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5 Keys to Leading a Productive Remote Team Without Micromanaging

remote worker working productively

Over the past month, large numbers of organizations have rapidly transitioned to remote work. Predictions about future shifts to telecommuting became true seemingly overnight, forcing us all to adapt. 

In the resulting scramble, organizations were suddenly burdened with answering a number of pressing questions. Would team members have access to necessary tools and adequately fast internet? How would employees balance family and home commitments? How do teams ensure everyone stays healthy and engaged? 

For leaders this boiled down to one essential question: How do I ensure my team is able to comfortably get work done while staying at home?  

Following the transition, managers scrambled to ensure their reports were set up for continued productivity while remote. Bloomberg reported a surge in panicked purchases of ‘spy software’ to keep tabs on remote employee activities.  While implementing ‘Big Brother’ levels of micromanaging may be a tempting shortcut to productivity, it is not replacement for an authentic culture of accountability and transparency that keeps team members focused on key tasks without feeling smothered. As remote teams adapt to their own changing situations, the right tools for productivity will be those that focus on results, while providing team members the flexibility to execute within their evolving remote environments. 

Let’s dive into 5 ways teams can use technology while working remote to maintain focus and productivity without sacrificing the autonomy and privacy rights of their employees. 

1. Recognize Team Accomplishments

Keeping team members focused on the work that moves the business forward while remote means finding ways to celebrate wins and recognize accomplishments in new ways. Replacing quarterly celebrations of achievements may not be front of mind, but creating a culture of gratitude will be more critical than ever for maintaining team productivity and engagement.  

Tracking achievements in a central location where managers and teammates can offer kudos and recognition goes a long way toward recreating the collegial encouragement we get from the office. At Align, we use a Team Accomplishment Feed in Slack that posts updates when progress is made on Priorities or updates are made to Critical Numbers in the Align system. The team can all see where progress is being made and offer encouragement in real-time. While we can no longer play music through the office to celebrate closed sales, remote team members can still share in the feeling of accomplishment when the team moves forward on major initiatives.

slack team accomplishments feed

Slack Feed of Align Team Accomplishments

2. Transparently Track Goals

Goals that are neither clearly laid out nor centrally tracked are unlikely to be accomplished in any organization, especially a remote one. The typical in-office strategy sharing that leaders do may be difficult to recreate while remote. Luckily, tools exist to keep organizations focused on the right goals through transparent tracking. Instead of attempting to closely monitor the every action of remote team members, organizations can structure work around transparent tracking of the business’s most important outcomes. 

Measuring and tracking goals in a central location can improve execution by 2X over time. Transparent goal tracking works because team members perform better when they understand how their contributions move the broader organization forward. While micromanaging tasks fosters resentment and moves focus to appeasing managers, effectively managed goals boost team performance by emphasizing the collective impact of individual actions. 

3. Communicating News and Progress Updates Consistently

Communication may be the most critical skill for leaders of remote teams. The ad-hoc communication of information in the office must be replaced with consistent opportunities for information transfer and honest expectation setting by leadership. As situations evolve while moving into a post-COVID world, leaders must prioritize communicating accurate, up-to date information across their organization to maintain engagement and productivity.

At Align we continue to huddle daily as a collective team and even temporarily held twice daily check-ins to ensure team wellness and project completion as we moved to remote work during a time of rapid change. The frequency of communication depends on how quickly information is changing and can be tailored to conditions. Yet consistent check-ins remain critical for team member productivity and well-being remains critical while adjusting to the emerging “new normal”.

4. Share Short, Medium, and Long Term Plans

As your business adapts to changing market conditions, sharing the most realistic plans for the future as they emerge is critical for morale and engagement. At Align most of the companies we work with have deemphasized annual plans to focus on what needs to be done in the next 30, 60, and 90 days to keep the business moving forward during the COVID disruption. In the most rapidly changing industries, even just setting monthly goals for new initiatives helps structure and prioritize the work team members are doing while remote. 

Keeping plans transparent builds trust within the team and provides the flexibility to update plans in response to emerging trends without losing organizational alignment. During this time of fear and uncertainty, transparent communication of plans by leadership establishes trust and reduces stress on team members. 

5. Set a Daily Focus Everyday

By now, we’ve all heard the advice of setting a daily routine with meditation, exercise, and set working hours. Especially for those with young children or other responsibilities at home, days are rarely so predictable. Staying focused on important tasks amidst the chaos of homeschooling and house management requires clear expectation setting. Setting a Top Priority each and every day, shared publicly with the team, creates focus and accountability on completing the most important task regardless of what (hopefully) metaphorical fires may crop up during the remote work day. Setting a top priority means fully committing to the most critical item on the to-do list. Without monitoring every movement of team members, the Top Priority creates purpose every day and holds the entire team accountable for completing the work most critical to business success.  

Align’s Top Priority Calendar

A Happy Team is a Productive Team

For most businesses, employees are the most essential resource. Their knowledge and efforts keep the wheels turning. The emotional toll of the COVID disruption and worries about the safety and well-being of loved ones is a new burden we all carry into our regular professional roles. With the turn to remote work, finding an escape from the chaos and stress of home at the office is no longer an option. 

Employees must be given freedom to complete priorities on a schedule that fits their individual needs. Micromanaging in response to virtual work only restricts the autonomy employees have and reduces the levels of trust in organization. Only with transparency and honest communication will employees find ways to stay productive while ensuring the mental and physical well-being of themselves and their families. 

While the current crisis has placed strain on individuals and companies, emergining into the ‘new normal’ post-COVID will present numerous opportunities for growth and success. Teams with the culture and tools for productivity while remote will be the first to respond to emerging trends and threats and the best positioned to thrive moving forward. 

For more information on how a culture of transparent goal planning can power execution in your business, download our complete guide to goal setting and tracking!

Download our Goals Ebook