I became a leader of remote/distributed teams about 6 years ago. I acknowledge, it wasn’t sudden or forced, and I was able to embrace it as a new exciting opportunity to lead. However, I’ve learned so many great strategies and best practices that I thought sharing some might be helpful at this time.
With Coronavirus, many of you might be experiencing this as shock to your daily routine and as having a major impact on your ability to lead. Of course, you can reference so many articles that highlight the positive impact that remote teams have on organizations including increasing opportunities to build a more diverse workforce as well as increasing overall performance and productivity. Or you might get inundated with resources and programs to help you manage during this time.
However, this post is not to share an “article” or a “resource”. Rather, I want to encourage you, create space for you, and invite you to ask me questions as someone who has led remote teams for over 6 years.
To start, here are two key things to prioritize each day!
- Be compassionate with yourself! During this time, we are facing uncharted territory. Which means you won’t have all of the answers and that’s okay because you will get them in due time. However, in the meantime, take care of yourself and slow down as much as you can as this will allow you think clearly and make more effective decisions.
- Be compassionate with your team! This is also likely uncharted territory for them. They have lots of questions, they aren’t sure how to work remotely, and they likely feel disconnected, isolated, or worried about what to expect and what you’ll expect of them. Show them you are with them by extending kindness, support, and understanding.
Communication is always important but especially now as you navigate this new unplanned “remote” team. Here are some practical strategies you can employ to ease this experience for your team members.
- Establish a routine of when formal communication can be expected. Will it be daily, weekly, biweekly, etc. What does your team need and what you can reasonably commit yourself to doing? Communicate this with your team so they know to look for an update on let’s say “Mondays”. Listen to your team in between communications as you can use their questions and concerns to draft response content for your formal communications.
- We all desire efficiency but not at the cost of isolating our workforce. As you begin to explore the incorporation of technology, I urge you not to forget about one of the most impactful forms of communication that exists (excluding face-to-face)…phone calls. Call your team members, check on them, see if they need anything, explore what they might be needing at this time. I promise you, it’ll go a long way. They will not only appreciate that you called them but they will recognize how you are taking time to call all of your team members during this difficult period. This not only demonstrates to them how thoughtful and intentional of a leader you are, it also increases connection, engagement, and overall trust!
- You might find that starting with tutorials, providing guides/walk throughs of how to use various technologies will be necessary during this time. It’s especially critical for establishing an operating baseline and it will enable your team to achieve optimal success during this time period. For example, you can’t expect everyone to show up to a video conference if someone doesn’t know how to turn their camera on. When we transitioned to remote teams, we recognized the importance of teaching and training individuals how to use various technology programs. We also tapped into the strengths of those who knew how to use the technology and created roles for them as “superusers”. They became the experts for our teams and the responsibility was shared. Now, we were able to operate with the expectation that we all know how to use videoconferencing and/or knew how to obtain support. Skipping this step will lead to frustration for all involved---no matter how minor something may seem it could be a major gap for someone, especially as we are currently seeing 5+ generations in the workforce at the same time.
- Keep in mind that this is a major transition for everyone, identify ways to stay connected and set up norms. If you are going to host video conferences, ensure it’s a time that works best for most, confirm everyone knows how to use the technology you plan to use, establish rules for engaging in the meetings i.e. everyone has their video on, and create opportunities for everyone involved to own a piece of the meeting and/or contribute input.
Lastly, leaders need support too, you are not alone, you will grow through this experience, and it’s okay to ask for help!