Have you found yourself in a new world due to Covid-19? Many leaders have not had the training or preparation to manage remote teams. It can be exciting thinking about all the possibilities, and maybe a little frightening if you have never managed this way before. Have no fear! This article is designed to give you the essential information needed to be an effective leader. I have put 30 years of study, practice, and experience into an easy to understand format that will help you immediately.
The benefits of working at home
The rise of working at home is unavoidable and you need to prepare yourself for this opportunity. This is a great benefit to your employees, the organization and to you as a leader. It is a paradigm shift in thinking about how things get done. Here are some of the benefits:
• Flexible schedule
• Can work from any location
• More time with family and improved personal life
• Overall stress is reduced
• Employees feel more respected and trusted
• Collaboration often improves compared to being in the office
The challenges of working from home – for management and employees
Oftentimes we take our interactions in the office for granted, but you don’t realize how much human interaction you have until it’s gone. According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report, these are some of the major challenges with working remote.
• Unplugging after work hours
• Loneliness and feeling of being left out
• Communication due to lack of non-verbal cues
• Essential management tips
Managing a remote team is completely different than managing teams you interact with in person. Best practices that work in office life do not always translate well with remote teams when managing, coaching and encouraging your staff. Here are some essential skills needed to lead, and motivate your team for maximum success.
Be engaged with your team
• Use video conferencing as much as possible so you have a better sense of comradery. This allows you to see the nonverbal cues and gauge the employee’s mood.
• Build rapport with small talk. When executing on tasks and deliverables it is too easy to only talk business. However, if you only do this while working remote you may end up treating your employees as taskmasters and leave out the human element. Rapport is critical to building trust, problem solving and collaboration. Ask about their family and what is happening in their life. Don’t be shy about reciprocating what is happening in your life as well. This demonstrates you care and is essential for you to understand their motivations. It helps build a loyal team, one person, at a time.
• Use Instant Messaging. This is a powerful communication tool when working at home to get quick information, clarification and to keep in touch throughout the day. Some allow for screen sharing and other tools that are very useful.
• Assume positive intent. Negative intent is easily assumed especially with emails. Email lacks the human element so you miss out on the tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. Thus, the best way to counteract this is to assume positive intent and reread the email assuming it is not an attack on you personally.
• Be creative. For example, you can go for a “walkie talkie” by setting up phone calls while you both go on a walk at the same time. This allows for creativity, a more open discussion, and gives you both a change of scenery.
• Hand out the swag. If you have company swag be sure to send some to your employees or have some ready when they come into the office. This is very exciting for them and people love to get gifts and feel part of the team. It is another way to demonstrate you care for them!
Schedule regular meetings
• Daily video huddle – Have a quick video huddle every day to communicate essential information. Have them set at the same time daily and make them as brief as needed. This is the time for you to pass along pertinent information, get a sense of morale, give recognition and listen to what is happening with the team. In short, this is check up from the neck up. For the employees, it helps with engagement, collaboration and motivation.
• Schedule recurring one-on-ones. These are scheduled, monthly meetings that last between 45-60 minutes, but can be less. This is the time to share wins, opportunities and progress towards goals. Typically, more informal but it is always best to have an agenda and to cover all key points such as goals, strengths and opportunities, competencies you witnessed and the progress on the employee Development Action Plan. NEVER cancel one-on-one meetings or you will break the trust of your team. Canceling these sends a message that your team is not as important to you as other tasks.
• Quarterly reviews – Each quarter you need to have a more robust one-on-one meeting with each of your employees. To prepare for these meetings be sure to write out the strengths and opportunities of the employee and have your examples ready. You will also need to check on their Development Action Plan (DAP) for progress and other assigned projects. Use Q3 as a pre-yearend review. I simply give an account of the key strengths and opportunities and use this to follow up on any items they need to work on for their DAP. They have three months to take any action and complete any assignments or goals they have set for themselves. Use this to account for any and all achievements or shortcomings. Be sure to put any key metrics together at this time as it will not only help you but save you time when preparing year-end reviews.
• Bring the team together regularly. The energy from these meetings is always high and provides a great opportunity to have discussions around the company’s vision and collaboration. It also allows for team bonding, synergy and human interaction that you just cannot get from a video conference. Timing will vary based on the size of the team and team location and may be monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually.