This is a guest post by David Deacon, author and HR expert. 

In your new leadership role, are you responsible for leading remote employees? Most leaders have at least one partial or full-time remote employee or freelancer who reports to them. It’s not easy. With employees working remotely or on flex schedules, it can be tough to create the kind of connection you need to help people do their best work. You can’t pick up on non-verbal cues. You can’t tell if they’re having a good or bad day. You can’t have those quick, informal interactions needed to form comfortable, cooperative relationships.

This is why you must be intentional about projecting to your remote workers the kind of environment and team culture you want. When distance is a factor, you must push even harder to build a positive culture and get the most out of your team. Follow this advice:

  • Keep in touch. Connect with employees by email, Skype, or phone conversations. This shouldn’t be an occasional event either; make it a regular and predictable conversation that you look forward to.
  • Focus on more than tasks. Show that you worry about everyone’s successes and challenges. It’s not only about the project or job at hand.
  • Talk about personal stuff and professional stuff. Don’t treat remote staff like distant relatives. Even talk about yourself a little. Also take time to discuss and share information about what’s going on at work. Managing well is personal; don’t forget that just because your team member isn’t in the room with you.
  • Listen more carefully. Communication at a distance can be more difficult than face-to-face communication. Make sure you listen extra hard. Be more attentive, more alert for signs and clues, and more conscious of the need to understand what is really going on with remote staff.
  • Be very clear about what you need done. Establish the goals employees need to achieve and what standards they need to meet, and convey them in no uncertain terms. It’s harder to course correct along the way when employees are remote. Less time together requires more clarity up front.
  • Ask more; assume less. Ask questions about context, about things that get in the way, and about resources. Make fewer assumptions that you know how things are or what would be best for the team or a project.
  • Coach more. Do so not because remote employees need more coaching than other team members, but because there is a ton of value in exploring alternatives and options, and that’s what coaching is. As a result, a large part of the conversation should be you and the remote worker together coming up with great solutions and talking about priorities, resources, opportunities, possible pitfalls and choices.

To steer clear of these mistakes, grab a post-it and write out the following checklist. Refer to it before you connect with remote employees. When you’ve covered all five of these items, you’ll know you’ve had a really good call with them.

  • Inquire more, much more
  • Get really clear about goals and standards
  • Explore options together
  • Share—personal and professional
  • Support well by assuming less

If you want more information on how to be an exceptional remote leader, check out all the amazing resources at the Remote Leadership Institute website. You’ll find information-filled resources like these:

And much more!

About the Author: David Deacon is the author of The Self-Determined Manager: A Manifesto for Exceptional People Managers. He has been a human resources professional for over thirty years and passionate about how managers manage for almost as long. He has worked for a variety of the world’s leading companies, including Credit Suisse and MasterCard, and has lived and worked in the US, the UK, and Asia. A thought leader in the fields of learning and development, talent management, and leadership development, Deacon has influenced leaders and teams around the world and created better-managed companies as a result. Recognized by the Best Practice Institute as a “Best Organizational Practitioner” in 2014, he continues to drive impact through leading world-class talent management approaches in the companies where he works.


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