Leadership Strategies for Mobile Teams

ITA Group
ITA Group

woman leading team meeting on web conference app

Today’s managers need to know how to manage team members in mobile environments, steering them in the right direction and maximizing productivity when being in the same office is not a reality.

We have a few tips and tactics you can do today to show your team members you support them, while ensuring wellbeing and productivity.

Empower Decision-Making

On a remote team, it’s crucial that team members can make decisions when they’re working by themselves most of the time. Making a choice and communicating it clearly is an important skill on a remote team where hesitation can slow down projects as you work across multiple time zones.

If your team leans on you to make decisions for them, a simple (probably obvious) way to help build their confidence is to let them know you trust their judgement. Routinely let your team members know that you have faith in their abilities. Instill confidence that they’re capable of making key decisions and driving projects forward without your input (i.e. “I trust your opinion, let’s go with whatever you feel is best”).

Empowering everyone to lead on a remote team builds a foundation of autonomy that will help everyone move more quickly towards important goals.

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Let go of any control issues you might have and show your team you trust them. This might be the biggest challenge in leading a remote team, especially if you started out as a co-located team.

Help With Prioritization

Given the dramatic changes going on both in the outside world and within your organization, you need to provide vision and direction on the current priorities. Ideally, you’ll want to meet with each team member one-on-one to discuss how you want each person to direct their focus. If that’s not possible, at least have a team meeting to discuss what you see as the top priorities and what you believe can wait for now.

Also, your team members may only have the mental capacity to juggle a certain number of projects, given all the changes. If you can narrow down the focus to two or three main initiatives, it will help your teams move forward and reduce the chance of becoming overwhelmed.

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Have a daily check-in to set the agenda as well as provide the feedback and resources your team members need.

Understand Their Workload

A team where people are overworked and undervalued cannot function at full capacity. High-quality work won’t be produced when people feel stressed or burned out. Additionally, people won’t invest their efforts into a company that doesn't show appreciation for them.

This is particularly important if you’re working with people spread out across the country. On a remote team, people often have a hard time “shutting off” (leaving room if they’re feeling burnout coming on).

As a manager, it’s up to you to ensure that your team members feel appropriately challenged, deeply respected and sufficiently supported.

Being aware of your team member’s workload shouldn’t be too hard, right? After all, you assign them work or approve the projects they propose. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

You may not even be aware of things that have been assigned to your team members. If another manager or team members asks them something to do, they may be hesitant to say “no,” even when they’re overworked and opt not to tell you about it.

Additionally, while your report might have a few larger tasks they’re working on, it’s likely that you assign them small tasks here and there that they quickly say “yes” too. Unfortunately, these tasks can add up over time and compete with the more prominent tasks on their plate.

Fortunately, this can be mitigated through ongoing communication and updates, letting team members know they can say, “no” if they’re already swamped and just asking fellow managers to check with you before assigning work to your team members.

These practices will give you greater insights into your team’s workload and help you adjust their responsibilities if they’re at risk of remote worker burnout.

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When assigning tasks, be sure to clearly state what your expectations are in terms of timelines and specifics. Additionally, encourage your team members to sit down at the beginning of each workday and review all of the tasks they need to complete.

Avoid Micromanagement

Micromanagement can be a natural impulse on a remote team. It’s good to know what everyone is working on, collecting status updates and scheduling recurring calls. But when you go beyond your established processes and try to gather more and more info, constantly checking in and influencing the work of your team members, that’s when you’ve entered micromanagement territory.

This is a guaranteed way to create stress and erode trust on your team.

A  Harvard Business Review article on micromanagement says this on the subject:

“For the sake of your team, you need to stop,” says Muriel Maignan Wilkins, coauthor of Own the Room and managing partner of Paravis Partners, an executive coaching and leadership development firm. “Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust—and it limits your team’s capacity to grow,” she says. It also hampers your ability to focus on what’s really important, adds Karen Dillon, author of the HBR Guide to Office Politics. “If your mind is filled with the micro-level details of a number of jobs, there’s no room for big picture thoughts,” she says. As hard as it may be to change your ways, the “challenge is one that will pay off in the long run,” says Jennifer Chatman, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “There may be a few failures as your team learns to step up, but ultimately they will perform much, much better with greater accountability and less interference.”

Treating your team like adults will improve how your team functions and prevent people feeling discouraged.

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Give your team the support they need to solve problems themselves without taking over every decision and little detail.

Lead With Trust & Positivity

Given the massive amount of uncertainty with the coronavirus and ensuing panic, all of your employees will be more on-edge than usual. Some will feel anxious about what’s happening or may happen in the future. Others will feel angry.

Outside of your role as a leader, you can, and should, feel whatever you need to feel. But in your role as a leader, you will best serve your team by being a voice of reason and calm. The more you can show up from a place of empathy, respect, understanding and peace, the more those under your leadership will have the ability to calm themselves and to do their work.

Additionally, be intentional about providing areas of responsibility for your remote team members to reinforce autonomy and strengthen trust. Someone may be less engaged when they feel like a cog in a large machine, particularly when they’re physically detached from others working from home. However, when they’ve been entrusted with a real area of growth and opportunity, they’ll often step solidly into their role and act like a true owner.

Trust begets trust; if you praise someone for being reliable, they’ll always try to maintain this standard. If you ignore it, they may feel it’s acceptable and won’t bother improving. More importantly, this attitude can spread throughout the rest of your team and create an environment marked by a lack of reliability.

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Work extra hard to communicate in a level manner, emphasize verbal support and encouragement, and if at all possible, avoid criticism. Your workers won’t be at 100% during this time, but by being a source of stability, you maximize the productivity that your employees are able to have in this situation.

Encourage Balance & Self-Care

Remote work can often blur the line between your personal life and work, especially if you work from home. Your home office may be a few steps from your bedroom or you might even work from your dining room table.

With so much outside of our control, one thing within our control is how we take care of ourselves. As a remote manager, you can help create and encourage balance on your team to ensure members of your team are happy, healthy and capable of high quality work. You can do this in a number of ways:

  • Set an example. As a manager, lead the effort for balance. Don’t send work messages after hours or on weekends or holidays. Share your hobbies and interests and set the standard of what balance looks like. Don’t fake an image of balance yet work for hours in secret.
  • Encourage your team to use their PTO. Encourage your team to take vacations whenever they need to in order to avoid burnout and stay refreshed.
  • Call out and curb unbalanced behavior. If a team member is starting work-related conversations on the weekend, privately tell them to desist. Explain that this can lead to feeling overworked in the long-run and also encourages other teammates to do the same, thus creating an “always-on” work culture.
  • Institute mental health days. Despite raised awareness of mental health issues, they remain stigmatized in the workplace. Talk openly about mental health at your company and allow for “mental health days” that are separate from or fall under sick days. These should be no-questions-asked days that a team member can take when they need too.

Never let unhealthy behavior fester and create an unhealthy workplace. While your team’s output is important, it should never be at the expense of physical or mental health. Create an environment where your team can thrive both professionally and personally.

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Encourage those working with you to take time to sleep, to exercise and to generally engage in whatever other activities calm and rejuvenate their heart, mind, body and spirit. You team members need to know to have times when they’re on and off the clock—even as they’re working from home.

Engagement and motivation go hand-in-hand. As your look to lead your team to the future, explore even more actionable tips related to autonomy, belonging, competition and other motivators in our ebook, 50+ Ways to Motivate Your Employees for Measurable Results.

50+ Ways to Motivate Your Employees for Measurable Results