One of the key themes that leaders have highlighted they want to explore in more detail is how to lead remote teams. Today I hosted a leadership discussion on this theme, with senior leaders from several global organisations joining to share and discuss, along with our special guest, Craig Darroch, Head of Senior Leadership Development at Shell. 

The overwhelming sense from the conversation is that working remotely is creating opportunities to build strong, productive teams, and that leaders have more to gain than to lose if we grasp these opportunities. We’re getting to know people better as we (virtually) enter their homes and, often accidentally, engage with family members and family pets.  On a recent early morning Teams call, one of the participant’s flat-mates wandered into shot in boxers and vest, still half-asleep, on the way to make breakfast. It was definitely a glimpse into personal life – one that didn’t perturb anyone and yet a few months ago might have seemed more than a little strange. Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to share the humanity that is so often hidden behind the professional front that we bring to the office. Connecting at this human level enables us to build stronger relationships. 

But what about some of the top tips? 

As a leader of remote teams for some 20 years, Craig captured his three top tips as being: Time, Technology and Trust.

Using these three headings (with Craig’s permission 😊), let’s consider how we can lead remote teams.

Time: Leaders need to purposefully and consciously take time to engage with the people they lead. This engagement must be both one-to-one and in teams.  It can be easy to naturally gravitate towards the people who are working next to you, so the conscious element here is making sure that you engage with those who are working remotely as much as those who are working next to you. As an example of this, Craig explained that he and his colleagues, when based in the same office pre-Covid 19, engaged using separate computers during team meetings, rather than having ‘the office team’ all together in one room, while others joined the meeting from their separate locations.  This kind of conscious consideration is important to create a level playing field. 

Technology: Technology creates so much opportunity to engage and collaborate, both in formal and informal ways. Key advice here was to use the camera – leaders can’t afford the luxury of vanity when it comes to effective team leadership! Asking the team how they want to use technology rather than giving this as a directive has proved fruitful for Craig, with people sharing the many creative ways they engage with friends and family. I know in my own family, for example, WhatsApp enables in-the-moment connection – sometimes, in fact, even more than I might want to have…

In today’s discussion, the immediacy of technology such as WhatsApp was seen as bringing a solution for one of the challenges that leaders have raised – how do we replace ‘watercooler chats’?  And using interactive, free tools such as Mentimeter enables just as much interaction and collaboration during meetings with remote teams as working face-to-face.

Trust: Trust is essential. This particularly goes for trusting that people are doing what they’re meant to be doing. Indeed, today the discussion veered towards the need for leaders to ensure that people weren’t doing too much work rather than making sure they were doing enough. The former is far more likely than the latter. And, when it comes to trust, the attributes and behaviours of good leadership hold true, whether you are working in one location or spread across many. Asking for input from the team, solving problems together and being transparent and authentic as a leader are all ways to build trust.

This final point about the same elements of good leadership being just as relevant when leading remotely as when leading insitu is the one I will end with today. People are people, whether sitting in the office next to you or working in their home in the same town, or in a location on the opposite side of the world. As leaders, we must have the confidence that our skills will still bring positive results rather than getting caught up in the barriers that remote working brings, especially as many of these barriers are perception rather than reality.

How to Lead Remote Teams – top tips from today’s leadership discussion