Curious how I remotely led an amazing team?
Updated: Mar 7
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Sit back and enjoy as a I narrate this post.
My first official gig as a leader was served primarily in a remote capacity. Today, I joke that I was working remotely before all the ‘cool kids’ were.
Back in 2016 I was asked to put my name forward for a marketing manager job, which was located 550km north of where I live – literally almost straight north, with only 3 or 4 turns on the highway (it was a boring drive). At the time, I was testing the waters on being a consultant for marketing and this felt like a great fit for 12 months or so. Following the interview, I was so excited to get the call that they wanted me to join their team. And that I could do it remotely.
Fast-forward a month and I began the next leg of my journey as the Manager of Marketing Services for a large organization, who at the time boasted a marketing team of 4 (plus me).
Initially upon joining the team, I knew that I needed to forge a relationship with the people that I would be leading. Personally, I’ve never been someone that likes to be micro-managed. Micro-management is stifling and creates a space of resentment, small thinking, and little-to-no ownership. I most certainly didn’t want to bring that to this group. I knew that I needed to create a base of trust. So, each of my team (yes, I still refer to this amazing group of people as MY team) would know that I would have their back, and in turn, I would hope that they would have mine. To me, that was the ultimate goal. Why? Because it allowed them to be their best, to try things I may not have thought of, and to reach further each and every day. Did it work? I believe it did. Here’s a few things I did to foster that – in no particular order.
Our first one on one. It was in person. Not remote. I spent the first 3 weeks of my new job on site getting to know the organization, the leadership and the marketing team I’d be working with. I had a great opportunity to get to understand what drives the employee to get out of bed every day to come to work. During our first one on one meeting, I led with “hey, you wanna get out of here?”. We took our meeting outside, strolling on the sidewalk under the warm June sunshine as I learned about what they did in their role, what they loved, if there was anything they could do differently what would it be, as well as a few other things. I really appreciated this time because it helped to forge the base of our relationship.
If you are thinking there is no way I can meet in person, that’s OK. The point is to take the time to get to know who you are leading. And if they are OK to share, learn about their significant other, children, grandchildren, favorite places to visit, what they love to do in down time. They are human, and for the most part, us humans want to do our best and be seen and heard. So, see and hear them.
Keep ‘the door open’. Have you ever sent a message or email out and you think ‘geez’ did they see it? WTF, why haven’t they answered me? (WTF stands for what the fudge, by the way 😉). Just think if you were in physical attendance sitting at your desk and you had someone standing in front of you – would you keep working and ignore them? Oh boy, I sure hope not! Same deal with emails and messages.
Your employees are leaning on you, and you need to be responsive. Answer your emails and chats by scheduling time to do it and let your team know what that looks like (for example, let them know you’ll check and respond to emails certain times of the day, like at 10am, 12pm, 3pm and 6pm). Now they know what to expect from you. If you don’t have set time for this, then take a second to respond back with “saw your message, I’ll get back to you by ____”.
Take time for the fun stuff. I am admittedly lousy at planning ‘fun’ things. Don’t get me wrong - I like to have fun, and I like to do things, but to think of what that will be and where. Oh boy. Tough one for me. I had one of my team who was a rock star at this. So, I asked if she would like to oversee planning. Know what? She did it and it was a great time, every time.
What does this mean? It means that just because you are leading a team (in person or remotely), it doesn’t mean you have to be the best at all things. It means you must be the best at recognizing when someone else does it better (or could do it better if given the chance) and handing over the reigns to see where it could go (do you see the metaphor – this isn’t just for the fun things – this is for all things).
In case you’re interested, here's a handful of items we did in person as a team – go for supper, bowling, ax throwing, back yard BBQ, and a New Orleans night, to name a few.
Remotely (all during video calls) we did a scavenger hunt, take-out meals, a quest on Dungeons and Dragons, and happy hour (we were planning to do a cooking class, but sadly, we ran out of time together).
Regular meetings. My team would meet once a week for 2 hours, every Monday afternoon. We spent this time cramming important project work, updates and learning that we needed to accomplish. That can be a lot of time in one chunk, not to mention a bit draining.
So, upon the suggestion of my team, we switched this up to morning 30-minute huddles from Monday-Thursday. And it worked great. We all got to see each other every day (keeping that very important human connection), we dealt with anything that arose in a timely manner and we had the platform to discuss project work as it evolved.
And then on Friday we got together, but work was not the topic of conversation. This was about taking time to joke, chat about weekend plans, and share fun tidbits that were not work related. Time to get to know and keep getting to know each other.
Project Management software. I bow to the makers of this software (my personal favorite is Asana). We would create projects, and within each project assign tasks and dependencies. We would add commentary and descriptions. And every member of the team had access. This reduced the risk of missed tasks, deadlines, and target dates. More importantly, it helped everyone know what the heck was going on and when. Transparency is a beautiful thing. And so is accountability.
Video on. When I had first started as a remote leader, turning the video on was the odd thing to do, not the common thing. As a person sitting alone in an office, it feels so isolating to be staring at a black screen while you are talking with one person, or a group of people. You miss their expressions, body language, and small nuances.
Admittedly, turning the video on can feel weird. First, you see yourself – which can be uncomfortable for some. Secondly, with the video on you really must be present (like, fully engaged present and not replying to emails or doing other work). You know everyone can tell when you’re not paying attention.
Video calls have come a long way over the years. If you lead a team, and you have people join both remotely and in person (as a group), ask the meeting room attendees to bring their device and turn their video on (they can mute if it echoes). This allows for those who are not physically present to be fully engaged. I’m telling you, it’s a game changer.
My 12-month term lasted significantly longer than a year. I was offered a permanent position, and able to continue to lead my team and the department remotely, with a little bit of in-person time (at the start of my term, I was on location 1 week/month, then that tapered off to a week each quarter, and with the onset of COVID, ended completely).
Fast forward almost 6 years later, to the time when I chose to re-enter the world of marketing consulting and say farewell to my team. It was hard to do. There were tears. Did the tears make me feel good? Yes, they did, actually. It showed me that I made a difference to my team, and my ultimate goal had been reached - my team knew that I had their back, and in turn, they had mine.
Keep on being amazing,
With a drive to accomplish high-quality results, the marketing work Lyanne has spear-headed in business has been recognized and awarded nationally on several occasions. In addition to this, she proudly holds the Chartered Marketer designation through the Canadian Marketing Association.
After serving 28 years in corporate finance, she emboldened into new territory by striking up a business marketing consulting practice that exists to lighten the load of marketing leaders. Having been a leader in marketing, she appreciates the complexities of the job and the many demands that come with it.
Whether you are interested in learning more about how blue dragonfly can help your business, are interested in joining or learning more about Mastermind groups, would like to chat about a speaking engagement, or just want to meet with Lyanne, this is a great way to get started. Connect today.
Cheers to the beginning of a great relationship.