The next step: How to lead a team remotely

Leading a team from home can be tough. Here are some tips I wish I knew about when I managed a distributed team

A lot has been said about working from home in the past few months, from setting up your home office to using the right tools. But when it comes to leading from home, it’s a whole different story. I used to manage a distributed team way back when it wasn’t called distributed work and to be honest, it was tough. Managing people you barely see in person can be tricky. Recently, more companies have announced that they are extending their work from home policy. So I looked to the experts to learn what it takes to lead remotely.

Andreas Klinger is an entrepreneur from Austria now based in San Francisco. He worked for Product Hunt as their CTO and more recently started advising remote teams and even investing in them. Here’s what he has to say about managing teams remotely: 

  • “Because meetings are expensive for you, you need to think about systemizing processes actively. 
  • Because you cannot watch over your employees’ shoulders, you have to find ways and boundaries so you can fully trust them. 
  • Because you cannot micromanage them, you need to define strategy and goals and treat them as competent adults who make decisions for you.”

According to Klinger, a remote working environment needs a lot more structure and meetings to enforce communication. As being innovative is tough, in-person meetings are advised, even if it’s only every few months. In regards to the special circumstances of the pandemic Klinger says: “Create confidence and focus by going the extra mile.” 

In my experience of leading a distributed team I found managing people and communication more challenging than getting the team to do the actual work. Google recently announced that they are keeping employees at home at least for the next year and in their Distributed Work Playbook, they dig deeper into remote leadership. Similar to Andreas Klinger, Google recommends to make an extra effort to reach out to team members and connect with them on a more personal level. The company further tells their managers to set team visions and norms: 

  • Meetings should be scheduled with due regard of all the time zones people are joining from
  • Use one on one meetings to discuss how team members can be heard, supported and included

Some of these recommendations might seem like no-brainers, but leading remotely takes preparation and more effort than in-office leadership. For me personally, I definitely underestimated the aspect of connecting with your team on a more personal level. What are your experiences with leading a team remotely?