Managing Remote Teams: Best Practices to Lead With Confidence | Claire Lew | Skillshare

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Managing Remote Teams: Best Practices to Lead With Confidence

teacher avatar Claire Lew, CEO of Know Your Team

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
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Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (22m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. Figuring Out How Your Team Is Doing

    • 3. Building Trust Intentionally

    • 4. Shifting Mindset Around Productivity

    • 5. Avoiding Pitfalls

    • 6. Final Thoughts

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About This Class

Lead your remote team with confidence alongside Know Your Team CEO Claire Lew!

Managing a remote team doesn’t have to be daunting. Join Claire as she shares key best practices and mindset shifts to managing and navigating a remote work environment so that you and your team not only survive, but thrive. 

Together with Claire, you will learn how to:

  • Understand how your remote team is actually doing 
  • Cultivate trust as a remote leader 
  • Reimagine productivity and shift your mindset for a remote work environment 
  • Avoid the common mistakes and what to do instead 

Whether you are a new or seasoned manager, this class will equip you with proven strategies to cultivate an effective, resourceful, and positive environment for your team, no matter their location.

Claire’s class is designed for leaders of remote teams, but all students are welcome to participate and enjoy. 

Meet Your Teacher

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Claire Lew

CEO of Know Your Team


Claire Lew is the CEO of Know Your Team – a software company that gives managers the tools, resources, and training to help managers become better leaders. Her company, Know Your Team, has helped over 15,000 people in 25 countries at companies like Airbnb and Kickstarter. Claire’s mission in life is to help people become happier at work. She speaks internationally on how to create more open, honest workplace environments, and has been published in Harvard Business Review, CNBC, Inc, Fortune, among others. Claire is also an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at her alma mater, Northwestern University.

