The recipe you need to be a successful remote team leader.

With the spread of COVID-19 and the advent of shelter-in-place orders, many workplaces are shifting to completely remote work. If you’re in charge of a team making this shift to remote work, reshaping your approach to leadership will be a crucial element of your team’s success moving forward. Remote work is not business-as-usual but at home; it is fundamentally different and requires a unique approach.

What You Can Do: Setting Your Remote Teams Up For Success

Give Them What They Need

If you aren’t accustomed to remote work, you may not have considered how the desks, chairs, speakers, and other typical office features affect your ability to work. The fact is that something as simple as the comfort of your office chair can drastically change the quality and quantity of the work that you produce.

Teams working remotely may not have access to normal office amenities that, while easy to take for granted, have a huge impact on productivity and well-being. The challenges that arise from lack of equipment, such as the need to arrange furniture differently during work and non-work hours, are a waste of your team members’ time and can be demoralizing.

Ask your employees what furniture and hardware they are missing at home to work effectively during their time away from the office, then provide it for them. Here’s a good rule-of-thumb: if it would be absurd not to provide it in an office, then your team should have it at home, too. Purchasing furniture or equipment may be tricky right now due to business closures, but online retailers like Amazon are still shipping (just be sure your employees disinfect anything shipped to them).

Cultivate Empathy & Compassion

Empathy in the workplace is crucial for motivation and productivity and can be even more important when your teams are working remotely. When you aren’t seeing your team every day, it can be easy for them to hide personal struggles or frustrations.

Make it a point to check in on your team members. Set aside time during meetings to see how they are doing and ask how you can better support them. Ask how their family members are doing. Check on their emotional and personal well-being, not just on their work.

Host virtual social events, like happy hours or game nights. Connection can be more elusive online, so setting aside time for your team to relax or have fun together is more important than ever. These sorts of social events can have a big impact on your remote team’s morale and capacity for effective teamwork.

Redefine Taking a Break

Breaks are a crucial part of the workday, whether they’re being used for meeting basic needs like eating or just to let the mind rest and start fresh. They prevent exhaustion and nurture creativity and problem-solving. Your office may have clearly-defined expectations for frequency, duration, and use of breaks or they may be implied rather than spoken. Either way, break guidelines practiced in the office should look different than break expectations for remote workers.

Give your employees more frequent breaks. Remote workers often end up chained to their desks, as most or all of their responsibilities require the use of their computers. It is also important to consider that remote workers often face more distractions, particularly those with families facing school closures. 

Redefine what a break looks like for your team. How long are breaks? How will breaks be spent? How will you mix scheduled breaks and discretionary breaks? Find out from your team how their needs as remote workers differ from their needs as office workers.

Trust Your Team

One of the hardest things about being a leader can be letting go of control.

It is normal to want to check in on the progress of your employees towards a specific project or goal. In a typical office setting, this isn’t necessarily a problem; in fact, it can often be helpful for keeping your team moving in the right direction. Innocuous check-ins can nip problems in the bud before too much time is wasted making progress that will have to be thrown out. Continuously checking in on your remote team members, however, can be cumbersome and even invasive. Taking a quick look at your team’s work from the office may require your employees to tilt their screen towards you for a few seconds, while checking in on your remote employees may require them to export projects unfinished, wait on uploads to shared drives, and sit around twiddling their thumbs until your feedback comes through. In other words, frequent check-ins can actually lead to unproductiveness.

You, the leader, will need to remember that you won’t be able to see progress in real-time anymore. Aggressively trust your team. Set them up for success and then have faith in their process. When your team members can feel that you trust them, they will have more confidence in their abilities and ideas. This will lead to better work. 

Embrace a Facilitation Mindset

Don’t just throw old behaviors online. Trying to shoe-horn a system built for an in-office work environment onto a remote team–with an entirely different set of processes and challenges–will only end in both you and your team feeling frustrated.

Think of yourself as a facilitator rather than a boss.

Foster cooperation between your team members and encourage them to trust in their own ideas and abilities to strengthen their independence and boost the quality and efficiency of their remote work.

Meeting Mantra posters

At Voltage Control, one of our tried-and-true meeting mantras is: “do the work in the meeting.” Use meetings to flush out or explore ideas, not to monologue. Making speeches or wasting time on personal anecdotes is one of the best ways to kill productivity–in fact, the CIA once recommended these habits as a tool for sabotage.

As always, debrief for durability at the end of each remote meeting. Recap key points and make sure everyone knows what they will be responsible for completing after the meeting is over. This is an especially key behavior for managing remote teams, as your interaction with team members will be less frequent. Meetings may be longer or busier than normal, making it easy for team members to miss assigned tasks.

What They Can Do: Best Practices For Remote Team Members

What you teach members to do for themselves to enhance their experience working remotely is just as important as how you manage your team. Here are some best practices you can ask your remote team to follow.

Use Video

Zoom meeting.

It’s best to see the faces of the people you’re working with; it builds connection, boosts communication, and breeds comradery. If your remote team members aren’t immediately enthused by the idea of turning on video for every meeting, they can use virtual backgrounds or Snap Camera to make the experience more fun. If they want a live video tool that’s a little more powerful, OBS is a great open-source option, but it can be a little confusing if you’re new to it. I recommend checking out our guide to OBS if you aren’t a pro yet.

Dress for Success

Not leaving the house may be an extremely tempting incentive to spend the whole day in pajamas, but the way we dress influences our state of mind. Dressing up for work (remote or not) builds confidence and maintains focus. Encourage your employees to dress as if they were going to the office, even if they’ll be spending the day alone in their house.

Set Aside a Designated Work Space

You will likely feel sleepy if you lay in your bed and a little too relaxed if you sit on the couch to work. Being in a home-office will likely make you feel motivated. Your team members should not sit at their kitchen table and expect to feel focused. Having a designated workspace is crucial to productively work from home. Not everyone has a spare bedroom in their house that they can overhaul into a permanent home office; suggest moving a desk into a corner of the living room or temporarily sacrificing the breakfast duties of a kitchen table.

Set Up Team Huddles

One option for teams that enjoy working alongside each other is to run a group call in the background during the workday. If someone has a question that doesn’t feel worthy of an entire email or just wants to have a quick chat, all they have to do is speak up. To further simulate the feeling of being together, the team can listen to a shared radio station such as JBQX.

Embrace Asynchronous Communication

Outside of scheduled team huddles, giving updates or asking questions will be slowed by remote work. This does not have to be a bad thing. We are lucky to live in a day and age that offers an entire catalog of virtual programs and services to make communication and virtual collaboration more effective than ever. Encourage your team to view their options for asynchronous communication as opportunities for enhancing their teamwork rather than hindering it.

Looking for a Virtual Meeting Facilitator? We Can Help. 

Voltage Control facilitates remote design thinking workshops, innovation sessions, and Design Sprints. Please reach out at for a consultation.