Remote Leadership Manifesto 2022
Leading people is difficult by default. Leading them remotely is way more difficult. If you lead people, this manifesto is for you. How to be a better leader in the remote setup?
There are hundreds of tips solely focused on remote work. But what about leading? Leading people is difficult by default. Leading them remotely is way more difficult and I assume this is going to be one of the most demanded managerial skills in the near future. Although I've been leading different teams remotely since 2010, I still have a lot to learn. This is just a first kick-off, let's build it together.
It seemed just like a few months ago when January 2022 was supposed to be the next milestone. The milestone, where most of the companies would welcome people back to their offices. Unfortunately, the pandemic situation has delayed this milestone yet again. Even if we will be back to the offices within this quarter, companies are likely to retain both the hybrid work setup (the combination of in-office and remote work) or fully-remote mode, we can be sure that the remote work itself is certainly to stay. Along with leading remote teams.
If you lead people, this manifesto is for you. How to be a better leader in the remote setup?
Let me start with two assumptions. Firstly, your company (or the company that you work for) has a purpose that resonates with you. Secondly, you have a team of great people. Or at least you want to aspire to have. Your company is only as extraordinary as the people within it. And as a leader, you want to keep the team of great people as long as possible. So you are determined to achieve that. Why would you read this article otherwise?
People don't quit companies. They leave the leaders.
TLDR; here are the 7 rules of the Remote Leadership Manifesto that will help you to be a better remote leader.
- 🥂 Trust by default
- 🦺 Be visible
- 👂 Care personally
- 🙋 Create a safe space
- 📣 Communicate (goals) clearly
- 🗺 Lead with context. Not control.
- 🧘 Take care of yourself
🥂 1. Trust by default
A couple of weeks ago I came across a job listing for a global startup. The job description stated the following - Underpinning all of this is our 'trust by default'. Cool, I'm all in!
It is hard to imagine that you can work with your people well in the long term if you don't trust them enough. This has been true ever since. Yet, if it didn't work well before remote, it can hardly work in remote setup now. As you don't see your people regularly, you can slip into a feeling that you need total control over them. What makes trust these days even more important is that performance and results in remote setup go hand in hand with super smooth collaboration.🤝
Teams are increasingly being created by people from different departments (e.g. cross-functional teams, task forces for special projects) or distributed across different locations and time zones, etc. They often work together on projects without having previously met each other face-to-face. Let's assume we have two teams - one is built on trust, where people trust each other and the second one where trust is lacking.
People in a team with trust don't care about the (remote) distance within it. They operate quickly, problems are solved more effectively because they know they can rely on each other and don't need approval on everything.
People in a team where trust is lacking tend to control each other more, double-check if everything is going in the same direction and when a problem occurs, they need consensus or even a vote on the best option. That might mean an extra meeting or waiting on the leader's approval. Extra meeting in the remote setup means looking for an available time slot in the calendars and solutions are being delayed. I guess you understand which of these teams work faster, with bigger progress and achieve better results in the long-term.
Trust makes everything better. Increased speed. Better efficiency. And better results come with that hand in hand.
If you don't trust some of your people, change them. It will be healthy for both sides. The team doesn't want to be micromanaged and you want to be able to rely on your people 100%. If this doesn't resonate with you, don't read further.
🦺 2. Be visible
One of the magic of working in the office together is the face-to-face. The team sees you, you have all those tiny, informal interactions. Your people can approach you when needed. You see the atmosphere and feelings in your group. You see into your people's faces even before the meeting starts and everybody strikes a pose.
The trouble with the remote setup is that teams’ interactions have been often limited to virtual meetings only. Yet there are more of them than necessary (but this is a separate topic). All small talk is only a few minutes while we are waiting for all meeting participants to join. So you have no more than a couple of minutes for the wider discussion. All of the previous physical events are missing - common arrivals and departures from the meeting rooms, lunches, coffee talks in the kitchen or chats in the elevator. There is very little space to talk about how people are feeling today (really feeling), what they think about the meeting that has just ended or what are the family plans for the weekend. All of these several times per day interactions are missing.
