It’s becoming increasingly clear that many people will be working from home for a significant period of time. It’s also likely many managers will be leading a completely remote team for the first time.
This no doubt was thrust on both parties with little time to think, talk or prepare for this new way of working.
This will call for managers to operate very differently. We know that the way we engage and communicate with each other is informal when people physically work together. Great managers understand their people and can pick up on changes by observing both individual and team behavior. However, both of these become more challenging as people work from home or remotely.
There is a huge, positive opportunity here — 80% of people who work remotely say if it’s done well their engagement and morale improves and 62% say they feel more trusted. This is an opportunity to be grasped.
Here are my top 6 tips for managers who find themselves in this position:
Clarify what matters
In times of crises and change people look to their managers and leaders to provide clarity, support, guidance and direction. True leaders will step forward and recognize the importance of their role. They will start by reinforcing why the work the team does is important.
The more it’s aligned to a compelling purpose the better, this creates meaning. Leaders who are good at this get their people excited about the work they are doing and why it’s important. Leaders 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 on behalf of the team.
A leader’s true values will be tested when under pressure. It’s relatively easy to live your values when times are good. However, 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 people first and yourself second.
Set clear expectations about this new way of working, including 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 the 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 ask for ideas. How do we make this work together? Then, have one-to-one conversations with each member of the team about their specific deliverables and what you expect of them and when. Clarity is important but also giving people the space and opportunity to share ideas, ask questions and explore the issues avoids misunderstanding and difficulty later. Don’t rush the process.
Listen and communicate
Team communication is always an important part of a leader’s role but when your team are all working remotely it becomes critical. Recognize you should spend more time talking, listening and engaging with your people –it’s important people feel connected.
First, if possible use video rather than conference calls but even they are preferable to the dreaded email with all the potential there is for misunderstanding . The opportunity to use video is a god send in these circumstances and is so much easier today with the tools available 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 non-verbal. Keep the team communicating as a whole. I suggest ensuring regular team meetings continue and to start this new way of working you may want to do it more regularly than normal –perhaps 2 or 3 times per week initially. This gets people comfortable and allows people to test how it works for them.
Allow time for small talk; people may feel isolated or even lonely after a few 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 call/meeting. It’s also a good idea to still do creative or brainstorming sessions with the team asking for ideas or solving problems together this enables to team to feel connected and that they are making a collective contribution.
One-to-ones must continue and as with team communication you may want to do them a little more regularly to start with. As a leader, ask lots of questions to find out what’s going on for each individual. Set shared agendas in advance and make sure you know what you’re going to be covering.
Preparation is more important for conversations over the phone or video as they tend to be shorter and more business focused. Actively listen to what’s being said and try to avoid assumptions and talking over people. Ask questions to clarify what’s meant so you’re not at crossed purposes.
Foster friendships among the people that work for you. Apart from the formal calls and meetings, encourage people to have informal calls so they stay connected. We know people feel more engaged and passionate about their work if they have confidants and supporters at work. This may atrophy if it’s not encouraged.
People go to their work friends when they need help or want to celebrate or commiserate about things at work. In the absence of that support, work can seem lonely and isolating. It lacks attachment. We may like what we do but we won’t be fully energized or motivated if we don’t have close and supportive relationships at work.
A study by Harvard Business Review showed that remote workers are much more likely than on site employees to worry that co-workers say bad things behind their backs, make changes to work projects without telling them in advance, lobby against them and don’t fight for their priorities. Be a leader who fosters a culture of open positive friendships among co-workers — this will avoid these concerns becoming a reality.
Make yourself available
Be responsive and available. Set time aside in your calendar so people know you are happy to catch up on anything. The thing that makes people feel distant is the communication time lag. If people 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.
Setting time aside where you’re available online or over the phone to provide feedback or insight instantly helps people feel recognized and listened to.
Many of the things I propose 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 energized as if they were all on site together. In fact, you may find that they perform better and deliver better results working this way! Out of adversity comes opportunities.