Managing and leading a team can be challenging at the best of times. Managing a team that is completely remote team and working under the constraints and stresses of a global epidemic is ‘off-the-charts’ difficult. But like all challenges, you just need to break them down and take them step by step, one day at a time. Let’s get started with three easy steps and a few practical tips to help you manage, motivate and ensure results.
STEP 1: IDENTIFY YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES
Communication, employee wellbeing and engagement can be among your biggest challenges. As a leader your role is to ensure your team feels motivated and can be productive.
Communication, even above technical disruptions, will probably be your biggest challenge. Knowing how to balance regular check-ins with giving your team the time and space they need to complete their work, is something you will need to assess and reassess as you learn the new rules of the game. It’s all about making sure teams are motivated but not overwhelmed.
Remember that every one of your team members will have a unique work/life situation that will likely place very different demands on their attention, time and energy. You might not be able to change that (even with technology) but you can allow for it by building flexibility into areas where it works.
Don’t underestimate the mental toll that this crisis is having on your team members. Whether they’re worrying about their frail parents or the state of the local economy or the future of the world at large, you can bet that on any given day every member of your team is experiencing some form of mental anxiety or even depression. So be firmly gentle. On yourself as well.
STEP 2: IDENTIFY PRACTICAL WAYS TO ADDRESS THESE CHALLENGES
A few ideas and tips that can help address these challenges:
1. Level the tech playing field: Don’t assume that everyone knows how to use online video conferencing tools like Zoom or that people will admit to not being proficient. Get a member of your IT team who is a pro to host a webinar and invite employees to attend. Record the webinar so people can refer back to it at any stage.
2. Daily check-ins: Build in short, regular check-ins on daily work. This could be done via a video conference or Slack, or a combination of both. Your choice.
3. Documentation is vital: Remote teams need written records of decisions to help people get onboard and stay on top of work. You should set the example as well as the agenda. Start by taking notes in shared documents first to demonstrate how it’s done and then pass the responsibility around. If you’re managing remotely for the first time, start by identifying any documentation deficiencies in your systems and processes. Create a shared list of these needs and then start knocking them out as sprint tasks for yourself and your team members.
4. Build in health conversations: The physical and mental health of your team is very important. Make sure you have daily conversations with your team, to check in on their wellbeing. This will not only help bring the team together as a working family that cares for each other, it also helps you identify and predict their productivity levels so you can plan or delegate tasks accordingly.
5. Don’t neglect 1-on-1s: The individual matters. Set and review individual goals and listen to their specific issues. Make sure you ask for feedback, including how you can improve as their manager in this situation.
6. Create time blocks for cross-team work: Schedule dedicated time blocks for activities where teams need to collaborate on tasks like research, workshopping, brainstorming, and critique.
7. Share team wins: Schedule time to praise everything that has been accomplished (especially under the circumstances!) and make sure you do demos of finished work so everyone can see and appreciate the product of their collective efforts.
8. Encourage social interactions: Not everything should be work related. Every team needs those “water cooler” moments. Now more than ever. Brainstorm simple ways that will work for your team (digital coffee breaks? Friday social hour?) and schedule these into your work week. It’s important to engage in some form of group social activities but never force activities on your team or make them mandatory. Everyone has a lot on their plate right now and the freedom to choose is a valuable commodity in these trying times.
STEP 3: LEAD FROM THE FRONT
Your team needs you to set the tone. Your remote working habits will become the habits of your team. How you lead team meetings, the way you dress, how much you listen and value other people’s feedback. All of this sets the tone and environment for others to follow.
Trust your team. This is not “business as usual”. The normal rules no longer apply. You’re going to need to be flexible about when or how your team works. Work out and set what the most critical and essential internal agreements on work times, reporting responsibilities, etc, are. This is also not a time to micromanage – your team always needs you to keep the bigger picture and local context in mind.
Remember building a remote working culture takes time. Every change influences the team culture. And that’s just under normal circumstances. What we’re living and working through right now, is both exceptional and unprecedented. However, as a manager you can still influence team morale and performance. As John C Maxwell said, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way”.