Ensure you are easy to work with. Working remotely can be isolating. Be aware of your team’s needs and be proactive in helping teammates who are in need of some relief.
Create an open-door policy even remotely, host regular remote coffees / beers / desk game events, perhaps even very informal 1-to-1s, turn on your camera and chat spontaneously in addition to the scheduled meetings. Basically, just as if you’d come across a teammate in a lounge and chat for a while. Be there for your team even if you do not have a scheduled meeting.
👂 3. Care personally
Every member of your team can experience a different remote setup: one is isolated at home alone for the whole day, another one takes care of three children while trying to work. One si ready for feedback anytime via Slack messages, another feels better on scheduled videocall.
Your job as a leader is to create an environment for your teammates where they can do their best. Not only be in touch with them as much as possible (rule 2), but also be actively interested in them.🧐 In their feelings, mood, issues, joys and preferences.
- Approach each teammate individually… It is easier to understand your people if you trust them (rule 1), as it allows you to take more seriously what is it that they are saying and to understand what they are asking for to work better. No matter the distance, you will better read their work preferences.
- … while mixing it together perfectly. Most importantly, share these preferences with one another to let everybody know their setup, working hours, feedback preferences, etc. To find out who prefers what is only the first part, your job is then to build on it successfully with the team. What might help here are clearly defined goals (rule 5), transparent communication and enough team independence (rule 6).
🙋 4. Create a safe space
Does the ability to freely share opinions, receive and give negative feedback in front of one another and not being afraid of taking initiative and making a decision even if it might be wrong sound appealing? Do you want your team to work like this? Cool, then create the environment for that.
In sum - people tend to work better if they have a feeling of a safe space environment.
How to design it and what are the proper cues? Daniel Coyle in his book Culture Code recommends the following: eye contact, handshakes, jokes, high-fives or active listening. Well, fair enough but how to make a safe space in the remote setup? Few tips:
Embrace the feedback. Create a space where your people can give you feedback. Anytime. As I mentioned earlier, be visible! Use the tech. Don't hesitate to use Q&A for any kind of topic or meeting. If your team is not comfortable yet, you are likely to get only one question in the beginning. Nevermind, encourage the one who asked it. There are always a few guys in the team who take the initiative and ask for the others. Then the others will join too. Do not censor the questions. Encourage the team member who raised the tough question. Imagine how much that person was thinking about it before she dared to ask.
Overdo Thank-Yous. This might seem minor but you can kick it off by adding custom emoji 'Thank you' to Slack. Start to use it and inspire others.
Eliminate the bad apples. This might be a separate topic as well. Knowing the bad apples - people who are toxic in their behaviour, do back-stabbing or just don't want to perform well - is far more difficult to spot in the remote setup than in-person. However, if you create a safe space, the team itself will reveal it. It goes hand-in-hand with setting precise goals (rule 5), regular communication and zero tolerance to (repeated) weak performances.
Being own to yourself, not being afraid to make mistakes, speaking up and doing the job the best possible way - those are the elements of successful team culture and a benchmark on how that should be done.
The contrary means people won't speak up, they won't think of consequences, won't think outside the box if they fear to be blamed for their mistakes. The opposite of a safe space can significantly slow down companies in the long-term run.
📣 5. Communicate (goals) clearly
If this feels too easy, here come the goals!🚀 It's about getting work done and delivering the results at the end of the day. Setting the goals could be a separate article as well, let me just clarify the differences that are specific to the remote setup.
Communicate clearly. Let's assume that you have yearly or quarterly company goals and you break them down in your department. You align the goals with the team. No matter which framework you are using, make sure everybody fully understands what the goals are for that period. Be aware of the fact that not everybody is present at every meeting, somebody might have different working hours or you operate asynchronously. The office environment is missing - the situations where if you don't know anything, you just ask or catch up with the boss face-to-face. It is your responsibility to get everybody even remotely on the same page, set up clear expectations and eliminate the blank spaces. Blank spaces are filled with assumptions. And that's what you don't want.
