In the last two years, organizations worldwide have permanently adopted WFH and hybrid work models. But do leadership and management teams have the right skills to lead their dispersed teams effectively? Companies are busy drafting policies on how to make remote and hybrid work a success. Meanwhile, managers across industries are navigating the space of remote leadership and upskilling themselves.

We sat down with Dr. Laura Hambley Lovett, a workplace psychologist and president/co-founder of Work EvOHlution, to get an in-depth understanding of what tools and skills high-performing managers need to lead highly-engaged, distributed teams.

Q: What are the challenges of managing a remote team?

The biggest challenges I’ve witnessed over the last decade when it comes to managing remote teams are: 

  1. Trust building: It’s difficult for managers to build and maintain trust within the team. Trust is harder to build and easier to damage from a distance.
  2. Potential risk of overwork and burnout: It’s up to HR leaders and managers to promote healthy company cultures with work-life balance and wellness at the core. It’s easier to burn out fast and fall into a pattern of working long hours and skipping breaks.
  3. Miscommunication when working remotely: It’s up to managers to tailor communication to their team’s needs and the individuals on it. The frequency of communication and the tools used to communicate are not one-size-fits-all. As remote managers, it’s key to practice versatile communication with your team members.

Q: What are the three most common communication mistakes managers make regarding remote work?

  1. Misunderstandings: One of the biggest mistakes managers make is expecting people to understand their messages as they intended them to be understood. A lot gets lost in translation. When working remotely, the “intent-impact” gap is so common. Managers need to be very clear every time they communicate to ensure mutual understanding. Avoid making assumptions.
  2. Meeting saturation: When working with dispersed teams, managers often make the mistake of spending too much time and energy in meetings. Before setting meetings, think through these essential criteria: a) is a meeting actually needed? b) who absolutely needs to attend? c) what’s the agenda, and can a manager send it 24 hours in advance? d) set clear deliverables during the meeting and share within 24 hours after the meeting has ended.
  3. Use the right communication channel: Managers must be intentional about which communication medium or tool they use for which purposes. At Work EvOHlution we call this concept “communication medium match.” Leaders of teams need to be mindful of when video communication is needed, when to use instant message vs. email, and when to use Slack or Teams. Too often, we get into habits and patterns that may be inefficient or not the best way to communicate or collaborate.

Q: What can companies do to support their managers when working remotely?

Remote management requires new skills and behaviors. It’s harder than leading when we’re all together in the same physical space. Companies who do this right will invest in developing their managers to become skilled remote leaders. Development is best as a combination of learning from experts and on the job. Companies can benefit greatly through assessments to understand a manager’s strengths and gaps when it comes to remote leadership and offer development initiatives as needed. The Distributed Leader Profiler is a key example of what can help many leaders and organizations globally.

Q: How can managers develop more trust in their remote teams, and what tools would you recommend for this?

First and foremost, developing trust requires getting to know your people. What are their lives like? What challenges do they face? What motivates them in their work? Too often, we don’t make time to focus on the human being and focus only on tasks and outputs.

Once that’s achieved, it’s important to honor commitments. If we can’t meet a deadline, communicate that! Don’t drop the ball, as that would literally break trust when everyone is working apart. We don’t have the luxury of running into the person and talking it out in real time.

Q: How can managers stay connected with their team and boost employee retention during this time of remote work?

Communicate regularly and in different ways. A quick “drive-by” or huddle to say hello is key.  Don’t just reach out when you need something. Like any relationship, we need to nurture it by checking in and caring about how the person is doing. One of the most important questions a manager can ask is, “how can I help support you?”

One winning tip from Dr. Laura

“Each week is a new opportunity to become a better leader. Ask yourself the one thing you can do to communicate better with each of your remote direct reports, then implement it and review how it went. Take time every Friday to look back and then plan ahead for next week. Leadership is built over time and through being aware and intentional.”

Dr. Laura is an organizational psychologist and the co-founder and President of Work EvOHlution, innovative assessment and development solutions for remote employees. Join her for her podcast that explores the best ways to integrate work and life and live a purposeful life. 

Shiran Yaroslavsky

From Shiran Yaroslavsky

Shiran Yaroslavsky is the VP Product US at HiBob. She is the former CEO and Co-founder of Cassiopeia (acquired by HiBob), a startup that helps managers lead teams effectively with data. Shiran is a thought leader in people analytics and remote team leadership. She was featured in 2019 in Forbes’ 30Under30 list in Israel.