Seven Tips for Successful Remote Leadership
Today’s leaders must navigate the shifting landscape of remote work. Massieh Hashimi shares his top tips for successful remote leadership.
Few business textbooks address the complexities of managing a team through a screen. Leaders in previous generations took it for granted that they could stop by an employee’s cubicle to deliver feedback or strike up a conversation in the breakroom. Today’s leaders, in contrast, must navigate the shifting landscape of remote work. Recent data indicates that 25 to 35 percent of U.S. employees are working from home, and even those with an office presence value the flexibility of hybrid work.
Massieh HashimiMassieh Hashimi, an online MBA student at Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business, has managed remote teams since 2018. As a project manager for PwC, a global network of firms delivering assurance, tax and consulting services for businesses, he oversees complex data warehouse projects that involve converting client data into financial data models to inform decision-making. On every project, he leads a global team of 15 to 50 developers, product managers, development leads, quality assurance analysts and other professionals in delivering a product from start to finish.
Below, he shares his top seven tips for success as a leader of remote teams.
1. Make the most of the onboarding process.
Effectively leading someone begins with creating a supportive environment from day one. Maximize the value of an employee’s first few weeks by meeting with them frequently, making yourself available to answer questions as often as possible and connecting them to other resources and people within your organization. While the primary aim of onboarding is to help a new employee acclimatize, it is also a useful opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on your company. Pay attention to the questions they ask and the concerns they raise, because they may point you to a better way to organize or accomplish something.
2. Model the culture you want employees to adopt.
Every company has a system of behaviors and values that shape the way its employees carry out their work. Employees will look to leaders to learn which words to use, which communication methods to favor, or even what to wear to a client meeting. At PwC, Massieh intentionally cultivates an internal culture that is casual and relational through group activities and informal conversations. At the same time, he emphasizes the importance of relating to clients in a professional way, staying on top of deadlines and maintaining high standards of accountability.
3. Look for opportunities to relate to someone as a human being.
One of the greatest lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic was the importance of seeing team members as people with complex lives and heavy responsibilities outside the office. In the absence of coffee breaks, impromptu copy room meetings and hallways conversations, Massieh has redoubled his efforts to relate to team members on a human level through Zoom calls, phone calls and messages. Sometimes the entry point to a personal conversation is as simple as noticing a unique Zoom background and asking about it. Other times, mentioning his own kids or hobbies invites a team member to do the same. After an initial connection has been forged, asking something as simple as, “What are some of the challenges you are facing right now?” and responding with empathy can make all the difference. Effective leadership requires trust, and trust requires authentic connection.
4. Master the art of delivering effective feedback.
When leading a team of several dozen people, Massieh finds himself giving frequent feedback to make a project run as smoothly as possible. One of the things he has taken away from his MBA classes is the importance of being able to “manage up” versus “manage down.” With people in positions above him, he respectfully spells out exactly what the team needs from that person to succeed, emphasizing the value of timely decision making in making deadlines. With people in positions below him, he leads by coaching whenever there is a performance issue. Rather than start a call by telling a team member how they can improve, he frames the issue as a problem they can work to solve together.
5. Compromise for the sake of the whole.
Every day, Massieh leads a stand-up meeting in which team members spend 15 minutes sharing what they accomplished yesterday, what they are working on today and what bottlenecks they are experiencing. This type of recurring meeting happens at different times to accommodate employees across time zones. While Massieh is based in Orange County, California, he has co-workers from India and the U.K. on his calls. Sometimes, they rearrange their schedule for a 5 am meeting, and sometimes he does the same. From his perspective, the respect demonstrated by striking a compromise is worth the inconvenience of meeting at odd hours.
6. Schedule regular team-building exercises.
Even when they live thousands of miles apart, team members want to feel like part of something bigger than themselves. To help create a more cohesive group, Massieh plans biweekly team-building exercises. Over Zoom, he and his colleagues plan themed happy hours that give them an opportunity to talk about an upcoming vacation or a sports team they are coaching. In some sessions, they play interactive games to learn fun facts about their colleagues. While they enjoy these activities, there is still no replacement for in-person interaction, Massieh points out. At least once a month, his company flies team members across the country to interact in person.
7. Stay active offline.
No leader is at their best when they are experiencing Zoom fatigue. For Massieh, keeping a full, active life outside of work is vital to recharging for a day behind a screen. When he is not spending time with his wife and three children, he manages a small real estate business and carves out intentional downtime. His key to staying sane is scheduling one hour a day to go to the gym, take a long walk in nature or read a book.
Whether they lead all-remote or hybrid teams, business leaders are finding that success hinges on adapting old ways of managing to a changing reality. The learning curve can be steep, but it is well worth the struggle to build unified, energized teams that drive their companies forward.
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