Leading remote teams virtually: 7 expert tips

Many employees began working from home when the crisis broke out. For many companies, it is time to plan the return to the office. Other companies, however, give their employees the freedom to continue working from home or to choose a hybrid model. According to a Capterra study, only 9 % of all surveyed employees want to return to work every day when the crisis is over.
Remote working is a long-term trend that will not disappear in the near future. The attractiveness as an employer is also increased if remote or hybrid working models are offered in the company. So it is even more important than ever for project and HR managers to work on their digital leadership skills.
Alphabet tokens which form the words WORK FROM HOME. [1]

Expert tips for leading remote teams successfully

Trust over micromanagement

A common problem in managing remote teams is that managers tend to micromanage their team - often for fear of losing the full picture. With micromanagement, the project manager or supervisor wants to be informed about every small change in the project. Staff cannot act freely, but have to get approval for everything. Employees lose a lot of time due to status reports, unnecessary coordination and a lot of communication. Micromanagement is a killer of motivation and counteracts productivity.
Mario Neumann explains that "the Covid-phase creates a new dimension that must first have an effect on project managers. After all, the current generation of project managers has grown up on control: Developing project plans and controlling them via key performance indicators (KPIs) was standard for them for many years. Trusting that the employees will work of their own accord with high quality and not lose sight of time and costs was not common."

Our experts do not believe in employee monitoring when working from home

Some managers are looking for new ways to keep their remote employees' daily work under control. One solution is so-called employee monitoring software. With this software, employers can track and monitor in detail what their employees are doing. For example, Slack conversations or emails could be read or the employees' internet history could be checked. Monitoring employees in this way contradicts the German work culture. Nevertheless, employee monitoring is happening - even more since the crisis.
The experts are unanimous on the subject; they do not believe in employee monitoring while they are working from home. According to Christian Lechner, "employee monitoring makes no sense either when working from home or in the office. Demanding reports on the work process or on attendance permanently stifles any creativity and innovation. In the end, it's the delivered result that counts." Holger Zimmermann adds that "control destroys everything that defines good cooperation. Especially with knowledge work in projects, control is an illusion anyway. Good contributions to projects often come from activities that don't correspond to classic work, such as mowing the lawn."
Companies can use other tools to help their employees organise and increase productivity. Time tracking systems, for example, are suitable here. These can be used to measure the time spent on tasks and optimise processes. Furthermore, collaboration tools can support teamwork. 

What qualities characterise a good digital leader?

Stefan Scheller advises managers who also want to lead teams digitally (or even more demanding: hybrid) that they must admit to themselves that they may not yet have mastered this from the inside out. "Only this openness creates an incentive to learn. After all, as so often described, leadership is also a craft - and can be learned accordingly."
Mario Neumann says that "leaders are increasingly required to act as catalysts and inspirers. However, the biggest change is: give up control, keep leadership." He explains which guidelines have to be observed:
  • "It is no longer about collecting, guarding and passing on information, but managers must be able to bring together the knowledge of experts working in a distributed way.
  • A strong employee orientation is a must - without continuous, differentiated feedback, employee management is no longer possible. Employees who are moving up want to be managed differently than their older colleagues.
  • The "mother hen model", according to which employees constantly crowd around the boss like chicks around a hen, works less and less. Diversity of work formats is in demand and will continue to increase strongly."

Which project management methods are suitable for the virtual management of remote teams?

The opinions of our experts are divided on this point. Many of them clearly state that the method depends on the project and the team and that a one-size-fits-all answer is inappropriate. "The use of project management methods does not depend on the company in which they are used, but on the project that is to be managed," explains Mario Neumann. According to Holger Zimmermann, "the choice of method is irrelevant because it is a question of personal attitude. However, the most important method is relationship work." Christian Botta adds, "If the question is about agile or traditional: It has nothing to do with remote."
Some of the specialists, on the other hand, are in favour of agile project management methods. "Agile methods were already superior in the classic environment. During the pandemic, it became apparent that they also dominate the remote environment," explains Boris Gloger.
In an agile environment, teams write their task blocks on a virtual task board and thus have transparent insight at any time into what should be done and which tasks are in progress. Online whiteboard tools allow all team members to work simultaneously, make annotations and communicate with each other. The results can be flexibly saved, exported and further processed, and people outside the company can also gain uncomplicated access. Ideally, the whiteboard tools can also be integrated into existing team communication software, project management software and document management systems so that it is possible to switch seamlessly between work steps.

Checklist: Tips for virtually leading remote teams

These seven expert tips summarise the most important points:
  • Trust, trust, trust: Trust is the be-all and end-all for any successful cooperation. Mistrust quickly has a negative impact on cooperation.
  • Avoid micromanagement: The sooner leaders get away from trying to manage everything in detail, the better. Create communication structures and then let each employee do his or her job without constantly intervening.
  • Employee monitoring when working from home is not useful: empowering employees to be mindful and to practice healthy self-care helps much more than monitoring tools.
  • Also organise informal meetings on a regular basis: Having lunch together sitting in front of the computer or having your morning coffee helps create a sense of cohesion within the team.
  • Involve employees as well: Ask your staff how they envisage working together and let team members organise meetings as well.
  • Visual project management methods help when working from home: With virtual task boards and online whiteboard tools, team members have transparent insight into tasks and can work and communicate with each other at the same time.
  • The right project management method is found through trial and error and reflection: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of the right project management method; it always depends on the project that is to be managed. 
Click here to read the original article in in German language.
Author: Ines Bahr is a Senior Content Analyst at Capterra, the independent search and comparison platform for enterprise software. The company provides verified user reviews and independent test reports in over 800 software categories and helps more than three million buyers find the right software every month.

Key words: Working from home, virtual teams, project management

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