Millions of people across the globe are now working virtually. This makes for an interesting and sometimes challenging situation for leaders who are trying to understand how leading a remote team can work well from behind a computer screen.
Now that we’re more disconnected than ever, leaders, both leaders of teams, and thought leaders who are guiding tribes, need to step up. But stepping up has a different meaning today because now we must consider all the things that our team have going on at home as well.
We need to remember that there’s a difference between being a remote team, and being a work-from-home remote team in today’s environment.
Remote teams often still head into an office. They have colleagues that they see regularly. They have a ‘normal’ working routine. On the other hand, a working-from-home remote team don’t have a dedicated office to go to. They don’t have colleagues around. Instead, they are sharing their space with family.
The old way of working, even working remotely, has changed almost overnight. This requires a few changes from us, as leaders when leading a remote team.
Leading a Remote Team
We must trust our teams.
Last year I wrote, Trusted, a book that spoke about just this issue. At that time, I was concerned about decreasing human connection and artificial intelligence replacing jobs. I posited that a new style of leadership was needed – one that required building communities and leading tribes with empathy, authenticity and vulnerability. In Trusted, I argue that trust is the secret weapon to unlocking high performance in your team, organisation, tribe or community in the future of work.
That is truer today than ever before. We must trust our team. And do that we must give them the benefit of the doubt and the ability to succeed.
Focus more on outcomes, and less on hours.
People working remotely today aren’t just ‘working from home’. They’re also home schooling their children, coworking with partners and doing all the things necessary to maintain their day-to-day lives. To give our teams the opportunity to succeed in this challenging environment we have to focus more on outcomes and less on hours.
This change in perspective creates a less pressurised environment for you as the leader, and for your team. It gives them the space and flexibility to do what they need to do in their work, as well as in their lives, without fear of failure.
Teach them to find their productivity flow.
The change in focus from hours to outcomes means that your team needs to be more responsible for their own productivity. This requires a certain level of self-management and self-discipline.
As the leader, you will need to educate them on how to find their own productivity flow. You’ll need to focus on the keys to self-management and self-discipline and the importance of taking personal responsibility. In essence, you need to teach them self-leadership, so they can continue to work at peak levels despite their ‘leader’ being frequently out of sight.
Connect every day.
When you aren’t going to a shared office space every day, it makes it hard to connect. Yet, it’s essential that teams are able to communicate well in order to continue to meet their team objectives. Teleconferences and team phone calls are one way to do this. But there are others.
I just interviewed the lovely Sam Pearce, head of People and Culture at the Mai Group. Sam has worked remotely with her team for a number of months. And every day she sends her team a morning email. It’s really unimportant what the email says. What’s important is its consistency and the fact that it encourages communication between herself and her team. Her team say that her emails are like a ‘warm blanket’. She’s the trusted voice in a sometimes chaotic working environment.
Giving your team that sense of cohesion and ‘warmth’ is especially important when you are going through ‘shake ups’ or health concerns, as we are now.
Have ‘batched’ communications.
In my team, we have a Zoom call every day, and we make sure that those communications are batched. That means that we set aside a good chunk of time in our calendars to ‘meet’ together and talk over all the issues and tasks for the day.
This is particularly important during a period of such high change. As the leader, you need to be accessible, even when you are working remotely. But it’s inefficient to pick up the phone every time there’s a small question or issue that needs your input. A batched meeting, or even two a day, allows you to be available for all those ‘dribs and drabs’ without impacting your own ability to work.
Be the sense maker.
There is a lot of complexity in our changing world. In a lot of ways it’s like being in another country. We need a translator to understand the new ‘language’. And your team will be looking to you to be that translator.
Your goal is to create trust, connection and psychological safety for your teams. Research suggests that when a crisis becomes overwhelming, individuals in a group look to leaders to centralise authority and to take action. Rather than getting their information from disparate sources, regardless of their levels of expertise, teams are looking to their leader to make sense of the changing environment.
It’s essential that you are vulnerable, open and authentic in your communications. You are a voice in the dark, and you need to be a human voice – one that your team can relate to and feel safe with.
Instead of just virtual ‘meetings’, do a video from your home office or get on the phone just to ask someone how they are. It’s important to remember that there’s a story behind each of your team members. And now that they are working from home, those ‘stories’ may naturally come up more. Say hello when one of your team’s children wander into the video conference, comment on the family photographs you see in the background and ask after the wellbeing of the spouse or partner.
We’re in new territory, and lines are blurred. Embrace that to humanise yourself and your communication.
‘The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection.’ – Robin Sharma
Where you can, try to transfer cultural rituals to your new environment. Can you bring your weekly coffee meetings into the digital space? Can you continue to send cupcakes to remote team members when they have a birthday? Whatever it is you do with your team, find a way to replicate that.
In a changing time, those rituals provide a point of reference to where you once were, and where you will return eventually.
We’re all trying to get our head around what leading a remote team means and what works best, for both our productivity and our teams’ mental health. Be curious and ask. And be patient when things don’t go as planned.
At the end of the day, we’re in unchartered waters. Embrace it. Find new ways to connect and to lead. And who knows what we might learn about how to work with human beings.
Love to hear your thoughts….
Jane Anderson is a strategic communications expert, speaker and the author of seven books including the upcoming Catalyst Content. With over 20 years of experience helping people to communicate confidently, she is obsessed with authentic influence and human connection to drive business growth in a world of disruption and automation. She delivers Content Creation Bootcamps (Virtual and Face to Face), Coaching and Keynotes. To inquire about her working with you or your organisation please contact us here.