remote team expectations

by Chuck Chapman, Content Strategy Coordinator

Remote work is becoming more common, but it’s still fairly new for most organizations. If you’re a remote leader, chances are this is your first time leading a remote team, and many team members may also be experiencing their first job away from the office.

That means all of you are sailing in some uncharted waters. The good news is you’re not tied to a lot of “traditional” practices, so you can be more innovative. The bad news is you don’t have the benefit of a long history of “this is how we do things.” That can lead to uncertainty and discomfort among the team.

Expectations go both ways

The first thing you need to understand as a leader is expectation is a two-way street. Not only will you communicate to your team what’s expected of them, but you should solicit what they’re expecting of you. It’s probably more than just a paycheck every two weeks. When you find out what your team expects from you as a leader, you have the opportunity to meet those expectations, creating a more positive team culture.

How will we communicate?

There’s no popping in the boss’s office or stopping by Jane’s cube to deliver a message with a remote team. The first thing you need to establish are expectations around team communication. You’re going to want to have answers for these kinds of questions:

  • Am I expected to communicate my progress on assigned tasks? If so, how often?
  • Is there an expectation for responding to emails within a certain period of time?
  • Are we having any regular meetings as a team? If so, are those mandatory to attend? 

You’ll come up with many others when you ask your team for their input, but these are a good place to start.

How will you know what I’m doing?

One of the biggest issues for Long-Distance Leaders is measuring productivity. If you can’t see Joe working at his desk, how do you know he’s working? Well, first you’re going to have to get over the desire to control every moment for your team. That’s not optimal for a co-located team, and it’s just not possible with a remote team. Here are some questions to consider regarding your team’s productivity:

  • How will you be tracking productivity? What specific metrics will you be using?
  • What are the requirements for reporting time? 
  • What about time away? If a team member has to be away from his/her desk during “normal” work hours, should that be communicated? How and to whom?
  • On that note, are there expected common work hours? (This can be tricky for international teams.)

What expectations are there regarding teamwork and culture?

Don’t let this one slide just because it may be a little more “squishy” than the other expectations. If you don’t set up expectations for how your team interacts and building culture, you’re asking for trouble down the road.

It’s really easy for remote workers to get into a “silo” mentality because they’re physically removed from the rest of the team. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in this case. Encourage and model team communication.

One of the things Kevin Eikenberry encourages with our team is “small talk.” There’s a tendency with remote teams to “get down to business” and become very transactional with communication. Kevin intentionally sets up opportunities for team members to talk about last night’s big game or their kid’s violin recital before moving on to the “important” stuff.

If you’re in the formative stages with your remote team, or maybe if you’re playing catch-up because you started without setting these expectations, a great place to start is this course on creating and managing remote teams.

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