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Setting Crucial Expectations for Remote Work

Wi-Fi makes location irrelevant. No matter how much the distance between you and your remote team, setting expectations provides the road map you need to achieve your goals. Clear, mutual expectations enable you to establish milestones and celebrate progress; delegate more easily and hold people accountable; and engage high achievers looking for a challenge.

We’ve learned that remote work works. Now that the box is open, it’s here to stay. Research shows that 43 percent of Americans would prefer to work remotely after the current crisis is over and 99 percent would like the flexibility to work remotely some of the time ( Leaders need to adjust their thinking and approaches in order to retain their people and make remote a success. The first crucial step, setting clear expectations, ensures everyone is on the same page and enabled to work.

It’s not just eliminating commutes and personal flexibility that make working from anywhere (WFA) popular with employees. People still want everything they’ve always wanted from their employer in terms of inspiration, support, opportunity, career development, feedback, and recognition. And, equally important, they don’t want to lose the most rewarding aspect of working together: meaningful relationships and connectedness. Putting all of this together is on the shoulders of leaders. But how do you transition from being an effective leader in the office to an equally effective remote leader?

Everything the most successful remote leaders do is grounded in two overarching practices: (1) After personal reflection on their leadership perspectives, they collaborate with their teams to define specific expectations and make a realistic assessment of resources; and (2) they don’t bring outdated management practices like micromanagement and top-down communications to their remote leadership approach. Based on these principles, they focus their leadership in several critical areas. Following, are things remote leaders should consider:

Where great remote leaders focus

Communication. Without visual cues and the ability to turn to the team member next to them, remote workers are often anxious about how they will communicate with their manager and the larger team. Work together first thing to clearly set expectations about how you’re going to communicate—and get into the weeds on it. Transparent, honest communication is your foundation and explicit details are critical for common understanding and accountability. How often, and how, should individual employees communicate with you and with each other? What happens if something urgent comes up? If the manager isn’t available, where should employees turn? What kinds of issues require a video meeting or call and which a quick email or text? When, how, and about what should we give and receive feedback? How long should people take to respond to each other? How will we know if someone is stressed and what should we do about it? After expectations and processes are set, document them and make them available to all for reference.

Productivity & performance. In the office, people can see whether you’re at your desk or have gone out to run an errand or get a little exercise. Remote workers need to get away as well but worry that they should be available every minute during “office hours.” This can keep people from creating a healthy work/life balance and cause burnout. Set expectations around when people should be online or how they should communicate to others that they’re out. What about before and after hours and weekends? What should people do when they need a sick or mental health day—or moment? Do people need to log their hours and, if so, how and when? Can people work from anywhere and are there specifics about location for calls with customers? How must employees demonstrate their progress on work and what metrics will be used to determine their performance?

Team Connection. Regular group meetings help employees get to know one another, connect, and form bonds that facilitate cooperation and communication. They also provide the opportunity for team members to share their ideas and clear up miscommunications or confusion about details and expectations. Leaders should make sure that everyone is invested in creating an inclusive team environment. Expectations should be set around the technology used for team communication and ensuring a safe, respectful digital space. Employees shouldn’t be siloed in a single team or department. Leaders should ensure that people feel a corporate connection and career path within the company. They should provide a way for the team to stay up to date with company news and support members in collaborating cross-functionally and building relationships broadly within the organization. Make sure everyone is equipped with the technology resources to connect and do the job.

One-on-one connections. Working remotely with individual team members is probably less about answers and more about simply having the conversation. Consistent interaction helps ensure people feel included, valued, and motivated to work hard for the team. Many leaders engage with each employee once a day, at a minimum, with a brief email or message and less often with a call or video chat. In addition to monitoring work projects, it’s important to ask how employees are doing and listen to anxieties, concerns, or questions; and talk to them about their career aspirations. Make time for small talk: How was their weekend? How is their family? What are their hobbies? Since there’s no water cooler, create an open-door policy so that remote workers can contact you at any point outside your scheduled meeting times, about anything.

The characteristics of great leaders haven’t changed with remote work; the expression of them needs to be adjusted through clear, respectful, mutually agreed upon expectations. No one can meet an expectation if they don’t know what it is.

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