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1. Introduction: Being a new manager is hard enough. Being a new manager in a remote environment, let's face it, it's even harder. Hi, I'm Claire Lew and I'm the CEO of Know Your Team, software that gives you the tools, training, and resources to become a better manager. Leading a remote team doesn't have to feel so hard and daunting. This is something that I've personally learned and experienced firsthand as the CEO of Know Your Team and running this remote company for the past seven years. Just taking in a few key best practices and mindset shifts can really help any manager excel in a remote environment. In this class, we'll cover all the ways that you can feel more confident as a leader in a remote team, including the biggest pitfalls to avoid and be wary of, and the best practices that really the top remote leaders from all around the world are implementing today. The hardest part about all of this is the fact that you've limited time as a manager. You want to just figure out quickly what are the areas to focus on and what are the things that you can gloss over. You'll gain specific strategies and tactics to be able to put into practice the very next day, so you can lead your remote team well. If you're a new manager who feels completely overwhelmed by the prospect of having to manage any remote team, then this class is absolutely for you. If you're also a senior leader who feels like managing a remote team feels a little bit like you're a fish out of water, then you're going to really benefit from this class as well. Be sure to share your questions, thoughts, situations that you're facing in the discussion section and I'll be sure to answer any questions that you have. I'm so excited that you're a part of this class. Now, let's get started. 2. Figuring Out How Your Team Is Doing: Good leadership really begins with understanding how a team member is actually doing, and that can be pretty difficult to uncover in a remote environment. You don't always see facial expressions or are able to read body cues. In today's lesson, I'm going to dive into how do you find out how your team members are doing while they're working remotely? Say you jump on a Zoom call with them and you ask, "Hey, how are you doing?" They say, "I'm fine." Are they? It's always so difficult in a remote environment to understand how team members are truly doing and good leadership really begins with that. We'll dive into the specific techniques and tactics to understand how your team is actually doing in a remote environment. One of the first tactics that you can employ around, really trying to understand how your employees in remote environment are truly feeling is to pay attention to body language. It was found in two papers in 1967 that around 55 percent of our communication as humans come through in our body language. Let's be honest, that's completely taken away in a remote environment. The fact that we can't rely on these body cues means that we just need to be paying attention to them more. So the next time that you're in a Zoom meeting or any kind of video conference, make sure to take note of if someone's shifting uncomfortably in their seat or if their tone of voice changes around a specific topic. You can know, well, maybe that's something you want to dive in or ask them further about. A second tactic that you can try when trying to better understand how your remote employees are actually doing is to avoid asking the question, "How are you doing?" This is going to feel a little counter-intuitive at first, but keep in mind that when you ask the question, "How are you doing?" Usually, you know you're going to get a predictable answer, a fine, or I'm good. There are other questions that you can ask instead that are going to help reveal answers that you might not have gotten before. Some of these questions, for example, that you can try in your next one-on-one remote meeting could be, "How's your energy level feeling these days?" I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that, in asking that question, people are able to, in fact, open up a bit more and share their true state and level of motivation and energy in that moment. Additionally, some other questions that you can try in your remote one-on-one meeting to really understand how people are truly doing are questions, such as, "Have you been feeling drained or worn a bit more usual than lately?" or "Have you been carrying any weight lately that's felt heavier than usual?" Questions like these that are just different and off the normal path of just, how are you doing, are going to help you better uncover and be in tune with how your remote team is truly doing. A third tactic that you can employ in trying to understand how your team members are doing is to model the vulnerability you would like to be true in your own team. For example, when you ask the question, "How's your energy level these days?" You can respond and admit what your own energy level is, that you may be worried, or maybe worn thin yourself in some ways. When you're showing that this kind of openness is acceptable and the kind of thing you want to hear in the team, your team is going to be so much more likely to level with you and share how they're actually doing when working remotely. Being a successful Remote Manager really begins with nailing these foundational steps around understanding how your team is actually doing. Next up, we'll dive into all about the biggest focus area for you as a Remote Manager, which is all about building trust. 3. Building Trust Intentionally: We all intuitively know that trust is the oil in any team. It's absolutely essential to a team to be able to run well. In a remote environment when you're not seeing people face to face as much, that trust is even more essential and in fact, more difficult to build. In today's lesson, I'm going to talk about specifically two different types of trust that you should be focused on building and cultivating as a remote leader. Scholars have revealed that there are in fact two different types of trust. The first is what we call affective trust, which is based off a sense of emotional closeness, rapport, or bond. You feel as though you trust someone because you know they have similar hobbies or interests to you and you feel that sense of closeness. The second type of trust is quite distinct, it's what scholars call cognitive trust, which is based on the belief that the other person is going to follow through on something, that they can depend on them, that they're reliable. It's these two types of trusts that are both essential to really develop and cultivate in a remote team. Now, affective trust tends to actually be most beneficial in a remote team especially in the beginning