I’ve noticed tons of articles going around on how to lead remote teams. Most seem to be based on theory rather than practice. With eight team members working from homes across the country, Catapult has been successfully running a remote team for more than 15 years. The good news is that it’s not too different from leading ‘normally’, it just takes more discipline and conscious effort. Here are three key insights we have learned based on our practical experience.
You can’t lead people the same way. Some people will be happy being left alone. They don’t want you randomly calling them up or emailing. Nor will they necessarily initiate contact. Others will want you to be in contact regularly – they need someone to spark ideas off or just to feel connected.
Discuss one on one how each person would like remote working to work for them. As the people leader, share what you need and want. In the absence of mutual understanding, they may feel neglected or micromanaged. Check-in after a week or two and find out how it is going – what’s working well, what’s proving tricky, and what needs to change.
The degree of management is also dependent on the person’s motivation and experience around the tasks they are working on. If they are working on something new to them or they are not particularly excited by it, let them know that you will be checking in with them more regularly than normal.
Bottom line: you have to work harder at communication. Information and ideas don’t get communicated organically as they do in a shared space.
As a team, we get together monthly for a day-long hui. The rest of the time contact is by working together on projects, email, phone, zoom, or WhatsApp.
Email is good for transactional communication such as the straightforward transmission of information or requests. Be disciplined. I’ve learned from feedback not to fire off emails throughout the day. Instead, put all the information or requests you have in one email and send it off at a time that works for the other person – not before 8.00am, not after 5pm, and not during weekends. Use your ‘schedule send’ function so it arrives at say 8.00am or 3.00pm.
If you need to explore ideas or create connection, pick up the phone or have a zoom or skype call.
Relate to yourself as a broker looking to connect people in the team who have information or expertise that might help: ‘I know Liz worked on something similar, let’s link you up’.
We use WhatsApp for more informal communication – for example sending photos of where people are working, ‘Hi from Bluff’, ‘Bula from Suva’ type things, sending a holiday picture, send good luck messages. It has proved really effective.
Communities help us make sense of who we are, where we fit in, and provide a sense of belonging. For many people, work is an important community, if not their most important community. Take it away and they can have a major sense of loss. When working remotely, the challenge, and opportunity, is to create community from more than a shared working space.
At Catapult, we relate to ourselves as a tribe bound by a shared sense of purpose, values, and ambition. Our purpose is to unleash brilliance in people, organisations and communities. Our ambition is to grow the performance and well being of all New Zealand by unleashing leadership capability and confidence. This is a glue that connects us more strongly than shared bricks and mortar.
In turbulent times, more than ever, your group’s purpose, vision, and values are hugely important. They are navigational touchstones that help unite people and provide guidance for your problem solving and decision-making.