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Managing Long Distance Teams – Tailored Leadership In Current Times

If we feel we are in the era of 9-5 working, phew! We are not. If you ask my personal opinion, by 2030 the majority of our workforce would be freelancers. You call it Remote; you call it Virtual; you call it Tele; you call it long-distance – that’s the future of work. And when old habits and work customs die or change, so does the market and its needs, so whether it’s marketing, It’s Human Resources, It’s Customer Relations, its leadership, anything, and everything needs to cater to the needs of the workforce likewise.

Flexibility becomes omnipresent.

If someone asks me today what kind of leader I want to be? My one and only answer would be- “A Good Long-Distance Leader” (Would have sounded funny two years back, but now is a reality). So, here you are- you don’t encounter people face to face every day, but rather a few times a week through technology tools and apps. We are all by now accustomed to the new WFH life, we all already know how to navigate the transition, what tools to use, what kind of structure will lead to success – answers to all these questions have been discovered and are clear by now in two years of pandemic following us. This brings us to focus on understanding how to be a Good Long-Distance Leader and How to manage long distance teams.

My research and observations conclude the below seven mantras for being a Good Long-distance leader and managing long distance teams:

1. Charting Precisely Outlined Expectations

Take a scenario, when you are working with your teams in the same location, it is easy to glide into a colleague’s office to keep a check, give feedback, seek clarification, ask questions, brainstorm, etc. But while working from a distance those slides aren’t possible. That is why charting out precise and crystal – clear expectations in terms of deadlines, deliverables and milestones becomes inevitable.

Also, not on what but how? How they want these milestones to be achieved becomes prime important. Setting the right expectations on the how? For instance – should they send a team message, what digital tools to be used for communication, how to signal team members when someone is on a break, how frequently to check in with coworkers? How to demonstrate one’s availability and unavailability at a given time? More the clarity received from a leader; the smoother will be working in a remote environment.

2. Platform for Social Dialogues

“Let’s catch up with other colleagues in the corridor” is just not possible with the long distant teams, a leader to think about how we can create that in-person feel even while being away. For instance, to plan a morning tea/coffee together where everyone can turn on cameras and have a little chit chat over a cup of coffee/tea. Or may have lunch together at-least once in a week with a goal to laugh, chit-chat and not to work. Also, employees can be invited to a testing/dry run event of a new workflow/ system being implemented, virtual business reviews and engagement activities can also have a space. Remember that providing people with platforms to socialize is important and will make work easier, less stressful and will also help you build a professional network.

3. Split “Work” from “Home”

It is likely while working from home, one’s work and home both suffer due to a merger that is unimagined earlier. It is very important to facilitate teams in keeping Work and Home separate. A Leader must guide the team not to have a living area couch or their comfortable bed as a workplace but to make sure having a space that has a door that helps in creating an office-like atmosphere and a mental space to focus. It is important to encourage people to have a routine like they had while working from the office and also sharing with teams what routine best works for them. Make sure that teams have a stop-time, they don’t merge their work with personal lives and keep their workstation on 24*7, it’s important that they turn off their laptop/work system.

4. Balanced Communication while saying No to Micro-management

Sometimes, if you feel you are over communicating while working with long distant teams, it means you are communicating the right amount, ask teams to follow the same. Few Important tips for leaders would be to have frequent 1:1 meeting to understand actions, plans, challenges, priorities, and seeking feedback for self. Also, it is important to see you are not micromanaging and constantly asking for deadlines and updates, which could lead to low morale in distant teams. Give people larger goals and let me figure out how they achieve.

5. Say Bye to Old School Thoughts

As a leader don’t stay with a thought if you can’t see someone, you don’t know if they are working or not? The most important aspect in managing a long-distance team is “TRUST.” Show enough trust on your teams. Show them explicitly and express how you believe they take responsibility for their tasks and goals. “Walking around and managing” is called baby-sitting and not managing.

6. Give Mental Health the importance it deserves

As a leader the need is to understand remote work is not just lounge pants and rainbows, some major challenges of long-distance teams are feelings of insecurity, loneliness, isolation, despair, and disconnectedness. Some tips managers can follow are – “assume remote”- even if a single person from a team is working remotely, the meetings should be conducted remotely from your desk. Make sure you share all the context digitally to one at a long distance. Leave no stone unturned to make sure the long-distance team member feels valued, make meetings arrangements considering their time-zones and make sure they feel inclusive.

Sometimes in a few scenarios, one may also feel people playing blame games, such dynamics if left unaddressed may make it difficult to work for individuals, make sure as a leader you intervene at the
right time.

7. A long term plan

If this working pattern is to stay (which most likely it is), it is the right time to lay a strong foundation, set right ethics, appreciate right behaviors, accelerate right patterns, and decelerate unlikely habits and behaviors. Set a psychological safe long-distance workplace, make sure to see everyone’s identity is visible, roles are clearly defined, unstoppable collaborative teams are created that add value.

The current scenario in our world is unusual, the lack of regularity and structure has resulted in a heap of emotions for everyone. As a leader, one must make sure that teams and coworkers are doing well professionally and, to some extent, personally in terms of their physical, mental, and emotional health.
Long Distant Teams should not feel long distant, in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world make sure you make teams hyper connected.

It’s your time to roll the dice.

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