of a relationship. As a remote leader, there are definitely ways, especially when you're on-boarding your new hires onto your team to invest in affective trust. Some of these tactics include everything from making sure that your icebreakers that you have when new folks are joining on aren't just dull, stale, normal icebreakers, but exciting and engaging ones. Other tactics include the fact that when you bring someone on-board in a team, and it's a remote environment, that having some buddy, or really peer-to-peer system is going to really help that person feel that sense of emotional bond and closeness. Lastly, a third tactic around affective trust is making sure that you're able to really have some non-work communication channel where people can talk about pets, hobbies, things they're doing on the weekend, and really feel that sense of connection. Affective trust is particularly essential to focus on and build in a remote team because it's often one of the first things to go in a remote environment. A study was done in 2020 recently with AngelList and Buffer, where they surveyed over 3,000 managers and employees and found that 20 percent of them said that loneliness was the biggest downside when it came to remote work. You may relate to this yourself. It can feel isolating and lonely to work in a remote environment. As a manager in a remote team, this is something that you can absolutely address. One of the best tactics around doing this and building this affective trust is to really focus in on the on-boarding process. When you're hiring new remote employees, is to make sure that you pair them with a buddy in the organization or in the team and so they're able to make that transition and feel that sense of closeness better. Another tactic is the fact that when you ask icebreaker questions, where everyone's trying to get to know each other, that you're not just resorting and leaning on the trite, dull, usual icebreaker questions, but instead, asking ones that are more exciting, dynamic, and even personal to your team. This could be everything from, who was your favorite band 10 years ago, to what's a recent recipe that you'd love to share with the rest of the team? Lastly, a tactic around affective trust that is definitely effective is making sure that you're carving out some kind of non work-related chat or communication channel. This could be something as simple as a Slack channel where people can talk about their pets, to a monthly Zoom call where you have people gather around for a book club reading, or really talking about what they're doing on the weekends, or any hobbies, or shared interests that people might have. Either way, whatever tactics you do decide to use, making sure that you're focusing on affective trust in a remote team is going to be massively helpful. Cognitive trust on the other hand tends to be a bit trickier to build, and that's just based off the fact that it's not usually what we think of when it comes to trust. Keep in mind that cognitive trust, it's all about showing that you are reliable and that you can be counted on to follow through on your word. What's interesting about this is actually here at Know Your Team, when we surveyed folks a few years ago back in 2018, we found among almost 600 managers and employees, that the three top perceived most effective ways to build trust, all were ways of building cognitive trust. For instance, the number one way that managers and employees tend to believe that is the most effective way to build trust is to show vulnerability. It's to admit your mistakes and say, "Hey, I'm uncertain on this" or, "I don't have all the answers." The second biggest way to really build cognitive trust that we found in the survey is about really showing what your intentions are and making that clear. For example, if there's a decision that's being made or you're taking the team in a direction that they weren't expecting, is just to really clarify why you're doing this in the first place. That builds cognitive trust. Then the third way around building cognitive trust, and what was perceived as really the third most effective way for building trust was all around simply following through on your commitments. That could be a small task that someone asked you to complete in the following weeks, or an idea that someone suggested that you decide to just knock out. It may seem small to you, but for your team, it speaks volumes. That's really what cognitive trust is all about, is making sure that your actions are really reflecting your intentions and your words. The most critical thing when it comes to building trust in a remote environment is to make sure you're building both types of trust, both affective and cognitive trust, not just one or the other. Make sure to reflect and ask yourself if there is a certain kind of trust that you actually haven't been building and should be paying more attention to. In the next lesson, I'm going to talk about really shifting the mindset around productivity in a remote team and giving best practices to make sure that you and your team are most productive when working remotely. 4. Shifting Mindset Around Productivity: In this class, I'm going to talk about the biggest mindset shift that's required in order to manage well in a remote team and that's all about productivity. Productivity, plain and simple in a remote environment, it feels different. Usually when you're going into the office, you see your coworkers, you see folks making calls walking around, there's a liveliness and energy and you feel like stuff's getting done, we're productive. Yet when you are in a remote environment and you're in your home office or you're sitting at your desk alone, it's quiet, maybe some people are online, you start to wonder, is my team really working? Is my remote team really productive? As tempting as it can be to have those thoughts, to let those thoughts overwhelm you and start to drive your actions, you have to pause and nix your nagging paranoia. The best remote leaders they understand this, that the more that they're hovering, the more that they are tightening their grip on their remote team, the less their remote team is actually able to do their best work. We have to remember as remote managers that we hired our team for a reason. They have skills and talents and contributions that they can make and if we don't give them the space to do that, and then of course, the proper processes and support to help them along the way, then our remote team, they're just not going to be successful. Make sure to really give a pause on any of those worried, frenetic thoughts around is my team being productive and instead focus that energy on thinking about really the best environment that you can create for your team to be doing their