Leading a (Newly) Remote Team -10 Suggestions to Make it Work
With the recent developments of the coronavirus many leaders need to effectively lead their teams that a
re now working remotely. For many this is the first time they have needed to do this, and they are trying to figure out how to navigate these uncharted waters.
In times of crisis, people come together to support each other and often build stronger relationships. In the case of the coronavirus, the requirements to practice social distancing has started to make people feel isolated and disconnected.
The question is: How can we help working teams come together virtually to support each other, get work done and help their businesses survive? Here are ten things to consider as you lead your team that now needs to work remotely.
Bring your team together virtually on a regular basis using technology such as Zoom or WebEx. Virtual meetings can often replace your typical staff or operations meetings. In addition to helping your team get work done, you may consider more social/fun gatherings such as virtual coffee breaks or online birthday parties. Some organizations are even considering virtual “hangouts” – where everyone is logged in with video but doing their own work – just “being together” and free to throw out a comment or question as it comes up.
Use video whenever possible. People will likely whine and complain at least at first, but the nonverbal language is so important to staying connected and reading each team member. You can also add in some humor by having crazy hat or favorite t-shirt day. Bring some humor and help people connect beyond just the tasks at hand.
Get everyone’s “voice in the room” – either vocally or via chat. At the beginning of each meeting throw out a question or an ice-breaker and ask everyone to reply. Depending on the number of people and how much time you have, you can ask people to respond verbally or simply use the chat feature that almost all platforms offer. The point is you want to engage everyone at the beginning and hopefully keep them engaged throughout the session. A simple question such as: what is one or two words to describe how things are going for you personally? This can help you take a quick pulse on how the team is doing. Or, it can be as simple as asking everyone to quickly share their favorite app. This is more on the fun side versus a pulse. Do whatever seems right to ensure all voices are heard.
Focus your team. During a crisis, everyone looks to the leader for answers and focus. You may not have all the answers (in fact you probably don’t), but help your team focus on the key priorities. It’s likely that priorities have shifted. Help guide them on where they should focus their time and energy. This will not only help the organization accomplish what it needs to, but it also gives them clarity and helps them direct their energy toward something positive.
Give choices. People always like choices, but in situations where they feel like they don’t have control, having some autonomy and choices gives them at least some sense of control. Be open-minded and creative to find ways to offer options. For example, the option of where and when to work provides a lot of autonomy and sense of control. That will not work for all businesses but think of other ways to offer options. There are probably more choices than you realize that you can offer your employees.
Communicate often, even when you don’t have all the answers. This is so critical – and we know it is almost impossible to overcommunicate. Set up a regular cadence of communication so people can depend on it or at least let them know when you will be communicating next. People understand you don’t have all of the answers, but they will appreciate your transparency and proactive communication. Without doubt, if there is a lack of communication the rumor mill will prevail.
Create as much certainty as possible. Share anything you can say with confidence. For example, “We will be working remotely for the next two weeks. We hope to return to the office on April X. Between now and then we will monitor the situation and provide an update as soon as any decisions have been made.”
Recognize the challenges people are facing and make it acceptable to “do the best they can.” There is so much upheaval for everyone, be patient and understanding. For example, in normal circumstances it is expected that employees with school-aged children will have childcare provisions that allow them to come to work. With many schools closing around the country, many parents are going to be trying to balance their parental responsibilities with their employee responsibilities. Be flexible and even creative – let people know you understand and tell them to just do the best they can. That may mean their ten-year-old is sitting next to them doing their virtual schoolwork or their toddler is crawling around the floor during a virtual meeting. For some it may be taking meals to their elderly parents a few times a day. Trusting people to do their best, they will likely surprise you and their long-term commitment to you and the company will likely grow.
Create a space for innovation – try new and sometimes uncomfortable or unfamiliar approaches. Most of us have never been in circumstances remotely like we are facing today. Encourage new ways of thinking and doing. Who knows, this crisis may inspire your company’s next big idea.
Encourage the search for the positives and multiply it. There is a lot of doom and gloom out there – just look at social media or television for 20 seconds. Encourage people to think of some of the positives and even share them with each other; e.g., I know I am enjoying spending more time with my kids since all their sporting and extracurricular activities have been cancelled for a few weeks. (This could even be one of your check-in questions discussed in #3 above.) Also, encourage them to be supportive and encouraging to others as well, such as taking that extra minute to ask the grocery stockperson how they are doing, dropping off flowers to a neighbor, or having your children make cards for those quarantined in a nursing home. Looking at even the smallest positives and creating more will go a long way.
This is your time as a leader to shine and make a positive impact on your team. It’s not rocket science, but it takes a little thought and effort. The hard part is you are likely trying to cope with all of the stress surrounding this situation yourself, but at the same time you are helping your team navigate these rough waters. Take some time to think through each of these ideas and figure out what is going to best serve your team.
About the Author:
Louise Keefe has worked with leaders around the globe for the last 20 years focused on leadership and talent development. She designs creative talent strategies and programs to help leaders become their best. She has worked remotely for almost 10 years, first at a large global corporation and now as the Owner and Principal Consultant at Perspektives (www.Perspektives.com). For more information on leading teams, working virtually, facilitating virtual learning or anything related to talent development you can contact her at LouiseKeefe@Perspektives.com.