Working from home is becoming more and more the norm, according to Global Workplace Analytics the number of people working from home has increased 140% in the last 15 years – and 2020 is set to make that stat spike even more due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Workplaces are having to evolve, adjust and re-structure very quickly to keep things moving. As a leader, or manager, your team may be becoming a lot more virtual, telecommuting to undertake their work and link-in with their team. You will be expected to manage this very different landscape just as you would in-person in the same space or location, so to ensure this is as simple and straightforward as it can be, take our lead with these guidelines on managing teams working remotely.
New faces? Get acquainted before getting to business
If you’re working with a team of colleagues who have never met in person, have been put together specially for this period of time and who work in multiple locations, encourage a little bit of a team icebreaker or urge team members to schedule brief phone or video calls to introduce themselves, before the work begins. This will create a connection individually between the different members so everyone is introduced, connected and no one feels isolated or left out.
Even before team dynamics can emerge, trust is an essential foundation. How do you build team trust? Communication and exposure to one another, both informally and formally. Video conferencing is great for this, as team members can see and communicate with each other equally, establishing familiarity and comfort. Start small, and get to know one another. m everyone logs on, dials in or appears online in a group Zoom or Google Hangout, make it casual and allow each team member to check-in. A casual group chat to get settled before kicking off is a great icebreaker.
Who's in charge here?
As a leader, it’s your job to establish some ground rules or some direction early on. In these unprecedented times where team members cannot be physically together everyone is having to adjust and this can be a confusing and uncomfortable time. Set the boundaries, spell out how this is going to work, guide the team and explain all the necessary procedures.
Listen and learn
Hallmarks of a great leadership all boil down effective communication. Communication is not just ‘talking’, though, it’s far more important at times to listen and respond. Communication is a two-way street, in fact it can sometimes be a highway, but communication is a lot more about listening, responding and reacting than barking orders in a one-way delivery. The leader(s) should be very aware of how clearly they speak and that what they say is clear, precise and understood.
Troubleshoot with feedback
Put fires out before they begin by constantly evaluating how effective communication is by asking for feedback. “Is that clear?”; “Have I explained that correctly?”; “Should I go over that once more?” –– these phrases are great ways to check-in, even mid-explanation or mid-delivery, to ascertain whether the team understand. Be mindful of how clearly you explain, because clear, concise directions are essential to avoid future misunderstandings, failings or errors which could have been avoided.
One team, one dream
Why do any of us work in a team rather than individually? Because together we’re greater than the sum of our parts. Each team member brings skill and perspective, not least an extra pair of hands, so ensure the team as a whole is energised whilst also focused on the goal at hand. If everyone is on the same page, knows what their roles and tasks are whilst all holding the common goal of the team in mind, it will make the process smooth and seamless.
Watch your language
Don’t solely rely on email and text. Sometimes when working remotely and in our own comfort zones, people can be a little less inhibited than they might be when working in close proximity or face-to-face in an office, so messaging may be a little stronger or harsher when sent digitally from afar. The written word can often be misunderstood or misinterpreted and the human voice gives what you want to say a particular cadence, definition, emphasis and flow that a fast-written email may not capture the nuance of. Sometimes, to avoid conflict or confusion, it’s best to speak over the phone or in a video call rather than organising everything through email.
Share the leadership
Here’s something really important, but often forgotten: Leadership can be shared. Why not empower your other team members to take action or to take the reins or control over a project or a particular activity. Sharing responsibility helps develop skills and confidence in fellow team members, and whilst working remotely this may be really beneficial to slacken the load from the top down.
Update, then delegate
Teams may be hierarchical and those in management and those lower down the pecking order in the business may not necessarily be aware of all the conversations and actions being taken higher up. Rather than just giving orders and expecting updates, ideas or progress on current or future projects, a great way to start every virtual meeting is to update the team, or ask for updates/learnings on tasks ongoing or completed already. What’s working? What has been cancelled? Why did that one project change direction? What’s the upshot on the latest activity? By updating clearly from the top down and getting everyone on the same page it will make future tasks smoother and more streamlined.
Gather around the water cooler once in a while
Catch up with what everyone is cooking, talk about where you’re going to book a trip to when the global pandemic has gotten under control. Connect and converse about things other than work at a point of the day or at some point during the week, so everything doesn’t feel as formal.
Break-out spots like the canteen or water cooler at work are essential for building relationships, as are after-work or lunchtime activities. You could organise something like a lunch-and-learn – an opportunity for team members to showcase their expertise, provide feedback on challenges they’ve tackled, and learn from their colleagues directly. Hold an online art class, or a dial-in book club. Or, continue your end-of-week office drinks remotely.
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