Fifty percent of the U.S. workforce will work remotely by 2020. This means that many folks will soon skip the long commute and log in from a home office. And guess what? These are not low-level jobs. Remote workers span industries and roles. Many have meaningful careers -- including leadership positions.
As the co-founder and CEO of Aha! -- an entirely remote company with nearly 100 teammates located around the world -- I write about this topic frequently. One of my most popular articles on Inc. explained why remote workers outperform office workers. Although it was published in 2017, I still receive comments and messages about it today. Hundreds of thousands of people have shared this article on LinkedIn. And I think I know why -- people really, really want remote work.
Yet when it comes to career growth and remote work, some people still seem to have their hesitations. They wonder if they can actually build advanced skills and manage a team while working from home. Studies confirm this perception among managers too, that the distance and lack of face-to-face time are seen as obstacles to collaboration.
"Perception" is the operable word here. I have been fortunate to see leaders thrive at Aha! -- we make it a priority to be a learning organization and promote from within. In the process, we have become one of the fastest-growing software companies in the U.S. and were included on Inc. magazine's list of Best Workplaces for 2018. But like I said, we make it a priority to give people the framework and opportunities they need to lead while working remotely.
Here are some of the best lessons we have learned about what it takes to be a successful remote team leader:
Leaders help the team understand what they are working on and why. But how does this work when you are distributed? In order to bring more visibility to the team, you need to create and share clear goals. Easy access to these plans helps folks reference the goals and the related work being done -- in turn helping everyone see exactly how they are contributing to the team.
According to a Harvard Business Review poll of more than 1,000 workers, 46 percent said the most successful managers check in frequently and regularly with remote workers. What does this look like in practice? It means proactively reaching out to every person you manage -- whether it is through regular instant messages, a weekly 1:1, or a spontaneous video call to talk through an issue.
It is hard to know how members of the team are doing when you are not physically with them. At Aha!, we solve this through what we call the three Ps. Every teammate documents "problems, progress, and plans" each week. Leaders review these and use the answers as a launching pad to ask questions in weekly 1:1 check-ins. "What do you need to solve this problem? How can I help?"
Just because you are remote does not mean that people need you less or have fewer urgent requests. It is actually even more important to respond to questions with purpose and pace. Even if you are deeply engaged in another task, a simple "I will look this afternoon" will do when you are interrupted.
Yes, it is possible for remote teams to have a vibrant culture. And it starts with leaders. You can celebrate the team's accomplishments and call out wins that might not be visible to the distributed team. Online acknowledgments and virtual parties go a long way in making people feel appreciated and valued.
Being a leader is not about location. It simply means caring about the people you work with and helping them grow. You do not need to work in an office to make this happen. As long as you stay proactive and communicate openly, you can do this kind of important work from anywhere.