Ways to Encourage Autonomy in Remote Teams

Managing a remote team is a complex challenge that requires trust and the right tools and systems. Your team needs autonomy in performing their tasks. Here’s how to empower them.

When managing any team in the business world, you deal with real people who have their unique habits, mindsets, emotions, and preferences. 

This creates challenges for HR and other business leaders enough as it is. However, when your team is remote, you are dealing with even more complex dynamics.

Because you can’t physically check in on your remote team, you need to rely on trust, tools, systems, and autonomy. 

Without enough freedom within their role, you could be training your team to work slower and send them the message that you don’t trust them enough to perform.

Instead, you need a solid plan to implement greater levels of autonomy in your organisation.

By doing this, you can enjoy a more productive workforce that has higher job satisfaction.

That way, you avoid losing your best people, and your business will produce a better outcome for your market.

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What Is Workplace Autonomy?

Words like autonomy or freedom are subjective terms, and thus different people may define them differently. 

However, when talking about workplace autonomy as a strategy to improve your company, it helps to have a common definition.

Workplace autonomy within the context of company culture can be defined by the following dynamics, where employees:

  • are empowered to make their own decisions frequently throughout the day;
  • feel supported:
  • are motivated to embrace their autonomy and help grow the company;
  • set their own goals;
  • decide on their own flexible schedules and working hours.

If you hit on all the points above, you will increase your employees’ productivity and motivation. 

The result is a better business that works efficiently, happily, and with a team mindset.

Now that we have defined workplace autonomy, let’s dive into the specific ways you can achieve it within your company.

Establish Trust

Without a culture of trust, it is difficult to get employees to feel valued. 

Furthermore, since you can’t look over the shoulder of your remote employees, you need to learn to trust them to perform. 

Accept the risks that result from this.

When you don’t trust your employees, they can feel it. It will result in a lack of initiative on the job. 

A good way to handle this is to consult your employees on their projects and progress periodically. You can start small and then give them greater amounts of responsibility over time. 

Keep in mind, you can always backtrack if things aren’t going well.

Build a Culture of Continual Improvement

When you’re dealing with people at a distance, you can’t expect them to get everything right at first. 

A strong remote culture will encourage people to make mistakes and then learn from them quickly, instead of being terrified of not being perfect.

If you are too critical of your employees, it will begin to kill their creativity and desire to innovate within the company. 

This means you’re cutting yourself off from one of the most powerful resources you have. Employees will also be less engaged.

So don’t make your team feel fearful or punished whenever they make an honest mistake. 

Instead, harbour a growth mindset.

Understand that mistakes will happen to everyone at some point in their journey with your company. 

Focus on what to improve instead of dwelling on the mistake itself.

Don’t micromanage

It can be tempting as a leader to want to know what everyone on your team is doing at each moment. However, this is not a good idea for a number of reasons. 

First of all, you simply don’t have enough time in the day to micromanage.

As a leader, your job is to focus on your core competencies that typically revolve around higher-level management and business concepts such as promoting growth and evaluating the market, for example. 

If you spend a lot of time down in the “trenches”, you are likely to leave opportunities on the table and not make the best use of your time.

Besides, it can also waste your employee’s time. 

They are already busy handling customer inquiries, resolving issues, creating new products, and more. If you become a bottleneck — in other words, if every decision must pass through you — it will slow your entire system down.

As a result, you won’t provide fast service while your competitors are. 

All of this will create a mismatch in the competitive landscape, and customers may decide to go elsewhere.

Ways to Encourage Autonomy in Remote Teams

Image: Pexels

Make communication a priority

Communication needs to be a top priority in any remote team environment. 

Even if you don’t have a central office like a standard team setup, communication should be frequent and clear.

A good way to accomplish this is to set up a document that outlines your expectations for communication. 

It should include how often team members should communicate, the hours of the day that they communicate, and which items need to be communicated.

By doing this, you won’t leave things to chance. 

Employees will have more autonomy, but they will also know exactly what is expected of them. 

They can also relax more outside of work hours, knowing that if someone has not sent them a message about an important to-do, it can wait until the next day.

Implement good collaboration processes

In many remote companies, there are larger projects that can’t be completed all by one person. 

Instead, you rely on the team as a whole — programmers, designers, salespeople, customer service, HR, and more — to work together to see a project through to completion.

To ensure you get the project delivered to your clients on time, you need your team to collaborate properly. 

This means setting certain protocols for when a project piece is approved and passed on to the next person in the chain. 

It also means having the right tools.

Set your employees up with the right tools

There are two parts to autonomy: promoting the mindset and culture is the first. 

The second is actually supporting autonomy from what you provide to your remote team. 

A big part of doing this is setting your team up with the tools, office equipment, and technology they need.

Of course, this can be a big challenge when shipping things remotely and keeping track of your assets is essential. 

Understanding how to track your assets with a clear policy will prevent losing revenue.

Once you have that in place, consider what they need. 

Laptops, phone, data tools (to make more informed decisions) and other communication devices should be paramount in a remote environment. 

Consider paying for these items for your team if your profits allow it — that way, you don’t have barriers to attracting and retaining talent.

Do meetings the right way

A good way to stay on top of encouraging autonomy within the remote workplace is to improve how you conduct meetings. 

Meetings have a lot of value if done right, but poor meetings can be a big time sink. Make sure your meetings have the following qualities:

Specific start and end time

Far too many meetings lack the right time specifications. 

They may start at a specific time but then drag on for minutes and even hours longer than needed. 

This is a big problem because it communicates to your team that their time is not important and makes them bored with the meeting.

Instead, define the exact start and end times for every meeting.

Regularly scheduled

While you need to give your team autonomy, that doesn’t mean they can run wild without any supervision. 

Regularly scheduled meetings — such as once per week or per month — will hold your team accountable and allow you to work out any issues that might have arisen.

Agenda identified 

Identify exactly the bullet points that will be discussed. This allows everyone to make the most of their time and clarify their thoughts. 

It increases the efficiency of every meeting as well.

Use Remote Chat Technologies

While you can certainly use traditional methods of remote communication such as phone calls and emails, these are lacking in many ways. 

Instead, modern chat technologies allow your team to communicate more easily with more features.

For instance, Slack and other chat apps are in the cloud. 

This makes it easy for your team to sign in. 

Furthermore, they can create chat groups for certain departments and share multimedia files like videos, documents, and audio quickly and easily. 

It removes the need for a tech expert to manage your communications, making everyone more autonomous.

In Summary

Helping your team feel better about their job and perform at a higher level consistently is a big challenge for companies in today’s world. 

While remote teams have many advantages, such as reduced costs and greater global coverage, they also have potential downsides.

One major issue is the lack of autonomy or the lack of support for this autonomy within the organisation. This causes a breach of trust and slower results in the end. 

The key, instead, is to promote greater autonomy by avoiding micromanagement, communicating clearly and creating a culture of trust.

You can achieve all this by nurturing a growth mindset, implementing the right tools and conducting oversight in the right way with productive meetings.

That way, you have a happier, more powerful workforce that serves your customers better and boosts your bottom line.

About the Author

Ashley Wilson is a content creator, writing about business and tech. She has been known to reference movies in casual conversation and enjoys baking homemade treats for her husband and their two felines, Lady and Gaga. You can get in touch with Ashley via Twitter.

Team 6Q

Team 6Q