Share the progress. There is a huge need for being aligned with everybody in terms of goals, especially in a remote setup. This helps teammates to better understand the context of their work (rule 6), mostly in case they are using the same resources (e.g. developers). Moreover, it's important to share the progress regularly, to know if you are on the right track, what are the blockers, what might be plan B. Again, communicate clearly. Find out what type of communication your team prefers (rule 3) and don't let anyone misinterpret the priorities. If things don't go as planned and you need to change the route and priorities, you might help yourself with vision while communicating "why are we changing the direction again". This is another thing that might help a remote team to better understand why changes are made, what the intention is and where it will (hopefully) get you.
Count the results & celebrate them. You know for sure at least one parent is working from home these days. Imagine how difficult it is for them and how great it might be if companies understood their setup and let them work as flexible as possible.
What really matters? If the work gets done.
So focus on (great) results while not on counting the working hours. This should be the rule in any setup however remote is the place where this approach really makes an impact. When work is done, the project is successfully delivered, don't forget to celebrate it and thank your people (rule 4). In the rush of video meetings, remote planning, changing the directions due to changing priorities - you can unintentionally forget. Celebrate it properly and make a little mental break before the next project begins is what your team deserves.
🗺 6. Lead with context. Not control.
Here is where the magic happens!🔥
Let me get back to the assumptions - you have a great team, you trust them and have set the goals clearly. If you want to keep moving forward quickly enough without getting yourself overbusy or having to oversight every little detail you need to give your people some freedom - for execution, decision making, autonomy. And to fuel this independent decision making process, your team needs enough context. It might seem like a classic managerial job - you need to create the best possible environment for your people.
Simply, provide your team with as much relevant context as possible - e.g. how are you on the track with your OKRs, how is the company doing, why are there blockers in other departments and what impact that has on your team, what are the latest market trends that could affect your team's project along with sharing your teammates' working hours and ways how to reach them if necessary.
Such information should be shared on the company level but it's usually far from perfect. If it is not shared, take the initiative - the solution could be to set up team meetings, standups, a team newsletter, a dedicated slack channel - whatever works for you. Just be aware not to overwhelm your team. Back to rule 2 - care personally and find out what works in your team.
Create a space where your people are up-to-date and they are able to make the best possible and even the fastest decision by themselves.
You already give them the trust (rule 1), create a safe space environment to allow them to make mistakes (rule 4) and you have set the goals (rule 5). By doing this, you will teach them to be more responsible, enable them to grow in the long run, they will feel more involved and you will have better chances to keep them as long as possible.
🧘 7. Take care of yourself
Last but not least. It's not easy. IT'S NOT. Year of quittin, Zoom-fatigue, ever changing environment, new priorities and look, the new 6 rules above you should follow as a smart leader of tomorrow's world. This seventh rule is meant for you.
We often hear the phrase "Work hard, play hard". However this era demands to add "rest well".
Find the sustainable balance between stress and make sure to rest because you personally want to be an excellent member of your team for a long time as well!
Learn to rest. Learn to disconnect. Create a space for yourself. Whatever works for you. The path to that is to experiment and really get to know yourself. Meditation works for some, whereas one prefers running in the mountains. Give yourself enough time to discover the "me time" activity.
And don't postpone it. Start now and do it regularly, put it into your calendar and be mindful while doing that. If you want to be the best possible leader for your team, you need your own mental space. Probably in every rule above there is a part where I talked about your ownership or initiative - "Create the space, create the environment, create...". If you want to make it happen, all in a positive mood, you need to feel well rested at most.😎
Easy as that? It's not! But that's not what was promised. However it is doable.💪 In the end there are just a few principles you need to adapt, adjust and they will help your team to operate much better. Not only in the remote setup.
Feedback is more than welcome! Let's build together the 2.0 version.