Maximizing communication for effective remote leadership

As technology continues to develop, the way we do our jobs evolves as well. We’re no longer in a society where you have to be in the corporate office — or any office for that matter — to do your work and do it well.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of U.S. employees worked from home either on a full-time or partial basis in 2015. Another study from Stanford University showed that employees that worked from home were actually more productive than those in the office.

I have been working remotely for 12 years, and I, too, find that I’m far more productive working from home than I am in the office, where I’m typically exposed to stressors or distractions.

However, working remotely is one thing. Leading remotely is an entirely different animal. I lead both remote and in-office teams, and the main challenge I’ve experienced is the lack in of in-person interactions you have with your team. To overcome this, a remote leader must take advantage of all other forms of communication.

Technology to leverage

From video chat and instant messaging, to smart phones and iWatches, communication with remote team members is easier than ever before — especially with the right software.

MavenLink is a project management platform that also tracks time and resource planning, which is extremely helpful when several teams are working on a project. Regardless of where a team member is located geographically, you’re able to see each person’s progress and where the project stands. This type of detailed overview is vital for a remote leader because she is accountable for her teams and must stay abreast of all projects in order to report to other company executives.

Skype for Business (formerly Microsoft Lync) is another application that makes managing remote teams substantially more efficient. Through Skype for Business, you can see who’s online and who’s not, as well as send instant messages, share computer screens or even share a project with the ability to have other staff members edit the project on the fly. Instant messaging is an especially efficient tool because it allows for impromptu calls or meetings and for questions to be answered quickly.

Best practices to follow

Once technology bridges the physical divide among teams, continued success stems from constant and thorough communication.

  • Have regular meetings. Most managers have the opportunity to read body language or facial expressions to determine if team members are understanding the task at hand, but remote leaders don’t always have this privilege. Regular weekly meetings are essential to ensuring that all parties understand the project and have the information they need to move forward. Using a videoconference service like Skype or Google Hangouts for these meetings, however, allows you to read body language to some extent. And to prevent mixed messages, it’s a good rule of thumb to discuss heavy projects one-on-one, instead of during a conference call. A brief 15-minute call each day can also be helpful for a remote leader to stay involved in the daily happenings of fast-paced teams so she is constantly aware of any wins or concerns that may have surfaced.
  • Build relationships. Building rapport with supporting team members is important for any manager, so it’s even more imperative for a remote leader in order to establish a level of trust and comfort with her staff. When a new member is added to your team, it’s a good idea to travel to meet him in person and spend a few days training him personally — and simply getting to know him. Taking time for team building activities or group lunches and dinners when you are on-site is invaluable for continuously building upon and strengthening those relationships with your staff.
  • Show appreciation. Remote supervisors should be especially on top of rewarding team members for a job well done. Remember that a personal touch goes a long way in making an employee feel appreciated. From sending flowers to a sick team member, to recognizing an employee for going above and beyond on a specific project, it’s essential to show appreciation to your team — even if it is from afar — because you, the department and the company certainly wouldn’t be where you are without them.

Michelle Martin is the senior vice president of professional services at Edgenet, a software-as-a-service company that provides industry-leading retailers, distributors, websites and suppliers with the ability to manage and improve their product content. Edgenet’s Product Content Cloud and m2o solutions help manufacturers, brands and retailers sell easier and sell more across all channels, anywhere, on any device, at any time.