best work. Knowing that productivity feels different in a remote team, then how do you actually create processes or systems so that your remote team can be productive in this remote environment? Well, first and foremost, it starts with the fact that quiet is in fact a productivity tool and a collaboration process. What I mean by this is when you give your team quiet to actually get work done, when they have uninterrupted blocks of time to actually do the work itself, instead of just communicating all day, then they're actually able to be more productive. A second tactic for enabling productivity in your remote team is to really create channels of communication rather than a fire hose. You don't want to overwhelm people with just all kinds of messages and a barrage of pings, but rather really separate, if someone has a question about a certain project, where's that going to go, or if someone wants to share a write-up about something, how is that shared? Having specific channels of communication rather than just a deluge of everything is really going to be useful for enabling productivity in your team. Lastly, when it comes to enabling productivity in a remote team, you'll want to make sure that you're having, in fact, fewer meetings rather than more. Now this may feel counterintuitive because we all like to feel that the more meetings that we're having means that we're getting more things done. But again, keep in mind that we have to create the space for people to get the actual work done rather than just feeling fatigued by sitting on Zoom meetings all day. To do this, you can actually cut down the number of meetings that you're having by moving some of your meetings actually into asynchronous writing. I talk about this more in our communications best-practices class. But in addition to that, you can also give folks pre-work before they come to the meeting so that they're a little bit more prepared, they have templates, they have questions that they've thought about and brainstorm and are bringing them to the meeting, so the meeting is shortened, as well as you can record the meeting. This way when you have team members who were interested in joining but maybe aren't required to join, they have the option to actually watch that meeting later. These are all tactics that are so important for really ensuring that productivity is seamless in a remote team, instead of trying to super impose something that only really works in the office. Keep in mind that productivity in a remote team, it's just going feel different. So if trying any of these techniques sounds a bit nerve-racking or foreign to you, know that if it's uncomfortable, it's probably actually working. Try creating a little bit more time for quiet next week for your team, or maybe think about pulling back a meeting or two. I assure you that implementing these tactics are really going to be useful for helping your team be more productive remotely. Next up, I'm going to talk about the two biggest pitfalls to avoid when managing remote teams. 5. Avoiding Pitfalls: Naturally when you're managing a remote team, they're going to be aspects that come to you a bit easier than some others. But there are also certain aspects of managing a remote team that are just common pitfalls, areas that you want to make sure to avoid. I'm going to talk about that in this lesson. The first pitfall that you'll want to make sure to avoid as a manager in a remote team is all around time. How we spend our time as managers is everything. When we're busy, we're doing the work, knocking things out, a lot's happening, it can often feel like we're doing a really good job. But in fact, when we're busy as a manager in a remote environment, we're actually doing it wrong. I was surprised, in fact, to find this when I was speaking with Michael Lopp, who's the VP of engineering at Slack, and I was talking to him on our Know Your Team Heartbeat podcast. He shared with me that if you are too busy in the weeds of the work all the time as a manager, it's in fact a huge mistake. Because if you're the one always making the sales calls, always fixing bugs and copy edits, then you're in fact too busy to do the real work of being a manager, which is uplifting your team, asking them meaningful questions, and trying to support them in the best ways possible. If you're watching this and thinking, I am a little busy as a manager, then consider different ways to either delegate, take things off your plate or just refocus your time and your energy on making yourself more available as a manager instead of just being busy. The second pitfall that you'll want to focus on as a manager in a remote team has to do with being nice. Now, being nice is great. I'd like to hopefully think of myself as a nice person. But it can actually backfire completely when you are a manager, especially in a remote environment. Because if we optimize for being nice, if that is our number one priority as managers, then when we're trying to give difficult feedback, or we're trying to disagree with a decision, or even when we're letting someone go, we let our own interests cloud the actual situation and it's difficult to get across the real message in a real clear intention. Instead of optimizing for being nice, which I know for many of us can feel definitely uncomfortable, we can instead ask ourselves, well, what is it about the situation that is making me truly uncomfortable and what is worst-case scenario if I just level with this person and communicate in an honest and straightforward way? It's this ability to really see the bigger picture rather than focusing on the ways that we're going to be perceived as a manager that helps our team overall. That's the real point of all of this in the first place. All these tactics and techniques around being a great remote leader is all about uplifting the team and not about protecting the way you think they're going to be viewing you. Don't optimize for being nice and instead optimize for really what's going to be in the best interest of your team. When you're running your team remotely, remember to avoid these pitfalls and focus instead on creating an environment for your team to best work, rather than trying to do everyone's job or optimizing for being nice in all situations. 6. Final Thoughts: I hope you're able to walk away from today's class feeling more equipped and more confident to be leading your remote team, in fact, thriving in your role as a remote manager. Please be sure to join me in the discussion section, ask any questions that you have. I'd love to hear from you and I'll definitely answer as many as I can and I look forward to learning with you how you're actually using, applying all of these techniques, all of these practices to becoming a better remote manager.