It’s almost redundant these days to talk about this pandemic as a period of massive change personally, professionally and globally. It feels like the entire world is solely focused on flattening the curve and stopping the spread. These are serious challenges, and countries are uniting towards these goals.
It may seem that your own professional challenge of managing your newly remote team is rather minor in comparison. It is not. Make no mistake, how you manage your team now, will impact not just your team, organisation and customers, it also impacts every interaction your team members have internally and externally to your organisation. Have I scared you? I hope not; I hope that you already know this, and it’s the reason that you’re reading this blog. Thank you for that by the way, your time and attention. They are your most valuable assets.
And these assets, in the right proportions, are what your remote team need from you now. Let’s dig in.
Whether or not your team has experience in working remotely, you are all in the midst of unprecedented global change, and every one of us deals with change differently. That said, here are a few aspects you might like to consider:
Communication and transparency – don’t be shady about communication
Start as you mean to go on. Establish regular formal and informal group communication with as much transparency as possible. The sooner you acknowledge and address an issue, the less power it has when your team starts to speculate, and they will. Even if the answer is a straightforward, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out’, the issue is now out in the open. Unless you have very good reason, this is not the time to be holding on to information.
Servant leadership – how you help your team to be their best
Servant leadership, a term coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay The Servant as Leader focuses on identifying and meeting the needs of colleagues, customers, and communities. To lead in this way is to empower your team. The leader delegates the task, provides any necessary training, and also, the power to complete it to the team member. If a task is unsuccessful or is criticised, it is the leader who accepts this responsibility. However, when tasks are successful, this success is attributed to the specific team member(s). This encourages team members to greater achievements, as they know that they will be recognised for their efforts.
Support don’t smother
- Group communication
Maintain regular team meetings, and videoconference wherever possible. Where this isn’t possible, teleconference. Given less than 20% of communication is done via language and much more by non-verbal indicators, seeing your team’s faces, reactions and intonations will genuinely contribute to the sense of cohesion. Also, schedule in informal social opportunities like a team lunch, or virtual pub catch up at least once a week. For many people, work is their social outlet, and with isolation, they may be impacted by this loss.
- Individual communication – The importance of the virtual coffee catchup
This is the area where you may be more radically changing your leadership style to support your team. Your team members are no longer able to ‘pop by’ your desk/work station/office/ private bean bag, and this IS an issue as, equally, you are no longer able to observe if a team member may be distracted, distressed or behaving abnormally. This is where, depending on your organisation’s culture, you schedule in, virtual coffee catchups or regular informal check-ins with each of your direct reports and get them to do the same for their own reports. The informal nature of the catch up is important as the objective is to relax your team member and create a safe space for them to share any issues or concerns they may have. This is your opportunity to observe them and their behaviours. You can create a scale from 1-7 and use 4 as their normal state pre-change and determine, based on observation and your knowledge of your team member, how they are coping with the current situation. You can use a number of indicators such as changes in personality, work performance, their language (are they talking in a positive or negative manner), overall attitude, absenteeism, etc. You can then note these as variations up or down from their ‘normal’ of 4. If you prefer to observe any changes rather than track on a scale, note any significant or cumulative changes for variations over time. This will help inform any decision on whether they may benefit from some additional team support to internal structured support, up to escalation to external assistance such as coaches, counsellors, etc.
New paradigm/old routines
This may seem obvious, but it’s still worth noting. As everyone is going through this change, many will be reassured by strong levels of the familiar. For this reason, and also because they’re probably related to business systems, maintain as many of your old routines as possible. This pandemic may have forced a paradigm shift, but that doesn’t mean that every system or process your team uses, will change. If you were already planning to implement changes to business systems, try to provide a longer implementation lead time if possible, as your team’s resilience is already impacted, and you want to minimise potential overwhelm
Celebrate group or individual efforts, especially in the midst of change. Go out of your way to recognise and praise achievements. Reassure your team members that they can adapt and achieve as you build their confidence and resilience. This is often overlooked in busy, time-pressured teams, yet is so important for confidence and cohesion.
Just a gentle reminder that as you’re supporting your remote team through this change, you are also going through a change process. Be conscious of your own state, and if you’re feeling increased levels of stress, fear, uncertainty. Take time to breathe and de-stress. Schedule time to do something you enjoy, a hobby, a reward like a long bath, a movie, or to spend time with people/animals who matter to you who will lift you up. We humans are social animals and community is important to our wellbeing.
Change is inevitable, change we haven’t chosen is even more of a challenge, but you and your remote team can consciously choose to transition to this new paradigm and continue to shine.
Cheryl Peel, Founder of The Conscious Change Collective, Creator of The 7C’s of Conscious Change, cancer warrior; and experienced in change and project leadership. Cheryl supports strong people through their change journeys.