How leaders can best support their remote teams

For leaders, performing at a high level while working from home starts with educating, inspiring, and igniting positive action for their remote teams. During uncertain times, teams increasingly look to their leaders for calm, clarity and connection. And no matter how effective you were as a leader in the past, yesterday's playbook is inadequate in today's context.
Written by Vala Afshar, Contributing Writer

Colin Luther Powell is a US statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army.  During his military career, General Powell also served as National Security Advisor, as Commander of the US Army Forces Command and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them." -- General Colin Powell

Are you feeling overwhelmed with more problems than solutions? More questions than answers? More opportunities than bandwidth? You're not alone.
During uncertain times, teams increasingly look to their leaders for calm, clarity and connection. And no matter how effective you were as a leader in the past, yesterday's playbook is inadequate in today's context. "What leaders need during a crisis is not a predefined response plan," according to a recent McKinsey study, "but behaviors and mindsets that will prevent them from overreacting to yesterday's developments and help them look ahead."
How do you enable a thriving remote workforce in uncertain times? How do you tune down the noise and tune in to deeper connections with your employees?


Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force.

Karen Mangia, vice president of customer and market insights and a member of the Salesforce's Work From Home Task Force, and I have co-authored several articles on how you can reach your full potential and deliver peak performance while working from home. The path towards achieving high-performance work at home starts with how you design and architect your surroundings, followed by how you practice and refine the art and science of public speaking and presentation skills. The next most important success factor for work is how you manage your time -- pause, ponder and prioritize your time. Now as a manager, the awesome privilege of managing a remote team requires a new playbook and mindset that can guide your team's collective ability to reach their full potential. Here are seven steps that you can use to effectively manage your remote teams: 

1. Reset your mindset: "I'll never forget the time when I was invited to think through the Salesforce plan to enable over 50,000 employees to work from home simultaneously for the first time in our company's history. What would happen when employees could no longer gather at the coffee bar or socialize in the kitchen? What about managers who had never managed remote employees? Or employees who had never worked for remote managers?" said Mangia. It took a near breakdown (imagining everything that might go wrong) to get to a breakthrough for Mangia: Work is a thing you do, not a place you go. And that mindset helped Mangia release how she thought of work in the past, in favor of what work had to become now.

2. Mind the clock: "Be conscious of other time zones," advises Jim Blum, Head of Global Sales Operations at Hitachi Vantara. "Schedule 1:1's with your employees during their normal hours of business. Give your employees every opportunity to show up at their best by inviting them to meet when they're most alert and focused. You'll demonstrate more investment in your team and have more fruitful conversations as a result."

"Restore connection' is not just for devices, it is for people too. If we cannot disconnect, we cannot lead." -- Arianna Huffington

3. Get more curious: Asking the same questions often yields the same answers. Refresh weekly 1:1's with employees to include questions about what matters most now. Instead of extending the tired dialog, "How are you?" followed by, "Fine," ask questions that point you toward where your team needs your help and your focus. (Examples include: "What are you finding challenging right now?", "What do you spend most of your time thinking about these days?", "What are you most excited about?", "Are you clear about what success looks like today and the rest of this week?", "What am I missing that's top of mind for the team right now?", and "Do you see another way forward?".)

4. Do not confuse no news with good news: "Location, location, location is what real estate professionals say are the three most important characteristics in the value of property. For managing remote workers, it's also three things -- communication, communication, communication," explains Diane Rupert, executive coach and talent development expert. "A trap that many leaders of remote workers can fall into is thinking that no news is good news. If managers don't hear from their remote employees, then everything must be going well. That is not the case. What I have discovered from some of my clients who are among the best leaders is that they:

  • Understand the unique needs of each of their direct reports.
  • Check-in on a frequent basis – both about work progress as well as how things are going for their people in general.
  • Measure and acknowledge progress as well as completion of tasks and projects.

5. Start with stories: "One of my favorite ways to start a team meeting is by asking each person to share one meaningful item in their home office," shares Rick Gyan, VP of Customer Success at Salesforce. "We've learned so much about each other that's brought us closer together as a result."

"A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be."  -- Rosalynn Carter

6. Make room for quiet people. "Use collaborative documents to capture questions during team meetings as a tool to ensure all voices are heard," recommends Leon Markham, VP of Competitive Intelligence at Salesforce. "Designate a meeting moderator to pose those questions to the presenter so it's not just the most vocal people who get heard."


Leon Markham, VP of Competitive Intelligence at Salesforce.

7. Practice fearless teaming. Developing a "fearless team" means creating an open, collaborative and transparent environment where team members feel psychologically safe to take risks without fear of consequence and behave authentically," explains Kristyn Levine, VP of Customer Success at Salesforce.  She continues, "Fearless team members: Feel Safe to authentically express their unique ideas even when remote; Trust and develop deep relationships that drive results; Collaborate to solve issues and drive new business; Courageously innovate in a safe environment without personal criticism; and Perform and drive world-class customer experience."

Here are five rules for working from home from Harvard Business School, shared by the World Economic Forum

  1. if you're managing others, focus on outcomes rather than activity
  2. Accept productivity might suffer in the short term
  3. Take time to empathize
  4. Get used to working at different times to your co-workers
  5. Blow off steam -- try virtual coffee breaks

"Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." -- Brené Brown

Most of all, do not force it. Instead of presenting perfection, acknowledge perfectly imperfect moments. Kids screaming. Dogs barking. Doors slamming. Even if those disruptions are coming from your own home office. Presenting yourself as authentic and real invites your team to do the same.

What are you discovering as you work from home? We welcome your insights here or by joining us on Twitter at @karenmangia and @ValaAfshar.

This article was co-authored by Karen Mangia, vice president, customer and market insights, at Salesforce

Karen engages customers globally to discover new ways of creating success and growth together. From Executive Advisory Boards to strategic consulting engagements, her insights are central to Go-to-Market strategy, product development, marketing, and branding. In addition, Karen influences industry thought leadership in her role as Chair of the Customer Experience Council for The Conference Board. Formerly responsible for Insight Innovation at Cisco Systems, she led a global team with oversight into Customer Satisfaction and Experience, Diversity Business Practices, and Global Offset and Countertrade. Karen is also the author of Success With Less and a TEDx speaker.

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