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5 Steps To An Inspired And Effective Remote Team

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I am sitting at my kitchen table, writing this post in the shadow of an 85 foot tall Redwood tree. From time to time I look outside for inspiration from the gravity-defying hummingbird collecting her nectar. Ah remote work, how I love thee.

A manager reading this might think that this is a recipe for disaster, that before long I may join the hummingbird outside and live vicariously through her efforts instead of fulfilling my own obligations. But my manager isn’t thinking that. He knows that I won’t drop the ball on this or any of my other myriad projects.

Yes remote work works, but not in a vacuum. Consistent communication is a crucial component for any high-functioning remote team. What else does it take to create a culture where employees get work done, remain accountable, and stay connected from far away?

1) Grant Trust

Remote teams thrive in a culture of trust and transparency. This is actually the basis for all team success, whether remote or in-person. Begin with hiring entrepreneurial-minded people you can trust and clearly explain what is expected of them. Hold the highest intentions that everyone on the team is committed to seeing the mission through. 

How can managers inspire their employees to remain human and to be more productive when they are connecting across time, space, and technology?

Despite your best efforts, it can be tempting for employees to keep issues bottled-up — especially if they work off-site and don’t regularly meet with management. In organizations where people are punished for taking risks, employees can be afraid of harsh criticism or even discipline. When leaders set the example by sharing candidly, everyone is inspired to be fully transparent about their failures as well as their triumphs. People need to trust that they are safe to seek help so that issues can be addressed and quickly resolved before they fester into full-blown problems.

2) Build a Culture of Accountability

There is an inherent freedom and happiness that comes from having the ability to work from anywhere. From shared workspaces to coffee shops, the flexible office is the new norm, but it is also a privilege. Maintaining this freedom relies on remaining accountable to other team members and to the company mission.

First, managers have to set clear expectations for employee performance. Next everyone must openly share their goals with the entire team. When measurable goals are clearly expressed and understood, employees can’t later claim that they were unaware of what was required. And when each person shares their updates with everyone else on the team, most people are driven by the desire to share more triumphs than failures.

3) Ask questions

Remote work done right can give employees the space they need to do their best. For one things, it can cut down on stress and frustration associated with a long pointless commute. But without consistent opportunities for face-time, regular communication becomes even more critical. Managers have to check-in weekly to see how employees are progressing and make course corrections if necessary.

Here’s a great question to ask via email or your favorite employee feedback platform: “How have you improved your remote working skills this month? Have you identified any challenges?” This lets you out the elephant in the room (or is he working from home too?) Remote work absolutely comes with its own set of skills; time management, prioritization, consolidation, collaboration and a whole slew of other “-ations”. Offer people an opportunity to suggest a new technology or a system that helped them stay organized and productive from a distance.

4) Re-humanize Interactions

How can managers inspire their employees to remain human and to be more productive when they are connecting across time, space, and technology? To be more human in these remote interactions means making space for an authentic emotional experience.

Work can be stressful and also fun. The gravity and weight of tough emotions and the levity of playful ones need room to breathe throughout our days. Witnessing another’s struggles and successes creates a more balanced and true-to-life experience for remote teams. People can see the beautiful and complex human being on the other side of each digital interaction, however far. In turn, creating genuine relationships is the key to sustainable employee engagement and motivation.

5) Encourage Self-Management

What of distraction and procrastination? What makes our work worth showing up for? Working on a remote team is an exercise in shared leadership and self-management. Simply put: Show up. Do your best. Get it done. Staying motivated to perform excellent work takes self-reflection and discipline, but it also takes strategic advice from people who have done it before.

Our team constantly reads and shares articles on productivity and performance. Books like The 4 Disciplines of Execution are now required reading. When employees are utilizing the same systems and advice to be more productive and efficient, they can offer each other support and maintain accountability.

Remote work is not a constant. I’ll be in the office tomorrow for my many meetings and collaborative projects. I feed off the fast-paced energy of countless entrepreneurs and knowledge workers at our shared office space. Later in the week I’ll be back at my kitchen table, taking advantage of the quiet and lack of interruptions to create some more captivating content. I like having the choice to work how, where, and when I will be most effective, on a team where we trust each other and support each other to get the job done.

Learn more about how companies are leveraging remote work today. See our 2016 survey results on Slideshare.

Image Credit: Paul Hudson