Sometimes what you resist the most is where your true genius lies.
In my 15-year Marketing career, I resisted leading teams for a full decade. I was intimidated by the idea of being in charge of multiple people.
That was until 5 years ago, when I became the Head of Marketing for a London-based recruitment company. During this time I also co-founded Neqtr, a socially conscious dating app, with a friend in San Diego. Suddenly, I had to learn not only how to manage two teams, but to build them from the ground up, both in an office setting and remotely.
Helping build these two companies side by side fast-tracked me not just on the road to leadership, but in learning how to motivate and engage high-performing teams across as many as 13 time zones. Whether you’re adjusting to being newly-remote due to the pandemic, or intentionally growing a remote team for your business, here’s what I have found the most helpful on my journey to leadership.
Much like typing in an address into Google Maps before you set your car to drive, your team needs to know what direction you’re heading in so they can collectively help you steer.
Remote teams need to believe in your mission. They have to feel aligned with what you're doing and that comes down to you as a leader.
Make sure each member of your team knows the part they play and be sure to remind them often of how important they are. You want to pick people for your company that, when they talk about you, they say 'we'.
"Oh, something we should totally do is..." or "I've found a way for us to..." are things I cannot get enough of hearing.
I hire for attitude and alignment first, because you cannot pay people enough to care about your mission. It's also not enough to hire people that are great at certain skills - they need to share your passion and work ethic.
As well as finding passionate people, the other key to leading successful remote teams is that they need to be proactive in their problem solving.
When you're not sitting next to them, or even in the same time zone, they can't default to asking you how to solve something first. Your team members need to be excited about challenges and not easily flustered. Ideally, by the time you're online, they have either found a solution, or only ask for your input one they have explored all of their options.
To find these people, ask open-ended psychographic questions in the interview process so you can get a feel for their passion, attitude and work ethic. A great one is: "Tell me about a time when you didn't know how to solve a problem, and how did you end up solving it?"
Slack is great for project-related conversations because you can group them together based on topic. You can create as many or few threads as you like, and not everyone needs to be a part of every channel.
For Neqtr, we had channels for interns, for founders, for developers... this way you can keep certain topics or projects on a need-to-know basis, avoiding the dreaded 'reply all'. You will never want to use email again!
Loom is also a great video messaging tool that uses audio and screen recordings as a way to show someone what you’re working on or explain a process. Not everything will warrant a Zoom call, and especially when you’re working in different timezones, sometimes it’s easier to record a quick Loom video, rather than trying to line up 5 people’s schedules for a Zoom call.
It’s important to check in with your team members often. You don’t want to just rely on email, Slack or text to communicate with everyone, and especially in a remote setting, having that ‘face-to-face’ time over Zoom is important for establishing connections.
Not everyone on the team will feel comfortable bringing any issues to the table in a public setting, whether that’s on a group call or a Slack channel. This is especially crucial when navigating through more sensitive conversations, whether it’s something to do with their personal lives or performance at work.
Make sure you schedule regular time one-on-one with each of your team. Keep a recurring date in the calendar - it doesn’t matter if you have to miss some weeks or move it around sometimes. But I guarantee that regular facetime will make your team members feel listened to and keep them engaged.
Just because you’re not all based in the same office, doesn’t mean that you can’t keep it fun! As well as weekly team meetings, make sure you schedule in fun activities like you would in a real life office. Have a Zoom happy hour on a Friday, or a team WhatsApp for chatting about non-work things, or even a Slack channel that’s just for dropping memes to make each other laugh!
Creating that team bond is important, especially in a remote environment, because it keeps everyone connected and better able to lean on each other for support. But it’s important to know when you, as a leader, to step back when needed. It’s not possible for you (or anyone) to be around 24/7, so let your team bond and motivate each other when needed.
These are my top-level insights on how I've found success in leading a team remotely. If you’re hungry for more, you can listen to me on the TyePod, where I dive even deeper and share real examples from my career, including how to navigate having those “difficult” conversations!