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It’s hard to keep people motivated when everyone’s working from home. Here are six tactics to help you lead, manage and inspire your remote team.
By Kevin Green, Interim Chair, Timewise Executive Board
It’s becoming increasingly clear that many of us will be working from home for a significant period of time. It’s also likely that many managers will be leading a completely remote team for the first time.
This situation was no doubt thrust on both parties with little time to think, talk or prepare for this new way of working. And it will call for managers to operate very differently.
We know that the way we engage and communicate with each other when people physically work together is often informal. Great managers understand their people, and can pick up on changes by observing both individual and team behaviour. However, both of these become much more challenging as people work from home or remotely.
But there is a massive, positive opportunity here. 80% of people who work remotely say that if it’s done well, their engagement and morale improves; and 62% say they feel more trusted. This is therefore an opportunity to be grasped.
Here are my six top tips to help you support and inspire your remote team.
In times of crisis and change, people look to their managers and leaders to provide clarity, support, guidance and direction. True leaders will step forward, recognising the importance of their role. And they will start by reinforcing why the work the team does is important.
The more this work is aligned to a compelling purpose, the better, as this creates meaning. Leaders who are good at this get their people excited about what they are doing and why it’s important. They need to walk the talk and be visible and available to their teams, but they also need to demonstrate energy and the ability to make tough or difficult calls.
A leader’s true values will be thoroughly tested under pressure. After all, it’s relatively easy to live your values when times are good. But when success and results hang in the balance, an authentic leader will demonstrate what they are prepared to sacrifice and the trade-offs they are willing to make. Leadership is about putting your team first and yourself second.
It’s important to set clear expectations about this new way of working. This includes your expectations of people’s availability and accountability as well as how often team and one-to-one conversations will take place.
My advice is to do generic scene-setting with the whole team so they all hear it together at the same time. Make sure there is plenty of time for questions, and remember to ask for ideas. How can we make this work together?
Then, have a one-to-one conversation with each member of the team about their specific deliverables, what you expect of them and by when. Clarity is important, but so is giving people the space and opportunity to share ideas, ask questions and explore the issues; it avoids misunderstanding and difficulty later. So don’t rush the process.
Team communication is an important part of a leader’s role in any circumstances; but when everyone is working remotely, it becomes critical. So you need to recognise that you should spend more time talking, listening and engaging with your people –it’s important people feel connected.
First, if at all possible, use video rather than conference calls. If you can’t, use conference calls rather than the dreaded email, which has so much potential there is for misunderstanding. The opportunity to use video is a godsend in the current situation, and is so much easier today thanks to tools such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts.
Over 60% of communication is non-verbal, so seeing people as they talk enables you to pick up on these signs. Keep the team communicating as a whole. Continue with regular team meetings; indeed, to support this new way of working, you may want to increase their frequency –perhaps starting with twice or three times per week. This will help people get comfortable and allow them to test how it works for them.
Make sure you allow time for small talk, too; people may be feeling isolated or even lonely after several days with little social contact. A good way of doing this is to get everyone to check in (say how they feel at the moment) at the start of the meeting.
It’s also a good idea to carry on doing creative and brainstorming sessions with the team, asking for ideas or solving problems together, This will enable your team to feel connected and that they are making a collective contribution.
One-to-ones must continue and, as with general team meetings, you may want to do them a little more regularly to start with. Ask lots of questions to find out what’s going on for each individual. Share agendas in advance, and make sure you know what you’re going to be covering.
Preparation is even more important for conversations over the phone or video, as they tend to be shorter and more business-focused. Listen actively to what’s being said and try to avoid assumptions and talking over other people. Ask questions to clarify what’s meant, so you’re not talking at crossed purposes.
It’s important to foster friendships among the people that work for you. Apart from formal calls and meetings, encourage your people to have informal calls with each other to help them stay connected. We know that people feel more engaged and passionate about their work if they have workplace confidants and supporters. This may disappear during remote working if it’s not encouraged.
People go to their work friends when they need help or want to celebrate or commiserate about workplace things. In the absence of that support, work can feel lonely and isolating, and lacking attachment. However much we like what we do, we won’t be fully energised or motivated if we don’t have close and supportive relationships at work.
A study by Harvard Business Review showed that remote workers are far more likely than on-site employees to worry that co-workers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them and don’t fight for their priorities. Be a leader who encourages a culture of open positive friendships among co-workers — this will avoid these concerns becoming a reality.
Be responsive and available to your team. Set aside time in your calendar when you’re happy to be contacted, so your team know they can catch up with you on anything.
One thing that really makes people feel distant is the communication time-lag. If they have to wait hours for a response to something they are working on, or an idea they have, whether it’s right or wrong, people feel it’s not important to their manager.
By setting time aside where you’re available online or over the phone to provide feedback or insight instantly helps people feel recognised and listened to.
Many of the things I’ve proposed here will feel unnatural to start with. But if you persist, then there is no reason why your team shouldn’t be as productive, creative and energised as if they were on-site together. In fact, you may even find that they perform better and deliver better results working this way. From adversity comes opportunities; let’s grasp them.