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CPA Now
Jun 05, 2020

Challenges of Leading a Remote Team and Building Engagement

Erin Daiber, CPABy Erin Daiber, CPA, PCC


Your team is working remotely – maybe for the first time – and you may be out of your comfort zone leading a remote team. Will they stay productive? Happy? How will you gauge how they’re doing or what might be slipping through the cracks?

I have worked 100% remotely since 2013, and what I learned early on is this: the same principles of office life apply, but everything is augmented. In other words, what works when you’re in the office – connection, mentorship, and regular communication – is even more important during remote management. Any leadership gaps that already exist will be amplified.

Team member checking in electronicallyWhen implemented correctly, engagement initiatives can create new opportunities. Your organization may embark on flexible work policies that improve productivity, expand hiring capabilities to include geographically diverse team members, or provide a roadmap to quickly adapt to a fully remote environment, to name a few. Without proper implementation, initiatives like these can be costly and ineffective.

An organization’s leaders play a critical role in keeping the team engaged and on target. They directly impact if and how quickly your team reaches their potential. Keeping teams engaged comes up regularly in my work with accounting leaders. We all want to enhance team engagement, because a team working at or near their potential will always increase your profits. But human nature can get in the way of the best plans: we convince ourselves we will have more time for engagement activities later, when we’re not so busy.

“When I have more time, I’ll be able to {insert good intentions here}, and finally become the leader I know I can be.”

This slow-walk will cost your firm valuable time, money, resources, and productivity. It’s also backward. To engage your team more effectively, we must Be. Do. Have.

BE

For leaders, our “being” is the weather - the leadership presence we bring into the room with us. Teams can sense, feel, and describe our weather and how it impacts them. Our being tells our teams if it’s safe to speak up and take risks or if they should hold back and remain cautious. It can call individuals forth and bring out the best in them, or it can lower performance. It’s how we show up for our people on good days and how we respond to crises.

Think about the leader you need to be for your team, and bring intention to how you are showing up in your interactions. As quickly as weather can change, simply shifting how you’re showing up – bringing more connection, empathy, compassion, openness, ease, playfulness, strength, or integrity – can change the mood and engagement of your team. Determine which you that you’ve been bringing and find what you your team needs. How you do things can be more important than what you do.

DO

Jumping straight to doing does not yield results. Once you’re clear about how you need to be for your team, you can move to the doing.

Have and Communicate a Clear Vision – Whether it’s a vision for your organization, a client engagement, or how remote working might look, a defined vision that is communicated clearly is key. Answering the big picture questions “Why are we here?” and “What is our intended outcome?” gives team members a purpose and meaning behind their work.

Provide Feedback – Team members want to make progress in their careers, and they want to feel valued. Giving regular, meaningful, honest feedback (both positive and developmental) helps move the team closer to its goals and provides opportunities to meet and exceed expectations.

Create Belonging – A sense of connection goes a long way in generating loyalty and teamwork. Look for ways to build connections between team members as often as possible.

Add Structure – Clear expectations in the form of deadlines, budgeted hours, how and when to communicate challenges or issues, and what an acceptable end product looks like will help team members meet expectations, stay engaged, and remain productive.

HAVE

Do you have the level of engagement with your team that you desire? First, is your vision for what “engagement” looks like clear, defined, and measurable? Is more action needed, or is something off with the being (weather) your managers and leaders are bringing?

Since everything we do in a remote environment is highlighted, now is the time to double up on connections, communication, and mentorship. Seize the moment to close leadership gaps that may have been exposed through this crisis. Doing so will improve engagement in the short term and set you up for a bright future ahead.


Erin Daiber, CPA, professional certified coach (PCC), is chief executive officer for Well Balanced Accountants LLC. She can be reached at erin@wellbalancedaccountants.com.


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Disclaimer
Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.