How to Lead a Distributed Team Like a Boss

Being a leader, managing a team of diverse and talented employees… it’s far from easy.

Leadership comes with its own host of challenges, and one of the trickiest might be managing a team when no one is under the same roof. When your team is distributed geographically, it’s harder to communicate, collaborate, and generally bond as a team – so whether you’re a green leader or an experienced one, you can use all the advice you can get to help you effectively manage remote workers.

These five tips will help you fine-tune your leadership style to get your distributed team harmonizing like no other.

Hire the Right People

When it comes down to it, remote workers have to possess a few key characteristics in order to be successful. Working remotely is fundamentally different from working in a big office – the attributes you hire for should be different, too. Anytime you look to hire a new remote team member, keep an eye out for these important qualities:

Reliable

You have to be able to trust remote workers to get their projects done. That’s the crux of being a remote manager. You don’t have the time to virtually micromanage each team member, nor is that good leadership. The solution is having a team of employees who aren’t just good at what they do, but are accountable about getting it done.

Stellar Communication Skills

Effective communication is difficult enough in one office, so you’re probably accustomed to searching for strong communicators. Remote workers needs to have even more impressive communication skills, specifically written communication skills. They should be adept at communicating, via email, Slack, and videoconferencing, with both their manager and other team members.

Proactive

It’s harder to ‘check in’ on employees when you can’t simply walk by their desk. If a remote employee finishes a project, will she automatically find the next one? The last thing you need is a team of workers, sitting at desks across the globe, and waiting for you to notice and tell them what to do next.

Minimum Technical Savvy

To keep in touch, you’ll use a whole host of digital chat and videoconferencing solutions, not to mention project management, file-sharing, and collaboration tools. If a remote employee can’t figure them out, there’s no IT person on-site to help. While you probably can’t avoid technical difficulties altogether, look to hire employees who can manage the day-to-day tech without outside help.

Previous Remote Experience

If you’ve never worked from home before, take my word for it – remote work is a horse of a completely different color. The habits we fall into at the office are seldom effective at home, and remote employees have to responsible for hacking their own productivity. The value of working with someone who’s experienced at doing so can’t be overstated.

Enable Effective Communication

Nothing brings productivity to a screeching halt quite like communication problems. Team members need foolproof ways to communicate, both across the team and with you, the leader.

It’s your job to facilitate those strong communication skills you hired for, and that means three things:

Educate the Team

Take time as a team, and during onboarding, to educate employees about communicating effectively. If you’re experienced with remote communication, draw up your own how-to with wisdom you’ve picked up along the way. If you’re new to remote management, too, host a workshop or encourage employees to enroll in a course to help build their communication skills. Ensure they’re well-equipped to communicate and collaborate from behind a screen.

Set Expectations

If you expect team member to be online and accessible via Slack throughout the workday, make it clear. If you want employees to be able to unplug and delve into projects, note that you expect patience when awaiting a reply. Whatever your policy is, ensure every remote worker is well-versed and understands what’s expected of them.

Get the Right Tools

Remote communication doesn’t simply happen on its own. You need to employ the right mix of tools that allow your team to keep in touch without becoming a slave to notifications. At GoToMeeting, we primarily use Slack to keep quick conversations out of the inbox and, of course, GoToMeeting for face-to-face meetings and collaboration.

Create a Virtual ‘Open Door’ Policy

The ‘open door’ policy is in every management book on the shelf – great leaders are accessible to their team whenever and wherever they’re needed. Of course, leaving your office door open doesn’t mean much to employees who can’t see it, so be communicative and clear about your availability.

We’re not suggesting you plug into email at all times of the day and night – just ensure employees understand when they can reach you and how to do it.

Empower Your Team to Make Decisions

Building off of your accessibility, it’s also important to empower your team to work without you. The difference between a good leader and a great one is that a great leader can walk away, and the team still functions same.

Give them the freedom and responsibility to make the bulk of everyday decisions without your input. The less back and forth that’s needed, the more actual projects can get worked on. After all, you hired them for a reason, so trust them to make the right call.

Build Project Transparency Across the Team

Who’s taking the lead on the McFallon account? When will that press release be ready for distribution? Whose input will be needed to get this project rolling?

On any team, it’s confusing to keep track of who’s working on which projects and where they stand – it only gets harder as you go remote. Both you and your team need an effortless way to check in on projects, manage deadlines, and collaborate. At GoToMeeting, we use Trello to keep track of projects, who owns them, and where they stand.

Make Time for Face Time

video conferencing online communication

Even with awesome personalities and great communication, it can be hard to really build camaraderie over the airwaves. You have to be deliberate about making face time with teams that are distributed across state lines and even continents.

Online meetings instead of phone calls or text chats are a good start, but I’m not talking about Facetime the app. If it’s at all possible, make an effort to get the team together… in-person. The more often, the better, but even just a few times per year is a good start.

Meeting up in-person allows team members to get to know one another socially and bond on a level beyond just their work. Whether it’s an industry conference, a weekend retreat, or even just some time in an office together, real meetups are the secret sauce to distributed teams that really jive.

Lead Like a Boss

Leading a distributed team to success is a battle. It presents challenges that are completely unique from managing a team in the office – but following the tips above will enable you to become a better remote leader and grow an effective team that practically manages itself.


Do you manage a remote team already? Share what you’ve learned in the comments below.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s