it leadership? Do the team need my help? Change the way you think about feedback. Use these occasions to ask the right questions and find out how you can help your colleagues by giving them tips that can be implemented right away.

Finally, due to the possibility that a colleague could be working in an environment shared with family members or strangers, you should not express judgments about the person to make a bad impression.

5. Create a laboratory of ideas

We have all experienced an unpleasant work environment at some point in our careers. One of the most frequent factors of dissatisfaction is the lack of space to grow and be heard. Whatever the sector in which you operate, creativity and communication are the basis of a healthy and effective workplace.

That is especially true for remote teams. Communication is faster and more fragmented, stimuli are stronger and distractions are more insidious. Video call meetings often create situations where some voices are not heard.

Through your role as a remote leader, you can instead create spaces for communication. They can be free meetings or actual workshops dedicated to innovation and suggestions. If video calls aren’t working for some, you can use remote collaborative brainstorming tools (I use Miro, I recommend it).

Dedicating time to innovation may not be your thing. It’s time to change your mind. Take specific time for your team to focus on the possibilities of transformation. Rethink how you approach change and the unexpected. The results will be visible.

6. Inspire people, don’t guide them!

The real difficulty posed by remote work is that it has mercilessly highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the leaders. If you are unsure of your familiarity with technology, your team will be confused about its true capabilities. That does not mean that we must all become digital experts but that we can finally be what a leader is supposed to do: provide the vision and the motivation, inspire the team to face challenges, find new ideas and listen.

If you have the right tools in your pocket, you will find time to push your team beyond the effects of the earthquake and produce their best work.

7. Take advantage of technology.

To an experienced corporate audience, it may seem obvious to recommend the use of specific project management software. However, small and medium-sized businesses (and sometimes even large companies) are not familiar with these tools yet.

The irreversible trend towards Cloud technology and Industry 4.0 has led to the affirmation of “SaaS” (Software as a Service) collaborative tools that have saved the activity of hundreds of companies in 2020.

I will mention some that I use with my customers, all with excellent performance albeit different in terms of purpose and sector of use:

But be careful: using technology to the advantage of the expected results means exploiting its potential to the maximum, that is, making people collaborate. I’ve seen leaders who invest in technology materially but don’t change their mindset consistently. Indeed, the multiplication of digital tools generates confusion and dispersion and, ultimately, the opposite of the desired effect. In reality, no software will produce results miraculously. There is only one way to reap the benefits: investing in people.

How to do it? Read these tips from 1 to 6 again!😊

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